Project Management Institute

Make a move



Whether an operational shift registers among business leaders as simply a change in philosophy or an evolution of the unavoidable, they all see continuous improvement the same way. It's a necessity, as they seek to make successful organizations more productive and profitable. Undoubtedly, employing industry-recognized best practices can help accomplish this goal.

The most progressive leaders have adopted a project-centric approach. PM Network spoke with six executives about how this type of cultural transition has affected their respective organizations.

When moving from an ad hoc to a project-centric enterprise, what are the key components of projects, programs and portfolios?

PIERSON BOB CLAIR III: Change was something that people in this organization were not used to experiencing. However, if we did not change, the market would change without us. Great people create great companies, so the first order of magnitude was to find great people within the context of not damaging an icon with a worldwide following.

JAMES KELLEHER: Throughout this type of transition there is always a pressure to meet deadlines and therefore stay with “old” processes that are familiar, rather than spend the time to move to a new way of working. In the end, a carrot-and-stick approach ends up being required in some instances. If the resources required for a project are more readily available for those who work in the context of a project and portfolio mix, then there is incentive for taking the time and effort to do that. Positive reward also helps, offering acknowledgement to those who really subscribe to the package.

Executive Summary

➔   Executives implementing a project-centric approach to operations should be aware that employees will often resist the change.

➔   Because a project approach yields more detailed and timely information, companies increase their ability to shift to market demands.

➔   Patience is crucial. Even if employees immediately embrace the change, instant success remains rare.

As regards transitioning individual projects, we have tried to do this in a phased approach. As new projects start or existing projects begin new phases, we transition to an integrated approach. But we avoid the risks associated with changing existing projects, particularly those in critical phases.

Without the executive vision, change does not happen

Without the executive vision, change does not happen.

ALEXANDRE RODRIGUES: We found that the most adequate method for ensuring the transition necessary to incorporate project, programs and then portfolios is to utilize the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3®). This model considers that organizational project management consists of three layers, wherein maturity should be improved continuously throughout the stages of standardization, measurement, control and improvement.

OPM3 provides organizations with an assessment tool to evaluate their maturity in each of these three layers and to develop improvement plans aligned with best practices and organizational strategy.

How do executives fit into the mix?

JENNIFER VAN FOSSEN: Executives are responsible for making sure that a project manager's work contributes to the overall vision, and that the process remains a tool for driving the desired outcome.

MR. CLAIR: Without the executive vision, change does not happen. Executives must instill ownership within the project teams. Ownership of this nature allows conversation to take place and unleashes the creativity capable of helping a company move forward.

MR. RODRIGUES: With a project background already in place, there was no need to obtain executive buy-in. Instead, the philosophy is an instrumental component of our operational processes.

How does a team of project managers help with timely decision-making?

MS. VAN FOSSEN: Timely information helps us quickly monitor for variances, which in turn expedites decision-making. The likelihood of this happening increases if your organization empowers individual members to become leaders. However, you also need to make it very clear what the metrics to management will be, so that there is a shared vision of what success looks like.

MR. CLAIR: Everything moves so much faster because the hesitation is gone, empowerment is recognizable and project ownership exists. Plain and simple, time is important in any environment. The project methodology speeds up the entire organization and provides it with more time to think proactively about its future direction. Any company that does not value time does not understand the nature of business.

MR. RODRIGUES: Project managers allow our executives to quickly understand what clients, products and services as well as initiatives continue to add value to our business model.

The Panel


JENNIFER VAN FOSSEN, Senior Vice President, Definition 6, Atlanta, Ga., USA

Industry: IT consulting

Goal: Effectively manage operations and provide consistent service

Transitional Approach: Designing a project-focused process was a priority very early on within Definition 6's core philosophy. Further, its project management process is iterative, constantly being refined and improved.

Timeframe: The organization was able to achieve a consistent project mentality within its first year.

Result: Improved client satisfaction, attaining a 92 percent retention rate


JAMES KELLEHER, CEO, Generis Corp., Basel, Switzerland

Industry: Software development

Goal: Keep up with an increase in industry demand

Transitional Approach: Throughout its culture change, Generis has been shifting from being a full systems-integration company to being a more software-focused one doing projects around its own projects. As a result, the firm has had two changes to deal with. According to Mr. Kelleher, the jury is still out as to whether that has made it easier or harder to transition.

Timeframe: The organization started the change to a project-centric approach approximately two years ago. Mr. Kelleher says he feels the firm still has another six-plus months of changing to a project-centric culture before everyone feels comfortable in the new way of working.

Result: Improved response times and more accurate forecasting


PIERSON BOB CLAIR III, President and CEO, Brown & Haley, Tacoma, Wash., USA

Industry: Confectioner

Goal: Grow the 93-year-old company without diminishing the status or its one internationally recognized product

Transitional Approach: Brown & Haley understood that making this cultural transition was necessary, but required a change in core principles. As a result, executive leadership instituted an advisory committee to play an instrumental role in guiding the shift. They worked to keep the organization's goal in the forefront while minimizing any negative effects commonly associated with change.

Timeframe: Making the long-term shift took roughly two years.

Result: Double-digit increases in growth and three new product introductions.


ALEXANDRE RODRIGUES, Executive Partner, Threon Iberia, Lisbon, Portugal

Industry: Project management consulting and training

Goal: Have team members handle all situations using a project-centric approach

Transitional Approach: Considering that its founders had a solid understanding of project management principles, Threon was born as a consulting and training company specializing in project managmeent science. The firm bases its competitive advantage on a combination of in-depth knowledge and mastery of practical implementation of project management best practices, particularly earned value management.

Timeframe: While there have been a few challenges along the way, the company considers itself an early adopter of some emergent project management best practices and standards.

Results: Uses its own operational efficiency as a case study for the potential of the project-centric approach.

As a result, the establishment of a project management career path within the organization has shown its vitality. Project management practiced as a well-established and comprehensive discipline requires development and execution by specialists within the organization. The final practitioners using the project management discipline must be involved in the development of the methodologies they will use. A strategic, organization-wide PMO can also play a vital role in this process.

What are the primary challenges to culture change?

MR. KELLEHER: The main hurdle is trying to liberate enough time to step back and plan over a longer period rather than just firefighting on individual projects depending how loudly customers shout. Sometimes it's a case of working with the customer to plan for future issue resolution.

Time to Change

Becoming a more project-centric organization isn't always easy. But management can ease the process by following a few rules:

1 Establish the value of project management in relation to functional management. “If you fail to place the same value, your organization is really unwilling to open yourself to the potential benefits,” says Charlie Fleetham, president of Project Innovations Inc., Farmington Hills, Mich., USA.

2 Clearly develop the goals to achieve in making the change.

3 Embrace a team-oriented culture. “Without this, a project-centric organization is never free enough to accomplish its charters,” he says.

4 Encourage creativity within the workforce.

5 Avoid excessive fragmentation. “When people are working on individual projects and have no idea what is happening outside their own world, it can cripple long-term strategic success,” Mr. Fleetham says.

6 As the project program starts to gel with business operations, executives must consider portfolio management as well. “Executives put a process in place that looks at how best to handle project requests,” says Joe Topinka, CIO of Bloomington, Minn., USA-based RSM McGladrey Inc. “They need to look at the requests and understand the long-term impacts before committing to a project.”

7 Rather than trying to implement the latest in tools, companies should start simple and get the processes in place. “You do not want a situation where you are bogged down in data-rich tools, especially when you are adapting to change,” he says.

However, where the issue is categorized as critical, we are contractually bound to respond immediately. Very often, this can take away a resource for a couple of days at a key time in another project. Planning for these disruptions is almost impossible, as we may have several in one month and none in the following month. For us, tracking staff activities through time sheets or activity reports was crucial in seeing where planning was unrealistic or needed to be altered going forward.

MR. CLAIR: There was a guarding of the tradition that caused people to resist. Keeping this in mind, it was important to continuously consider how people react to the transition and know how you can effectively defuse any potential problems before they become a reality.

What are the most noticeable benefits?

MS. VAN FOSSEN: On-time and on-budget projects, along with an increase in customer satisfaction show that the transition has reached a level of success. This progress can be measured objectively through additional revenue from clients and subjectively through customer surveys.

MR. CLAIR: We benefited from improved product performance, the ability to tap into virgin territories and a renewed vigor amongst the entire staff. Once people could see the outcome of changing philosophy, the excitement became contagious.

MR. RODRIGUES: We've experienced a steady customer orientation and a strong team-working culture that remains focused on results. The best way to monitor progress is to use OPM3 to reassess maturity over time. A major advantage of this tool: It provides an objective basis upon which organizations can assess their maturity on a continuous scale of zero to 100 percent, based on a standard developed and accepted globally by the project management community.


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On-time and on-budget projects show that the transition has reached a level of success.

Leaders should also link business results to increasing maturity levels, which can be achieved by linking the OPM3 Key Performance Indicators to the organization's balanced scorecard.

What recommendations do you have for other firms?

MS. VAN FOSSEN: We researched project approaches, from hard-core IT shops all the way to more marketing concepts. Then we took the best-performing pieces most appropriate to our business model and combined them with the input of our employees and managers. We also developed an approach that blends thought leadership with the practical needs of our business. Stay focused on your desired outcome.

MR. KELLEHER: It is well worth the initial upheaval—and it will be an upheaval—to arrive at a more managed approach to resource usage and ultimately delivery and revenue-generation capability. Do not underestimate the time required from all concerned to get both project and portfolio management in place.

Don't bother planning and tracking information that is not going to help you improve efficiency or increase revenue. There also is no point sticking to one approach. If you find it does not work, change it until you discover something that works for your business, your staff and management profile.

MR. RODRIGUES: Training in project management is essential for everyone, from executives to seemingly nominal team members. Agile and easy-to-use systems are also important. An open communication of benefits and difficulties helps, too. PM

Peter Fretty, a Whitehall, Mich., USA-based freelancer, has appeared in more than 60 trade and consumer publications, including Advanced Manufacturing, Canadian Security, Continental, Frontline Solutions and Paperboard Packaging.

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.




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