Improving project management by broad involvement in the change process
Morten Fangel, Managing Director, Fangel Consultants Ltd., Denmark
The Danish Air Materiel Command (AMC) is responsible for all logistical needs of the Royal Danish Air Force including major updates and procurement of new systems. This means that handling of projects is very important for the success of the organization. Today the AMC is organized as a line organization with no project management office or equivalent entity.
At PMI 2001, quite a few papers dealt with managing cultural and organizational changes when improving project management professionalism. The papers dealt mainly with ideal types of situation. This paper describes the actual efforts of one organization to change its culture toward improved project management and tries to describe the real-life problems of making such a change.
Need for Improvements
Over the years weapon systems have become more and more complicated. In addition, they are no longer self-contained but are increasingly interdependent. As a result the process of managing a project has increased tremendously in complexity. Simultaneously, budgets and staff have shrunk which calls for greater efficiency. Furthermore, the public is showing more interest in a “good story” on mismanagement of a tax paid project, perceived or real.
For these reasons acceptance for the necessity of maturing project management in the AMC grew over a couple of years. Various initiatives were taken without wholeheartedly deciding on effecting a change.
Finally, a small group of middle managers formed a group to promote an improvement in project management. After ensuring the full backing of the top management, a program for improving the project management culture in the organization was initiated.
The results of the project have been twofold: A cultural change in the organization has been initiated and a guideline of best practices has been published. Although the culture has not yet changed substantially, the recognition of the need to manage projects has increased dramatically at all levels of the organization.
The Improvement Process
Formal Program Organization
The initiative was formally established as a program in the framework of the strategic development plan for the AMC.
As such the program is formally placed under a steering committee headed by the chief of staff. In addition to the project manager, the core team acted as program management body, which was involved in the day-to-day operation of the program. The sponsor of the program was the technical director of the AMC who is the overall manager for all technical projects in the AMC. His monthly management meetings served as yet another steering committee.
The organization as described was not particularly efficient in a project management sense, but its main purpose was to ensure continued support and commitment by the top management and in this it succeeded very well.
As the program was intended to change the culture of the organization, a strong commitment from the management is mandatory for success (Pitagorsky, 2001). Therefore close attention was paid to this aspect both before and after program initiation. Initially, the core team drew up a Master Program Plan and a resource plan. These were then discussed with top management at several meetings and adjusted before approval of the program plan.
After this process, there was full agreement on:
- The need for improvements
- Opportunities for improvements
- Allocation of resources.
Staff Members' Acceptance
Commitment by management to the process is necessary for the program, but just as essential is acceptance by the staff members. One prerequisite for this was the fact that management was committed to the program. This means that it was necessary both to ensure the commitment of the management and to make it visible for everyone.
The AMC has a plan for the strategic development of the organization. The plan contains a number of projects considered important for the continuing development of the organization. To increase its visibility, the program dealt with in this paper was included in the strategic plan for the AMC with the serial number CL-024. This has proven highly successful. Although CL-024, being purely a serial number, says nothing about the character of the program, almost everyone in the organization knows what it stands for.
Core Team of Voluntary Members
All activities were initiated and coordinated by the core team. In forming this team, involvement of all relevant organizational elements of the AMC had been sought. The participants of the core team had not been designated, but had volunteered for the job. As the program would be competing with the ordinary procurement projects for attention and resources, it was a very important consideration that all team members would want to make improvements. If it were just a task like any other in the AMC, it would quickly loose out to the short-term tasks.
Participants Both From AMC and User Community
Experienced project managers and other project members were selected to be participators in the process. Initially, only people from the AMC itself were included. As the project got under way, it was found that representatives from the user community would add value to the process. Thus, halfway through the process, about five people from the operative command of the Air Force accepted an invitation to participate. The users represent the strategic planning element of the operative command, and it has proved very beneficial to include them in the process.
We recognized at an early stage that we were embarking on a program requiring substantial resources. To mitigate the risk of at-tacking the wrong problems, an external PM consultant was brought in—Morten Fangel from Fangel Consultants Ltd.
Initially, his tasks were to act as a sparring partner for the core team; to give an outside view on the process; to suggest new ways of attacking the problems; and to facilitate workshops. During the process his task expanded to include the job of editor of the guidelines.
The facilitation of workshops included both assistance during workshops to ensure smooth running, and the provision of new project management concepts and methods to be evaluated at the group sessions (Fangel, 2000/2).
The consultant had one more, less official, task: A cultural change in an organization is a long-term proposition. This means that the program easily gets sidetracked by the day-to-day running of the organization. By using an external consultant, focus is preserved on the process, because the financial resources put into a consultant are very visible. If paying for expensive advice, you had better use it to the full!
Master Plan for the Improvement Process
As mentioned earlier, a Master Plan for the program was developed before starting the process in earnest. The plan defined the working methods and identified a number of focus areas, where the core team judged that the greatest returns on the investment would be obtained. The working method defined a number of workshops, the instrument for involvement. Between the workshops, the plan called for working groups to produce material to be discussed at the next workshop. As it turned out the working groups were never established.
Workshops—The Main Instrument for Involvement
The concept of using workshops was very important for the program. The workshops were used for discussing various suggestions and papers produced by the core team in cooperation with the consultant. The discussions provided input to the continued process and adjusted the direction of the project. This was both to ensure the best use of the resources and to maintain acceptance among the participants. In Scandinavia participants expect to be involved actively in a program and to be able to influence it. If not, acceptance will quickly be lost (Fangel, 1987).
Four workshops were arranged. Between 30 and 40 persons participated in each event. Although we tried to plan the workshops in such a way that the same people participated in all the workshops to provide continuity, this was not entirely possible.
The workshops used an interactive method, promoting strong user involvement and generating many comments on the various topics brought up. The process proved very efficient, not least because of the consultant who is an expert on using the method and guiding the process.
When starting the program, it was generally agreed that the AMC organization is fairly good at handling the execution side of project management, what was lacking was more the conscious management of projects. As a consequence, all through the process the main emphasis had been on the management part, with less emphasis on tools and execution. The emphasis on tools declined even further as the program progressed.
Using Case Projects was a Challenge
To be able to test concepts and methods under tough project conditions, a handful of projects were selected as guinea pigs. In addition to the test purposes the intention was also to get inspiration for further developments. Although the projects were selected with some care this proved to be one of the less successful activities. Only a few of the projects gave useful feedback. Compared to the effort invested in using the case projects, the return did not justify the investment. A useful side effect was however that we got a better way of judging between good and less able project managers.
The initial aim of the program was to develop a number of distinct tools. As the process got under way, the input from the workshops had to be organized between the sessions. When organizing the material it began to resemble PM guidelines more and more, and the decision was soon made that the tangible result of the process should be such guidelines.
The intention of the whole process was to get project managers and participants to think management. That is, it has to become second nature, and not something that is imposed upon people. This being the case, it was decided that the guidelines should offer good advice and not dictate a specific behavior, which is why it is termed guidelines and not a manual (Fangel, 1997).
To promote a strong culture it is necessary both to have a common understanding of basic principles and to have a common language. The guidelines aim to provide these two vital elements.
In addition, the guidelines define some generic management principles encouraging sound practice. If a project manager is in doubt as to which course of action to follow, he can test the possibilities against the management principles. Only actions supporting the management principles should be used in any given project.
Project Management Model
The guidelines do not attempt to define what constitutes a project. We decided that a project is what the management deems to be a project. What the guidelines do, is to present a model that describes the different phases and levels in managing projects in our organization. The model differentiates between the project execution level, the project management level and the organization decision level, the aim being to emphasize the importance of the management part of project work. In a technical organization such as the AMC, this aspect easily gets lost because the technical side of a project is so very fascinating!
There is nothing revolutionary in the model, but it provides a common reference for all in the AMC, and it makes the distinction between project execution and project management very clear. Furthermore, the model emphasizes that before a new phase is launched, it is necessary to review the state of the project and make a formal decision to either continue the project as planned or to change direction. The latter may, of course, include a close down of the project.
Generic Project Management Principles
When starting out on the guidelines, it was obvious that it would be impossible to describe every possible situation in the life of managing a project. A much better approach would be to provide tools enabling people to decide for themselves the best possible management action in a given situation. This ties in with the Scandinavian way of organizing, where you delegate decisions as far down in the hierarchy as possible. For this to work, every person has to know what end result the management is aiming at. If you do not know the goals, you cannot adapt your actions to support them.
In guidelines not aimed at a specific project, such goals have to be generic management principles. A prime example of using generic management principles as guidelines for all members of a project team is the project to make a fixed link across Øresund between Copenhagen in Denmark and Malmø in Sweden. This project went to great lengths to define a small number of overarching management principles that all project members knew and understood (Boye-Møller & Fangel, 1996). The success of the project has been promoted by this strategy of defining a number of management principles and of delegating authority to the person on the spot to make decisions based on these principles.
In defining the project management principles for the AMC, we assembled principles from different projects and organizations and used these as a starting point for a discussion at the first workshop. As a result of this discussion and further refinements at the next workshop, we ended up with 12 recommended management principles for handling projects in the AMC.
The principles are divided in four distinct groups with three principles in each group. The groups are:
- Project management
- Focus on end target
- People management
- General management and teamwork.
The principles are not only for the people in a project organization, but are also intended for the management outside the project. The aim being that all with an interest in a given project have a clear understanding of what to do and what to expect from others in respect to management.
Planning, Documenting and Evaluating Project Management
As mentioned several times in this paper, the main thrust of this improvement process was to get everybody to think management instead of concentrating on the execution level.
The guidelines promote this by having fairly detailed suggestions of how to plan project management effort: one suggestion being that it has to be a regular activity for any project manager to take time to consider and plan the management activities for the coming period, just as any execution activity is planned well in advance of being needed.
Not only is it recommended to plan the project management activities, but the considerations and plans should also be well documented and evaluated. By having to document the PM activities, people are made very conscious of their importance and the need to assign time for these activities.
Another advantage of documenting project management activities is that this makes it easier for another person to take over a project should the need arise.
Finally, the media and politicians have recently shown great interest in some of our projects. This has resulted in the AMC having to answer many questions from parliament regarding earlier activities. This has resulted in a very work intensive process in order to collect the background documentation for many management decisions. Had this been documented consistently throughout the project process, the job of answering later questions would have been very much easier for all involved (Fangel, 2000/1; 2002).
Creating a Solid Foundation
In addition to providing a common reference and a common language for all project participants in the AMC, the guidelines suggest how to handle the various phases of a project.
From the beginning of the improvement program, it was clear that one area where improvement would be very beneficial was the preparation and start-up of a project. Consequently, the guidelines are most detailed on this phase of project handling. The following phases of project handling are dealt with as well, but in lesser detail. As more experience is gained, it is the intention that these chapters will be expanded as well.
Quite often projects are started without all aspects having been considered in sufficient depth. The guidelines set out to improve this by emphasizing the importance of preparing a proper Master Project Plan on which to base the formal project approval.
The Master Project Plan has to contain sufficient information to answer the questions concerning the background for the project; why it is necessary; what goals it will achieve; and what resources it takes to execute. Also relationships with other projects have to be described, as well as a suggestion for organization of the project. Although the Master Project Plan has to address many issues, it has to be kept as succinct as possible. We are aiming at quality, not quantity in the project plans!
Implementing the Guidelines
As mentioned, the guidelines do not constitute a manual, in which it is mandatory to follow all details, but it is the intention of the management to ensure that the principles are implemented in full. The Danish Defence is in the process of implementing new management principles for all activities within the Defence. The project management principles in the guidelines are closely tied with these general management principles. This means that using the principles of the guidelines to the full will ease the implementation of the latter. As a consequence, the Commanding Officer of the AMC has made the implementation of the principles of the guidelines one of his five focus areas in 2002.
One major lesson is that it is mandatory to have full and visible backing from top management in order to be able to change the culture within an organization such as the AMC. Even with full support, this is a major task. Not only is it a major task, but it also takes time before any results become visible. As a consequence, it is necessary to have a few committed people to ensure that the process is kept moving. If this is not the case, there is a high risk of the process being pushed aside by the day-to-day running of the organization.
It proved much easier to involve the workshop participants in the process than initially thought. Their involvement in the process created quite an enthusiasm, which made the participants efficient ambassadors for the program. As a consequence almost everyone in the organization knew early in the process that an important change was taking place.
Bringing in a professional consultant helped to keep focus on the program as well as improving the results obtained.
Master Project Plans for a number of existing and coming projects have since been written. This has been a most rewarding experience. It turns out that when the project manager has a clear idea of the project, it is not a very demanding task to write down the plan, but if there are weaknesses in one or more areas of the project, then it becomes quite a job to write the project plan. Of course the weaknesses would have revealed themselves anyway at some time, and it is much to be preferred that uncertainties are cleared before project start.
Writing guidelines has proved to be a very good idea. Not only is it useful in our own organization, but it also has made the change process highly visible for other organizations within the Danish Defence.
Boye-Møller, Kjeld & Fangel, Morten. 1996. Managing Construction Projects: The Øresund Approach. ISBN 87-89881-42-7. A/S Øresunds-forbindelsen.
Fangel, Morten. 1987. The Viking Approach to Project Management. Proceedings of the NORDNET Symposium on the Spectrum of Project Management. Iceland. September 1987. International Journal of Project Management Vol 6 No 2 1988.
Fangel, Morten. 1997. Chasing the Efficient Project. Proceedings of the NORDNET Symposium on Quality in Project Management. Iceland. September 10–12,1997.
Fangel, Morten. 1998. Best Practice of Project Start-up. Proceedings of the IPMA 1998 World Congress on Strategy Start-up. Ljubljana. June 10–13,1998.
Fangel, Morten. 2000/1. Methods for Planning the Management Efforts in the Project. Available on www.fangel.dk Proceedings of the IPMA 2000 World Congress on Project Management. London. May 22–25 2000.
Fangel, Morten. 2000/2. What is Facilitation and how can the Project Partners Contribute? Proceedings of the GPM Annual Symposium. Frankfurt. October 11–13. 2000.
Fangel, Morten. 2002. Intensifying your Project Management—by Systematic Planning and Evaluating the PM Effort. Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium. October 7–9 2002.
Pitagorsky, George. 2001. Implementing PM Improvement—A Cultural and Organizational Change Initiative. Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium. November 1–10, 2001.
The articles by Morten Fangel are available on www.fangel.dk
Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
October 3–10, 2002 • San Antonio, Texas, USA