Sun Jing, PEAC, Kunming, Yunnan, China
New industries are adopting project management—and reaping its benefits along the way.
by Manuela S. Zoninsein x// photo by Dave Terry
Project management has become a trend in the fashion industry, and educators are learning some new best practices. From small-scale farmers in Asia to community police officers in the United States, many non-traditional sectors are benefitting from adopting project management practices.
Technological improvements have revolutionized the fashion industry, allowing employees to keep close tabs on every step of apparel production. This increased transparency creates a more efficient supply chain and helps to eliminate bottlenecks. The ability to track information through software systems, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), has led to the growing adoption of project management processes, says Ken Li, senior vice president of the apparel group at the clothing manufacturer Waitex in New York, New York, USA.
An industry built on instinct and a keen eye for trends has been somewhat reluctant to implement processes that focus on numbers and analytics. By using data to demonstrate the value of project management, though, even the most skeptical stakeholders are buying in.
“The upside to mass manufacturing is that huge volumes of pieces can be produced efficiently,” Mr. Li says. “The downside is if there's a problem, the assembly line will get stuck—and you don't notice until 100,000 pieces have been made.”
The fashion world is following the lead of other industries that have seen the increased control and ROI project management provides.
When such legendary designers as Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood were making names for themselves, they weren't looking at “sell-through data,” the percentage of units sold from the total inventory, Mr. Li says. One of the fashion industry's newest power players, however, is not a sartorial wizard but an IT expert: Ron Johnson, former head of Apple's retail stores, was poached by J.C. Penney to become CEO in November.
We were always asking, ‘Where are we at with the project? What did we say we'd do? Did we do what we said we would do? Did we stay within our budgets?’
—Harriett Johnson, PMP
SAFE AND SOUND SECTOR: Public Safety
Financial fiascoes and job-security woes have hit public safety budgets hard.
“The increase of project management practices in public safety is intertwined with budget issues and the public's demand of accountability for government services,” says Ben Krauss, PMP, public safety technology specialist at Search, The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics, a notfor-profit organization in Spokane, Washington, USA.
Increased accountability has pressured public safety departments to ramp up their project selection and prioritization processes.
At the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in North Carolina, USA, “our supervisors need the same justification and reasons for approving a project as any other company,” explains Harriett Johnson, PMP, business systems manager.
On a recent project to implement an online crime-reporting system for citizens, the project team followed standard scorecard metrics.
“We were always asking, ‘Where are we at with the project? What did we say we'd do? Did we do what we said we would do? Did we stay within our budgets?' We're always held accountable and must report accordingly,” she says.
To prove the project's value to external stakeholders, the team tracked:
- The number of reports submitted online
- The amount of money and time saved
“Civilians report crimes online at their convenience and get the same service they would have over the phone or in person,” Ms. Johnson says. “That builds credibility for future projects.”
Transparency is a best practice in any governmental sector. “We need to show we are implementing sound and consistent standards, using reliable methodologies and tools that support credibility, professionalism and public trust,” Mr. Krauss says.
Looking ahead, Ms. Johnson would like to see the sector adopting an agile approach. Her project team currently uses waterfall development, bringing in members as they are needed. Instead, she'd prefer her team members to be “brought together in the beginning to work as a unit throughout.” This could serve law enforcement particularly well, as the culture is very tight-knit and team-oriented, she says.
LEARNING PROCESS SECTOR: Educational Reform
The influx of data has also been a catalyst for the education field to adopt project management, explains Allan Alson, EdD, senior consultant at the Consortium for Educational Change, a not-for-profit organization in Lombard, Illinois, USA that pairs with public school districts and their communities to break the links between race, poverty and student achievement. The organization provides senior consultants who work with leaders of urban school districts for engagements that may last up to 10 years.
In the United States, information gathering and reporting (and, in turn, project management) were significantly increased by a piece of legislature, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001. There are sanctions that can affect funding for schools that don't meet standards.
“There was demand to disaggregate all that data by race, poverty, socioeconomics and other categories,” Dr. Alson explains. This enabled project teams to identify students who were achieving or struggling, according to a wide array of measures.
Armed with that data, project leaders work with teachers and administrators to discuss what changes should be implemented at a school to ensure its achievement.
“The key really is how teachers and administrators use data to improve instruction,” Dr. Alson says.
Teachers are engaged in regular meetings with project team members to discuss what patterns they notice in terms of struggles and successes. Their involvement helps shape individual initiatives, and they are encouraged to discuss and push back on projects to integrate new techniques and skills in the classroom. These stakeholders follow a collaborative, iterative approach to fine-tune project scope and processes.
However, there are simply not enough project teams yet, Dr. Alson says. Educators need help using data to change behaviors. “They need training and support to be successful and ultimately reach sophistication,” he explains.
The Panasonic Foundation, the program's sponsor, works with the school board office, central office, principal leadership and teacher union leadership in school districts, building collaboration among those stakeholder groups.
That interaction has shown that a culture shift is needed—from one that discourages disagreement and honest dialogue to one that encourages and supports honest, open evidence-based discussion and constructive criticism.
“Administrators and teachers need to learn that it's okay to push back,” he says.
FERTILE GROWTH SECTOR: Sustainable Agriculture
As organizations become more complex, they risk becoming unwieldy. To accommodate rapid growth, Pesticide Eco-Alternatives Center (PEAC), an organic agriculture nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Kunming, Yunnan, China, adopted project management processes. Project teams held regular meetings to clearly delineate strategic goals and status check-ins to analyze achievements and setbacks before outlining an initiatives next steps.
Stakeholder management played a key role as well. “Project teams must be thoughtful and deliberate when they identify and reach out to experts, who provide critical guidance and support whenever we implement a project,” says Sun Jing, deputy director and Asia Pacific project coordinator at PEAC.
The organization established a steering committee of experts, government officials, academics and NGO staffers. They come together twice a year to evaluate the process of each project in PEAC‘s portfolio, including a research study to determine the success of a chemical pesticide reduction campaign. In addition, the steering committee will join in the procedure of reviewing plans for the next year's projects, considering what processes could be strengthened and reviewing strategic goals.
Bringing together such diverse individuals contributes to buy-in. “We establish good relationships with the government, from the county and provincial levels to the national level,” Ms. Sun says.
Project teams must be thoughtful and deliberate when they identify and reach out to experts, who provide critical guidance and support whenever we implement a project.
In today's unpredictable business climate, non-traditional sectors have taken notice of the benefits of project management. Whether the goal is to increase transparency or shift the focus to business value, more and more organizations are adopting best practices. PM
PM NETWORK DECEMBER 2011 WWW.PMI.ORG
PMI research shows project teams that draw from an array of perspectives and skillsets deliver powerful outcomes.