Connecting practices and processes for project management success
Mary-Lou Raybould, Project Director, Hewlett-Packard
Ginger Levin, D.P.A., President, GLH, Incorporated
Projects’ products and services are the result of numerous and interrelated work processes. These processes are at the organizational, team, and individual level. As we continue in the 21st century, the frantic pace of our projects and our lives will only continue. It is easy to get into a rut of becoming narrow thinking and following the same processes, day-in-and-day out. Familiar routines may not be the most effective, but they are comfortable and safe. As a result, they are difficult to change. However change is needed. Consider some of the following statistics:
• Every year, $75 billion is spent on failed IT projects in the U.S. 74 percent of all IT projects fail, come in over budget or run past the original deadline. 28 percent of projects fail all together (Source: The Standish Group, 1998).
• Thirty-one-point-one percent of projects will be cancelled before they ever get completed. In larger companies (where the average cost of a development project is over $2 billion), only 9% of the projects come in on time and on budget (Source: The Standish Group, as reported by Solutions Integrator, June 30, 1999).
• Nearly half of all application development projects cost 70% more than originally budgeted (Source: The Standish Group, as reported by InternetWeek, September 6, 1999).
These difficulties cannot be blamed solely on something like a lack of a corporate project management methodology, the need for a project office, or not having the most sophisticated project management software system. Our focus as project management professionals, though, is typically on the tools and techniques used to select projects; estimate cost and resource requirements; prepare plans; prepare schedules; issue requests for proposals and award contracts; identify, assess, and quantify risks; and monitor and control projects.
Technology, tools, and techniques are not the reason projects fail; they fail instead because of people. Often overlooked is the individual level. The practices of the Project Manager are at the heart of any successful project, and repeatable, successful projects come from good processes and Project Managers who continue to learn and improve their personal practices. Personal practices, though, become ingrained and harder to change, with performance typically measured on the outcome rather than the process used to achieve the outcome.
This paper discusses the need to connect processes and practices. It describes the importance of process management, the need to focus on competencies and assess processes used, and relates the personal processes through the Personal Improvement Model for Project Management Professionals (Levin, 1999) to those at the organizational level as evidenced in some of the leading organizational maturity models.
The Importance of Process Management
Dinsmore (1999) states that projects depend on processes, and processes depend on projects. There is a chicken and egg type relationship. While the product or service is being produced or delivered through a project, a process is being followed. These processes are both on the organizational level as well as on the personal level. The purpose of a process is to describe what you intend to do. It should meet your needs and help guide your work. A process can help you produce work products and deliver services that are expected by your customers and other project stakeholders. Processes should be ones that meet or support business and technical objectives; identify and define the issues, models, and measures that relate to the performance of the process; provide the support system needed; and ensure that the organization has the ability, in terms of training, skills, tools, funds, and facilities, to meet and support the process.
These are the four responsibilities central to process management (Florac et al., 1997): define the process, measure the process, control the process (ensure that variability is stable so results are predictable), and improve the process. This differs somewhat from project management, which strives to ensure that products and services are developed according to plan with objectives to set and meet achievable commitments, ensuring customer satisfaction, with respect to cost, schedule, function delivered, and time to market. The Project Manager emphasis typically is on executing the process. But without underlying process management activities, project managers assume significant risk in both setting and meeting objectives. Process management must be connected to practices.
Defining a process creates the environment for controlling and improving it. In project management, this refers to the basic methodology used for projects. At the individual level, it refers to the basic approach you use as you execute your organization's project management methodology—your own personal process. Measurements are the basis for detecting deviations from acceptable performance and identifying opportunities for improvement. Measurements can be done both at an individual and at an organizational level. Controlling a process means keeping it within its performance boundaries—making the process behave consistently or the way we want it to work. Control enables us to do two things: predict results and produce products or deliver services that have characteristics desired by customers. With control, we can commit to dates and support budgets by which products and services will be delivered and live up to the commitments. This also involves measurement, analyzing information to detect variations in the process, and taking steps to remove variations and make corrections.
Once you define a process, you can then create the environment for controlling and improving it. Improving the process involves making changes to enhance its capabilities to make it more effective so it continues to support practices. Processes must be technologically competitive, adaptable, and timely. They can be improved to meet new demands and changing circumstances. The kinds of products or services you have been involved with and the types of customers and markets you deal with all can influence performance of your process.
Competencies and Personal Processes
To be more effective with others, you must first be more effective with yourself. This leads to a focus on improving competencies along with personal processes. Interest in competence in project management is based on the reasonable and widely held assumption that if people who manage and work on projects are competent, they will perform effectively, and this will then in turn lead to successful projects and successful organizations (Crawford, 1998). Competence has a variety of meanings depending on the context in which it is used. It encompasses knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors that are causally elated to superior job performance (Boyatzis, 1982). Waller (1997) refers to it as observable evidence of performance—a skill and the standard of performance reached. Blackburn (1998) describes two schools of thought in the competence field: standards and behavioral— with one focusing on the skills required and the other on what a skilled person can do. She raises some question about the real value of experience, but regards it more as a filter for innate and learned abilities and focuses her research on real project managers in action, assessing what they do. Crawford (1998) describes what project managers know as ‘input competencies’ and the ability to perform the activities as “output competencies,” leading to what she describes as project management effectiveness.
Pedler et al. (1994) describe a framework of the qualities of effective managers based on their research into successful managers. They group these qualities into clusters of personal competence:
• Basic knowledge and information
• Command of basic facts
• Relevant professional understanding
• Skills and attributes
• Continuing sensitivity to events
• Analytical, problem-solving, decision/judgment-making skills
• Social skills and abilities
• Emotional resilience
• Proactivity-inclination to respond purposefully to events
• Mental agility
• Balanced learning habits and skills
Waller (1997) also describes a model with the same basic Pedler (1994) framework but taking it a step further in describing levels of performance. Professional associations (PMI, IPMA, and AIPM) further have initiatives in place or under way to identifying those core competencies required by project management and how certifications relate to those competencies. Crawford (1999) identifies issues to consider when assessing project management competence and how standards play a part in this process. She argues that the standards need to be used as a basis for assessing and developing competence, but project managers also need skills in such areas as their ability to interpret project environment factors in order to create successful project outcomes.
The challenges that face project managers are huge—do it yesterday, do more, get done faster, and use fewer resources. Complexity, technology, competition, globalization, instant communications, downsizing, use of outsourcing, virtual teams, and cross-cultural issues obviously will affect us all and be driving forces. Unexpected things that we have not even thought of today will bombard us in the future as project managers. Rapid change is the only constant on projects. Even tougher performance standards lie ahead. As DeCarlo noted (1997), “if you think you're stretched thin now, just wait.”
Projects are characterized by learning. Each project represents an opportunity for its participants to learn what worked successfully, what worked only satisfactorily and needed improvement, and what should not have been done at all. How can we best implement project management methods and skills so they become a normal way to conduct business operations? We must first understand our own personal processes that we use to assess them and improve upon them to in turn increase our own competencies. As noted by Waller (1997), competence is presented as a rational basis for making decisions regarding future human performance, but this requires a inference of a minimum future performance from some form of assessment of the individual.
An Overview of the Personal Improvement Model
The Personal Project Management Improvement Model (Levin, 1999) is structured by levels. Achieving each level involves institutionalizing new capabilities. Each level is comprised of a collection of practices. Within each level, there are goals to be achieved. Goals are stated as results to be achieved by describing observable features. The extent that goals are accomplished shows the capability established by the individual at the specific maturity level. Activities are described to show what is necessary to meet the goal. Metrics present basic measurement activities to determine status related to the activities and goals. Metrics are displayed in terms of product/service measures, process measures, and resource measures. Forms, templates, databases, spreadsheets, and reports to use are included in the model. It is recognized, however, that gathering data takes time and requires commitment for usefulness. Data must be accurate and must cover the areas of greatest personal interest.
Building on the Personal Project Management Improvement Model, to work toward a personal improvement program, the first step is to establish a baseline of your own knowledge, skills, and competencies. This is done by assessing and documenting your best and worst performance on projects. Consider aspects of your performance that you thought would work out just fine, such as an approach that you used to motivate a team member that did not work, and other examples where you did not think you would succeed, such the method you selected to resolve a conflict between two team members, but in fact turned out to be successful. Draw your own map to examine the context of your project, assess your stakeholders, review the functions you should be but are not performing, and examine the competencies you should exhibit. This baseline is needed so you can recognize whether or not your performance is improving.
The next step is to define and establish a personal process that you can use as you perform your project work. Look at where you are now and where you would like to be. Choose and focus on the things you can control and influence, and focus on productive activities that add value, not on circumstances over which you lack control. As DeCarlo (1997) stated, “The next century will put a premium on back to basics…challenging us to redirect our energies to focus on those things that are within our power to change. The fact is that we can't change the competitive scene, the course of globalization, or projects that will become increasingly complex.” Set forth objective performance criteria for yourself. Array your own goals against those of your manager, your organization, your team members, and your customers. Look at each step in your personal process to see if it is really needed and is frequently repeated or whether it is just done on a one-time basis. Analyze the sources of problems that you seem to encounter over and over again.
In Level 2 in the Personal Project Management Improvement Model, individuals define and establish processes used to perform their project work to take personal responsibility for their work and to plan work activities based on these defined processes. A process is defined through textual listings, flowcharts, mind mapping, procedural descriptions, and graphic descriptions of work activities. A process is developed by determining the nature of products and services of concern, identifying principal attributes of the product or service, determining the relative priorities of the attributes, and noting relationships among attributes. Goals, objectives, and criteria are defined. Low-risk settings to test and practice the process are identified. After various parts of the project are complete, the process used is assessed to determine status and to re-evaluate it. As people at this level gain experience in defining and using a process, they will see the tools and methods that work best in their area.
Work to agree to commitments on your project that you know you can meet. Think of commitments not only from a scope, schedule, and cost perspective, but also in terms of human resources as well. Recognize that improved performance comes from motivation, from arousing and maintaining the will to work effectively, not because one is coerced, but because one is committed (Martin, 1993).
Strive to understand the answers to questions such as:
• Where does my project fit within the overall strategic plan of the organization?
• Where is my organization headed?
• Why do our projects fail or succeed?
• Does top management even know about or care about my project?
Look at what you must do personally to contribute to the success of your project from other than just a technical standpoint. Then, measure, analyze, and improve your work processes by evaluating the accuracy and effectiveness of your personal plans and processes to determine their potential for improvement and by making adjustments as needed. Defining, measuring, and tracking work provides insight into how you perform. All individuals can learn from extremes, both positive and negative (Humphrey, 1995).
Recognize, though, that even with the best intentions, a detailed plan, and a process, though, some problems still will occur. Do not be embarrassed by errors that you may make. The fact that many errors are simple ones, oversights, or dumb mistakes generally makes people feel they can improve merely by trying harder. The problem is that trying harder often makes things worse. Focus instead on measuring, analyzing, and improving work processes by evaluating the accuracy of your personal plans and processes to determine their potential for improvement. Analyze your mistakes and accept responsibility for them; do not try to cast them off on others. Think proactively and set measurable goals. As the Project Manager, you must recognize that you are accountable even if it appears there are insurmountable problems and obstacles to overcome. Researching and understanding your own performance is a powerful incentive for change (Crawford & Cooke-Davies, 1999).
Personal maturity is based on self-mastery and control. Seek training to assist in a continuous improvement approach, and maintain your knowledge and skills at the highest levels, ensuring that you can apply the latest approaches using the latest available technology in your specific application area and industry so you can deliver value to the organization. Look for practice opportunities or trial efforts for new skills to show strengths, weaknesses, benefits, and impacts. Work to share effective practices and lessons learned with others so learning is valued and captured. Continuous improvement, not business as usual, is a prerequisite for success.
The Personal Improvement Model and Organizational Maturity Models
The Personal Improvement Model for Project Management Professionals is supportive of organizational project management maturity models. The organizational maturity models provide the support environment project professionals need to do superior work, and the Personal Improvement Model equips project professionals to do high quality work and participate in organizational process improvement.
Long-term success from an organizational perspective needs to empower people to want to improve personal practices. In fact, improvement of personal practices typically is a goal at Level 5 of some of the leading organizational project management maturity models on the market today. In one model (Levin et al., 1999), two objectives at Level 5 demonstrate this importance: continuous project management process improvement is established and maintained, and participation in improving personal competencies in project management is organization wide. Individuals are encouraged to continuously improve the personal work processes involved in their work. As a result, changes are made to individual personal development plans based on the activities performed to improve individual work processes. Individuals measure the performance of their work processes, analyze the measured performance to identify opportunities for improvement, and identify the knowledge, skills, and competencies they need to improve their own processes. Level 5 of the Software Engineering Institute's People Capability Maturity Model [P-CMM] (Curtis et al., 1995) is also indicative of the need for continuously improving methods for developing personal and organizational competence. Personal competency development is a key process area for Level 5 in the P-CMM, which consists of a voluntary program for continuously improving individual work processes. Paulk (1999) notes that common practices of a high maturity organization include project management, product, and process assurance. As a result most high maturity organizations have multiple process and quality improvement initiatives, including those at the personal level. He further states that the biggest challenge for high maturity organizations is to protect their process maturity.
To contribute toward organizational success, Project Managers need to aware of the processes they use to complete their work and the performance of those processes. The methodologies and processes that supported smaller, less complicated endeavors may not be optimal for today and tomorrow's more sophisticated projects. Project Managers need to be able to predict their performance, as they would that of any other project team member, as well as manage the quality of the work they produce. Research by Humphrey (2000) has shown that with a well defined, planned, and measured process, people are able to make more accurate plans, consistently meet cost and schedule commitments, produce quality products, and improve productivity. With a defined, planned, and measured process, teams can negotiate with management, are more productive, can minimize cycle time, can better manage their projects, and will more likely enjoy their work. Organizational performance will improve.
Project managers and team members can use the Personal Project Management Improvement Model as a way to evolve personal processes through a disciplined and structured approach. Use of the model is done on an individual basis as each person has varied performance strengths and weaknesses in project management. Different strengths and weaknesses further are needed for different project positions and at different times in the project life cycle. Using the Personal Project Management Improvement Model by many people in an organization further can help promote an organization's improvement in its project management practices. The intent of both the organizational models and the Personal Improvement Model is to promote repeatable success in project endeavors. As Crawford and Cooke-Davies (1999) note, enhancements in project management capability involve interactions between people, projects, and organizations. Every part of this system must be addressed in order for real improvements in our management of future projects to occur.
Frame (1999) states that the issue of competence is one of the two or three most significant issues facing organizations today. In the past, getting by was good enough. Today, getting by is a prescription for failure. Individuals must strive to be superlative. You must take responsibility to rethink your own routine to help achieve the desired timeliness, cost, and quality standards of your outputs. Researching and understanding your own performance is a powerful incentive for change (Crawford & Cooke-Davies, 1999). The GartnerGroup states, in research it conducted in 1999, “By 2003, enterprises that implement a project management approach that emphasizes key business and interpersonal factors will reduce the total number of projects that fail by 30%.”
More people are working on projects using project management processes and tools and want to improve project success. But, many struggle to achieve their desired results. The organizational models of maturity along with the Personal Improvement Model for Project Management Professionals can help impart the needed environment and a process to provide the necessary ingredients to help project professionals succeed in challenging situations.
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Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
September 7–16, 2000 • Houston, Texas, USA
PMI research shows project teams that draw from an array of perspectives and skillsets deliver powerful outcomes.