Project Management Institute

How to institutionalize improvements in your organization


by Neal Whitten, PMP, Contributing Editor

THIS SHORT ARTICLE MIGHT SAVE you a lot of time and money. It could even be the cause of decreasing your time-to-market and increasing your revenue/profit, quality, and customer sat ratings! Skeptical? Read on.

Here is a highly effective approach that I frequently use with clients to help them improve the performance of their organizations and the projects within those organizations. However, you don’t need an outside consultant to make this happen.

1. Invite People to a Brainstorming Session. The participants come from across the organization and should be the power players—the leaders. These are people who typically have the most knowledge and experience about the processes, tools, and products. Strive to have a large percentage of the participants be other than managers.

2. Conduct the Brainstorming Session. The objective is for the participants to brainstorm, identifying the most important problems facing the organization that, if properly addressed, could have a positive, measurable impact on the overall performance of the organization. Depending on the size of the organization, this session might include from five to 20 persons and take from one to three hours.

3. Identify the Top Three to Five Problems to Solve. After a reasonably exhaustive list of key problems has been brainstormed, select the top three to five problems. An effective approach is to list all the brainstormed problems on flipcharts and attach these charts to the meeting room walls. Then, with everyone participating, assign a weight to each problem such as high, medium, and low. There may be anywhere from 10–50 problems identified, but only a relatively small number will be judged high. Identify the most critical.

4. Assign Owners to These Problems. A different person should be assigned to champion the solution of each problem. These owners have the responsibility to drive these problems to closure and will be evaluated on their results (not effort) to institutionalize the solutions across the organization.


Neal Whitten, PMP, president of The Neal Whitten Group (, is a speaker, trainer, consultant, mentor, and author. His books include The Enter Prize Organization: Organizing Software Projects for Accountability and Success, published by PMI. Comments on this column should be directed to

5. Create a Project Plan for Addressing Each Problem. Deriving the solution for each problem and institutionalizing that solution becomes a project plan. The assigned owners now become project managers and each project manager will plan and track his or her project through its completion. The plan will show that many members will play a role on each project, even if the role is only to review and approve appropriate deliverables.

6. Track Each Project Plan Weekly. A senior project manager (SPM) is assigned to review weekly the progress of each plan. The SPM works, one-on-one, with each project manager. This step is essential as a check-and-balance to ensure that these plans are progressing as needed.

7. Repeat Steps 1–6 Every Six Months. After the top three to five problems have been addressed, now identify the next layer of top three to five problems and work them off in the same fashion.

Here’s a sample list of common top problems that frequently surface; the problems are listed as “what is needed”:

Clearly defined roles and responsibilities for project members (for example, project manager, team leader, business architect)

A consistent project management methodology defined, documented, and followed

An effective portfolio management process to nominate and prioritize projects

Dedicated project managers and resource managers

A defined and communicated awards program.

A project plan for, say, the first bullet, might include milestones such as the following: define and obtain agreement on the problem; draft a high-level solution to the problem and have it reviewed by a short list of peers; draft the solution and have it approved by the appropriate organization’s members; train the members of the organization so they understand the roles and responsibilities; enforce compliance as new projects are started.

MY EXPERIENCE SHOWS that almost all problems can be solved and institutionalized within three to six months. Now that’s progress!

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

August 2000 PM Network



Related Content