Executing a project management community in a low-maturity environment

Abstract

Many organizations suffer from an inability to advance their project management discipline to a higher level of performance. Their leadership may appreciate the need to have their project managers playing to the same sheet music, but culture, generational struggles, and distorted expectations from management can interfere with any movement toward improvement.

What are some of the symptoms? If you are operating in an environment where (1) projects are delivered with significant inconsistency, (2) a wide degree of expectations exist within senior leadership on what status reports should contain, (3) subjective versus objective dashboards are common, or (4) team members and stakeholders can't seem to recognize the value of meeting minutes—you might be in a low-maturity environment.

What can you do to help improve what's been normalized? There are some steps you can take with minimal financial resources to help improve the behavior and increase the maturity of the discipline. YOU can establish a new Project Management Community.

Once executed and sustained, you will see evidence of more consistent practices, stakeholders who are better equipped to perform their roles, and teams that are better prepared to accurately measure project health for informed decision making.

Introduction

Before we can appreciate the existence of a Project Management Community for your organization, we need to first explore what is meant by Project Management Community and low maturity.

The Project Management Community Defined

PMI has set the standard for launching Communities of Practice. The vast majority of these are virtual associations or interactive places to meet online where you can share thoughts that support the discipline of project management. These communities can help you connect with fellow project managers throughout the world on the Internet, forums, and blogs. They provide a great opportunity to learn from peers who have the same interests within a specific area of practice.

What if you have the desire to leverage the construct of a virtual Project Management Community by creating a more physical existence of one within your organization? What would it look like to have a community within your company that served all the portfolio, program, and project managers and their teams by providing them capabilities and tools that allow them to improve project delivery? Think in terms of providing a service. Try not to get bogged down with any early preconceived notions on the expense of the idea. First explore the possibilities and remain open to any new mechanisms that will help your project management practitioners become more successful with their initiatives.

So what is the best way to define having a Project Management Community or Project Management Community of Practice within your organization? The best way to describe it might be to examine what it will look like when it's active and moving. This will vary from one organization to the next, but in short, general terms, it means:

Enabling your project managers to come together in an effective way that supports the exchange of best practices and efficiencies for improved delivery.

When activated, you can expect to see project management practitioners within your organization now centered around forums, certification initiatives, training classes, mentoring programs, specialized project management toolkits, and career development and performance management objectives.

This definition serves only as a guide to help you define what it can mean for your organization. Once you have a pulse for the delivery challenges within your company, the list of needed capabilities and services will reveal themselves as being must-haves for your Project Management Community.

This does not require significant investment but can be extremely helpful. It creates a bond between project managers who feel safe voicing their opinions and who start sharing their own best practices. This in turn allows the collection of invaluable feedback throughout the entire implementation of new project management best practices, and makes certain that everyone involved still perceives the change as worth the effort (De Dobbeleer, p.3).

Open communication is paramount to the success of your Project Management Community. When it does not exist, Dobbeleer stated, “In the absence of such a community, project managers will sometimes not voice their concerns if they are not asked, and may instead stop their efforts and thus jeopardize the success of the initiative.” (De Dobbeleer, p.3)

An effective Project Management Community will have open lines of communication: frequent surveys, an appointed lead, and an email address and distribution group to help facilitate information sharing and data collection.

Maturity Explored

Before we dive too deep into the “maturity” discussion, let's ensure we are clear on the context for assessing your environment. This is not meant to declare any of the project managers within your company, department, or organization mature or immature, competent or incompetent. Don't misinterpret the position of this writing as an attack on any of the people responsible for delivery. It is intended to give you an opportunity to examine how your ENTIRE organization lives, champions, and appreciates portfolio, program, and project management. Do you have areas of project management expertise living in silos? How often do the project managers surface to share their thoughts with younger, less-experienced practitioners? Are there active programs for coaching or mentoring? How do you perform lessons learned and how are they communicated and incorporated back into your delivery systems? These are just a few questions you can ask when assessing the OVERALL level of maturity within your organization.

Most organizations have pockets of expertise. These are subject matter experts (SMEs) who cannot be shared with the rest of the company (for a variety of reasons). Centers of Excellence (COEs) may exist, but they present their own set of challenges in the context of a thriving Project Management Community. COEs are usually established, in general terms, by a single department that demonstrates the best-of-breed project management behavior for the organization. Other departments are expected to leverage their tools and echo their behaviors. These COEs serve as shepherds for the discipline and others are encouraged to follow. This is more of a vacuum approach in improving overall maturity and it can, if not properly managed, serve as a blocker to bringing everyone to the neutral zone for discussions on process improvement or increasing maturity. Use Exhibit 1 as a starting point for contemplating the visual expression and evaluation of the maturity level of your organization.

Be Prepared for the Future of Program and Portfolio Management (Apfel, 2011, slide 11)

Exhibit 1. Be Prepared for the Future of Program and Portfolio Management (Apfel, 2011, slide 11)

The level to which your organization is already performing is important to some degree. But with respect to determining the benefits of having a Project Management Community, it doesn't matter if your practice is assessed at maturity level 5 or is just starting to explore fundamental capabilities at level 1. ALL organizations can benefit from the offerings provided by a Project Management Community.

Thinking that you can enhance the maturity level within your organization will be disastrous (or frustrating at best) if left to just serendipity or happenstance. The effort requires and deserves long-term goals and objectives, led by discipline, which, once established, will inevitably lead to an increased level of project management delivery maturity within your organization.

Project Management Community | Generating A Purpose Statement

If you determine that your organization might be a candidate for a Project Management Community, there are several factors that you should consider before starting the exercise. Examine the following to ensure you have fully explored the need to launch a Project Management Community for your organization.

  • Are there specific business or delivery concerns that need to be addressed?
  • Are there one or two executive sponsors who are willing to commit financial resources to the objectives, services, or capabilities offered by the Project Management Community?
  • Are there director-level or higher management personnel who are willing to participate on the Project Management Community steering committee and provide leadership and decision making to ensure success?
  • Are there genuine do-ers who can serve on a core team?

Ultimately, these questions will help you address and clarify “Why do we exist?” for your Project Management Community (Lencioni, n.d.). Exploring each will help you determine if value can be found in having a Project Management Community. They can also help you assess, from the perspective of new capabilities or solutions, what is needed by the organization using a business lens.

Previous Attempts and History

You should give strong consideration to exploring the history and background for any previous attempts at having a Project Management Community. Have you tried this before? For some of you the answer is no, but for others its yes. Prior failed attempts could stem from a variety of factors:

  • Senior leaders could not see the value of the new function.
  • Feedback from fellow project managers indicated their lack of support for the new program.
  • Senior leaders did not have the time to serve on the Project Management Community steering committee or advisory board.
  • Project management as a discipline did not have enough footing to support the formation of the new community.
  • Leaders felt that it would distract employees from their core, workday activities.
  • HR and leadership were concerned that other employee practitioner groups would also want their own community (the new Project Management Community will set a precedent).

Consider evaluating these and other factors that could prevent your organization from adopting a Project Management Community. Understand the blockers. Several approaches can be taken, including adopting these as “barriers to success.” Take the time to develop high-level responses or approaches for each (think in terms of a risk response or risk handling plan).

Value and Benefit

Capture the value and benefit of having a Project Management Community for your organization. If you have assessed the delivery challenges, your Project Management Community can be positioned to address each of them. The antagonistic and protagonist views can be depicted as shown in Exhibit 2.

Delivery Challenge and Benefit/Value

Exhibit 2. Delivery Challenge and Benefit/Value

From a timing perspective, determine which delivery challenge should be addressed first. Validate its corresponding value and work to roll out that specific capability. Get an early win. Demonstrate value early. This will help you gain solid momentum for your Project Management Community.

Goals and Objectives

If you've ever participated in a strategic planning initiative, apply the same processes for defining the goals and objectives for your Project Management Community. Once you understand its purpose, you can proceed to developing its goals and objectives. Also give consideration to your Project Management Community's mission and vision. There are plenty of published sources to help you explore how to capture the mission and vision, so those development processes won't be addressed here. At a high level, start with the mission and vision and then explore the supporting goals and objectives. Your intent should be targeted toward the future capabilities that will be provided by the Project Management Community to all project managers within the organization.

Example Vision & Mission and Objectives

Exhibit 3. Example Vision & Mission and Objectives

Critical Success Factors

What must happen so that your Project Management Community can achieve its strategy? Consider all the activities and decisions required to ensure success.

Critical success factors are those few things that must go well to ensure success for a manager or an organization, and, therefore, they represent those managerial or enterprise areas, that must be given special and continual attention to bring about high performance. CSFs include issues vital to an organization's current operating activities and to its future success (Boynlon & Zmud, p. 17).

Explore all factors that you consider to be paramount to the success of your new Project Management Community, such that in their absence, the project will fail.

Assumptions, Constraints, Risks

Assumptions: What assumptions should be made concerning the creation of a new Project Management Community for your organization? Consider capturing this information within an Assumption Register. “The register records not only the assumption's potential impact if it fails and its ratings, but also shows the origin and links to other documents and projects” (Kinser, 2010). Describe any that relate to business, technology, resources, scope, expectations, or schedules.

In addition to capturing the standard field information on assumptions (title, description, date, etc.), you should also consider capturing the stability of each. Meaning, how much confidence is there that the assumption is correct? Assessing this variable will give additional insights into the nature of all your assumptions. Having a high degree of confidence concerning the creation of your Project Management Community will give you and the supporting team members a more stable footing when it comes to launch time.

Sensitivity is another good variable to assess for each assumption. This means determining “How much does it matter to the critical business objectives of starting a Project Management Community if the assumption proves to be incorrect?” This should be straightforward. To the degree that your organization is eager to have a new Project Management Community and you have demonstrated its value relative to improved business processes, you should take time to measure the degree of concern stakeholders should have should any of the key assumptions prove false.

Constraints: What are the early limitations for starting a Project Management Community for your organization? Describe any project constraints being imposed on the initiative, such as budget and finances, resources, technology, components to be acquired, and interfaces to other programs or systems within the organization. List the constraints based on what you know today.

Risks: Where are the areas where events could materialize that could affect project cost, schedule, performance, or the objectives of the project (i.e., government regulations, project resources, technology, business processes, or the customer)? These events could be either positive or negative. As you initiate the creation of your Project Management Community, it will be your job to identify risks on an ongoing basis throughout the life of the program.

Team, Organization, Governance

Take the time to survey the landscape within your Company for potential Project Management Community leaders. This is also the first step to specifying the organizational structure of the project team and stakeholders. Try your best to NOT select a large number of project managers or leaders from a single department. You will achieve more success if you can have a broader cross-section of participants from different areas within the organization. Again, the purpose is to liberate the project management SMEs working in silos and bring everyone to the neutral zone for growth. This is a significant step toward calibrating the project management maturity across the organization.

Consider the creation of a steering committee and a core team.

Steering Committee: The steering committee is made up of senior leaders from different departments that have delivery responsibilities. They are tasked with providing direction on the content and timing for components of the Project Management Community, providing feedback on what is working and what could be improved, while advocating more mature project management practices across the organization. Director-level (and higher) employees are best suited for this team. Please note the high-level structure in Exhibit 4.

Example Steering Committee

Exhibit 4. Example Steering Committee

Core Team: The core team is made up of project managers who have been identified as leaders within their respective departments. They are tasked with meeting at appropriate intervals to develop, validate, plan, and recommend new objectives to the steering committee. They must stay focused on ensuring alignment with departmental project management practices, while advocating more maturity throughout the organization. Portfolio, program, and project management employees are best suited for this team. It's best to ask steering committee leaders if they have candidates who can serve on the core team. Please note the high-level structure in Exhibit 5.

Example Core Team

Exhibit 5. Example Core Team

Roles and Responsibilities

Summarize the roles and responsibilities for the steering committee, core team, and any other roles identified that can help ensure success. Leverage the roles and responsibility templates within your organization to help you capture this information.

Also consider the nature of how the steering committee and the core team should interface. The communications between the two are bidirectional, meaning that the steering committee provides direction on the scope of work for the core team, and the core team provides feedback to the steering committee based on delivery issues at the project level. Good collaboration between these two teams will ensure success.

Charter the Opportunity

As you've probably noticed from the information above, the work needed to capture the “purpose statement” serves as a great start for developing the project charter for your new Project Management Community. Take the time to leverage whatever templates are available within your organization to build this document.

Early Buy-In

Initial Marketing

Once you've drafted the project charter, you now have a written foundation from which to communicate the opportunity. The target audience should be all persons performing portfolio, program, and project management. Also consider management employees who are usually responsible for funding or approving projects, and those who have served on project steering committees or change control boards in the past. Start with these individuals. Use one-one-sessions with them and introduce your ideas on the goals and objectives for the Project Management Community. Most senior leaders are very busy, so try the following approach:

1.  Perform the Elevator Test

Use the proven elevator test technique by building a 30-second overview of the key elements and ideas of the Project Management Community (have it committed to memory). Present this first to a cross-section of leaders within your organization. The objective is to prevent the outcome of the old saying, “You can bring a horse to water but you can't make him drink.” This approach should catch the interest of your leader. The intent is to make them thirsty first, in hopes they will want to drink later.

Sometimes you don't have much time to make your case. Know your solution (or your product or business) so thoroughly that you can explain it clearly and precisely to your client in the course of a 30-second elevator ride. If you can pass this “elevator test,” then you understand what you're doing well enough to sell your solution (Rasiel & Friga, 2002, p. 105).

The output of the elevator test is to capture their attention such that he or she will signal their desire to participate in a one-on-one session (a 30–45-minute meeting) for a deeper dive into the information captured within the charter.

2.  Perform the Personal (One-On-One) Overviews

Use the 30‒45-minute meetings to highlight the vision, mission, goals, and objectives of the Project Management Community. Clearly articulate what the leader will receive as an output from the Project Management Community. Give them time to think over your answers to “What's in it for me?” Afford them the opportunity to also share their thoughts and expectations of the discipline. This could include a list of things they would like to see from their project managers:

•  Increased competency

•  More consistent delivery

•  Improved interpersonal and professional skills

The output of these sessions will demonstrate the value of the Project Management Community in a secure and safe environment, without fear of another leader's negative influence (one who might not be onboard with the benefits of the program). Try to secure their agreement to attend a follow-up session and meeting with their peers.

3.  Perform the Steering Committee Launch

Once you've performed the elevator test and the personal overviews with at least six to 10 leaders within your organization, invite these leaders to a launch party or kickoff meeting. Make them aware of this event during your personal sessions and secure their commitment to attend. This kickoff is when you should review again the intent of the Project Management Community. During this time, the leaders should not be surprised by the program's purpose. At a minimum, you need to ask the steering committee for the following:

•  Their commitment to meet every two months or once a quarter to review the progress of the Project Management Community (keep the meeting frequency flexible).

•  Provide direction on the capabilities or offerings they would like to see developed by the Core Team for the Project Management Community.

•  Be willing to review (approve or reject) the rollout of key tools, templates, and processes as they are developed by the Core Team.

•  Confirm their commitment to communicate the benefit and value of the Project Management Community within their respective departments (help sell the services).

•  Define the membership of the Core Team by providing names of portfolio, program, and project managers from within their departments whom they feel can best drive the delivery of Project Management Community capabilities and outputs.

•  Help find or provide funding for the Project Management Community's goals and objectives.

The output of the meeting is to secure their approval for the organization to have a Project Management Community, approve the charter, and agree to attend the next Steering Committee meeting.

Branding and Logo

Branding is important! Try to leverage your marketing department's graphics team for assistance. Share with them the elevator speech and highlight the goals and objectives of the program. Seek their help in creating a logo with concise and very short wording that captures the essence of your Project Management Community.

The output of this activity is the creation of a logo, slogan, and document templates (Microsoft Word and PowerPoint) that will use the new designs. These tools will be used to help facilitate future meetings, intranet development efforts, newsletters, and so forth.

Launch and Maintenance

Tangible Communications

Communicating the progress of the Project Management Community is critical to its length of existence. What, when, and who to communicate to will vary from one organization to the next. If you have served within your organization for many years you should have a solid feel for the Project Management Community audience (senior leadership committees, executive office, directors, etc.). If you are relatively new to your organization, seek the counsel of your corporate communications department or find a leader who speaks often at employee functions or town hall meetings. The intent is to get their feedback on the best approaches to share the productivity of the Project Management Community. These mechanisms could include project management forums, newsletters, senior leadership memos, and the like. And of course, you should use PMI's framework for Communications Management from the PMBOK® Guide (PMI, 2008, p. 243).

The output of this activity should be a communications management plan, stakeholder analysis, communications matrix, or channel glossary where you have captured the internal and external communication vehicles for your organization.

Road Shows and Evangelizing for Success

As you consider additional forms of communicating the progress of the Project Management Community, also think about the many venues in which you can showcase its value and contributions to other areas of the organization.

1.  Department Meetings

Most departments (technology, marketing, finance, etc.) have monthly meetings where they need to bring employees together to share new ideas, discuss process changes, celebrate promotions, or acknowledge anniversaries or birthdays. Several of your steering committee members are responsible for leading these types of sessions for their own departments. Use your relationships with them to secure a date and time so you can have the opportunity to evangelize the accomplishments and needs of the Project Management Community.

2.  Use the Concept of a Project Management Forum

Set up monthly sessions that increase awareness of portfolio, program, and project management. This will create an avenue to share collective ideas and knowledge among the delivery practitioners from delivery organizations across the company. You can facilitate these sessions over lunch, one day per month or per quarter. This is the best way to facilitate project managers coming together for the profession within your company.

The output of this activity is an increased interest in what the Project Management Community has available to the organization (increased interest leads to increased demand).

Maintain the Momentum

Stay Ahead

Don't get behind. After you have made some significant progress with the analysis, creation, and rollout of strategic capabilities to the Project Management Community, you can run out of steam if you don't stay ahead of “What's next?” The profession is evolving and it's not as linear or as phased as it used to be. We are in a more agile world (PMI Agile Certification). Stay ahead of what's going on within your industry and the project management discipline.

Consider the benefits of the PMI Global Congress, your local PMI Chapters, and PMI Communities of Practice. Attend other conferences and congresses that are specific to project management tools, research, and delivery frameworks, such as the Microsoft Project Conference, Gartner PPM and IT Governance Summit, or the Scrum Gathering – Global Event. These are just a few ideas on how to stay ahead. These events will give you more insight every year on what you can bring home to your Project Management Community.

Here are a few questions to help you assess if you are positioned to stay ahead:

  • Are you and the core team members life-long learners?
  • Do you consider yourselves change champions?
  • Does your performing department or organization consider itself to be a learning organization?
  • Will your organization sponsor your attendance at global events like those listed above?

The output of this activity will help you mature the project management environment within your organization. It will help you create a picture for “planned work”—new ideas, trainings, conferences, or tools that can benefit your organization. Try to manage this forecast one year out from any current Project Management Community updates or status reports.

Politics

Be a politician—the good kind! Lead your Project Management Community as a result of being “from the people and of the people.”

Your credibility and that of the Project Management Community will be better established if its recipients experience you as a leader engaged in both “theory” and “practice.” Try to strike a balance between working to fine-tune the Project Management Community offerings (applying sound logic and theory), while staying actively involved with projects (hands-on and active). Stated more succinctly, look for opportunities to practice what you preach.

Be aware of the needs of the people responsible for delivering on projects within your organization. Develop an efficient feedback loop so all voices can be heard—the voice of the funding sponsor, project champions, delivery team members, and the end users of the project's product(s). There is plenty of opportunity to listen to the “maturity level” within the organization. Leveraging the construct of a Project Management Community will help you increase it, with consistency, over time.

The output of this activity will result in you better understanding the expectations of senior leaders within the organization with respect to the triple constraints. Additionally, you will be better positioned to understand challenges at the project level, overcome obstacles, and record lessons learned.

Conclusion

There can be many barriers to launching a Project Management Community for your organization. There are limited resources available to help you create one and even fewer formal processes to help serve as a guide. As you explore your desire to help your organization mature its delivery and project management practices, please use the content provided here. There are several recommendations listed that can help you improve portfolio, program, and project management delivery across all segments of your organization regardless of your currently operating footprint (level 1 or level 5 maturity).

Please let us know if this information has been helpful. We are eager to understand what worked well for your organization and what we should consider as we improve future recommendations.

References

Apfel, A. (2011). Be prepared for the future of program and portfolio management. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/msproject/gartner-be-prepared-for-the-future-of-ppm-2014

Boynlon, A. C., & Zmud, R. W. (1984). An assessment of critical success factors. Sloan Management Review, 25(4), 17.

De Dobbeleer, N. (2009). Strategy to develop project management in a low-maturity company. Retrieved from http://www.pmi.org/PDF/Members/DeDobbeleer_2008.pdf

Kinser, J. (2010, October). Don't make and ass out of you and me – Using assumptions effectively. PMI Global Congress 2010, Washington, DC.

Lencioni, P. (n.d.). The advantage – Organizational health model. Retrieved from http://www.tablegroup.com/advantagemodel/org-health/?tab=model

PMI. (2008). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® guide) (4th ed.). Newtown Square, PA: PMI.

PMI. (2012). PMI agile certified practitioner (PMI-ACP)SM. Retrieved from http://www.pmi.org/Certification/New-PMI-Agile-Certification.aspx

Rasiel, E. M., & Friga, P. N. (2002). The McKinsey mind: Understanding and implementing the problem-solving tools and management techniques of the world's top strategic consulting firm. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

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 or any listed author.

© 2012, Adrian Terry
Originally published as a part of 2012 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Vancouver, BC, Canada

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