Raising the bar in project management awareness and application

Al Zeitoun, Ph.D., PMP, International Institute for Learning, Inc.

Introduction

Project management as in the current way of thinking is only on the verge of growth. Although we have been managing projects for many years using some of today’s principles, we are still deficient in our capacity to apply and are still faced with several of the problems that we were faced with yesterday. Our lessons learned mechanisms and the discipline of learning is far from being sufficient for the challenges at hand. Organizations are slowly but surely coming to a point where there is a strong realization that the only true way for managing business is to manage by projects. This projectized approach for Managing Organizations By Projects (MOBP) handles the portfolio of projects that are on the plate of every organization. This is a continuous balancing act of changing priorities.

This paper is focused on today’s organizations and the steps that they go through as they mature and excel in project management awareness, understanding, and application. This is done by focusing on how organizations are learning and applying the discipline of project management, how they are identifying the gap between where they are and where they want to be, and on the steps that they are taking to guide them along their journey to project management excellence.

A survey of professionals in the field of project management across different industries reveals the elements of project management that these professionals are easily applying, the elements that are hard to apply, the steps they are taking for application of various project management techniques, the challenges that are hindering their application success, and the steps these professionals are taking to improve their likelihood for successful project management implementation.

The survey also looks at their preferred format of learning the project management processes, tools, and techniques, the need for mentoring and coaching as instruments for supporting the assurance that the learning is truly making a difference in their daily work.

Application of Project Management Elements

A list of questions were addressed in the survey that was given to a select group of participants of a series of satellite broadcast and web casting leaning sessions (survey is attached at the end of this paper). The following were the questions relating to the application of project management tools and techniques:

Questions 1 and 2: Which of the following elements of project management are easily applied (5) and which are hard to apply (1)? Project Charter (PC), Statement of Work (SOW), Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM), Project Book (PB), Critical Path Method (CPM), Critical Chain (CC), Software (SW), Earned value Analysis (EVA), Expected Monetary Value (EMV), Electronic Project Page (EPP), Using a Project Office (PO), Creating Small Successes (CSS), Educating more Stakeholders (ES)

Question 3: Name your top challenges in project management implementation.

Question 4: Name the steps that are followed in your organization to improve the likelihood of successful project management implementation.

The first question is focused on identifying what elements or project management are easily applied and what elements are difficult to apply in the project environment. Application has to do with the understanding with the tools or techniques, the preparation of the culture, and the possibility of achieving the buy-in needed for the successful use. The list included a mix of scope elements such as the Charter, the SOW, the WBS, scheduling elements such as CPM, CC, Software, human resource issues such as the RAM, the Project office, Creating Small Successes, and Educating Stakeholders, cost elements such as EVA, risk elements such as EMV, and communication elements such as the Project Book and the Electronic Project Page.

Exhibit 1. Applying Scope Elements

Applying Scope Elements

Exhibit 2. Applying Human Resource and Communications Elements

Applying Human Resource and Communications Elements

Exhibit 3. Applying Schedule, Cost, and Risk Elements

Applying Schedule, Cost, and Risk Elements

Looking at the results for question 1 in the survey, Exhibit 1 shows the distribution for the scope elements, Exhibit 2 shows the distribution for the human resource and communications elements, and Exhibit 3 shows the distribution for the schedule, cost, and risk elements. The median is used as the statistical measure for the results here, since it allows for better representing the data due to eliminating the potential bias that could otherwise exist.

As we analyze the results in these Exhibits, there is strong potential for the successful implementation of project management tools and techniques in the areas of scope, human resource, and communications. In these areas, the results varied between 3 and 4 in terms of ease of application. There is some application difficulty in the schedule, cost, and risk areas, especially in the use of Earned value Analysis (EVA) and Expected Monetary Value (EMV). The median was 2. EVA depends on the availability of information in the form of Budgeted Cost of Work Performed (BCWP), which is not easy to capture in some projects in certain organizations. There is a difficulty in knowing how far are we exactly in the completion of certain activities on projects. EMV is also difficult to quantify due to the information and effort needed to anticipate the probability of risk occurrence and the likely impact.

Looking at the answers in the survey for question 3 regarding top challenges in project management implementation, the answer mostly repeated had to do with the understanding and commitment of senior management. This is not a surprise since the success of project management culture needs to start at the top of organization so as to influence all the levels working on projects. Without that commitment, there is no alignment between the projects and the organizational objectives and it becomes difficult to see projects succeed.

As for question 4, pertaining to the steps followed by organizations in improving the success of project management implementation, most of the answers rotated around improving communications. This is crucial for any organization attempting to better learn from its experiences and willing to create success stories to be used to support implementation. Communicating to all stakeholders the objectives and scope of the project, kicking off the project with the proper input of key stakeholders, and defining the project phases properly helps ensure that the project is set on the right track for success. A big element here is the thorough front-end analysis of the project. These early phases of the project life cycle makes for the most impact on the cost, risk, and project decisions.

Preferred Project Management Learning Format

The surveyed individuals were asked to rate the following learning forms: classroom training, instructional CD-ROMs, DVD, videotapes, videoconferencing, and online learning. The top learning forms were the classroom training and the videoconferencing with a score of 4 out of 5 each in terms of preference. It still seems important for project managers and team members to have the interactions that exist in a classroom experience and to some extent in the videoconferencing option.

These interactions allow for the depth required to take the teaching of the principles to the application level. It also allows participants to learn from one another as they enhance their skills and think about the applicability of the learned concepts.

The use and the impact of coaching and mentoring is still at the emphancy stage. The score is only a 2 in both instances. This is expected since the full commitment to project management across organizations has not been reached yet. Understanding what areas of coaching and mentoring would be useful for the organization is the first step toward deciding on the use of the approach and thus gaining the likely impact. This is a great way to have lasting effects for the learning experiences. The coach/mentor could emphasize the use of tools and techniques and allow for ongoing and timely support for the needs of team members.

Culture Change

The trends that are present in the organizations surveyed help us understand the cultural change that is needed in the various industries to make the revolution needed to excel in project management. Changing an organization’s practices is not easy, especially if the baggage has been an accumulation of practices that the given organization has been carrying for years. The ideal culture allows for promoting teamwork, cooperation, and strong communication.

To create the culture change needed by the organization to better prepare for project management implementation, the top action items in the study were establishing a project office, fostering training, and having project sponsors support the direction of the project. The project office can provide the home for project managers, takes the lead on developing guidelines and processes, and provide just in time training and consulting. Training can provide the common language, the thinking process, and the understanding needed for proper project management implementation.

Project sponsors are needed to provide the championship role that is crucial in creating the culture for excellence in project management implementation. They have to preach the value of using the tools and processes and have to assist in breaking the barriers that could hinder successful use. The sponsors also help in creating the atmosphere of trust that is needed to provide the true team empowerment.

Project Management Discipline

As organizations proceed on their journey for successful implementation, they are at about a median of 2.5 out of 5 in terms of being disciplined in the approach. There is still a long way to go. There are several ways to assess the organization maturity in the form of maturity models that can guide the organization on the path to maturity and excellence. Studying the factors stated in the study as useful in deciding how much project management to implement, we find that a lot is still decided upon by the project manager, which indicates the lack of systematic processes to allow for evaluating how much of project management to use.

Creating a discipline for project management does not happen overnight. It requires leadership by example, commitment, and continuous sustained effort. Having the discipline provides the ingredient needed to keep organizations focused on what is important for their various projects and allows for the achievement of maturity, as frequent successes become the norm.

Roles of the Project Manager

Project managers are being viewed as the instrumental vehicles for change. They have to take their “Change Agent” new role seriously as they combine that with their other distinct roles of being the integrators, the conflict managers, the facilitators, the communicators, and the risk mangers.

The top roles stated in the study were the Integration and the Communicator. Integration across the enterprise with different functional areas and in some cases with outside parties, agencies, and entities involved is crucial for connecting the different elements of the project to the proper stakeholders. The communication role is probably the best descriptor of what a project manager does the most.

Project managers are becoming more involved as change agents. By the nature of projects, change seems to be the only reality. As agents for change, the project managers should continuously assess the success of project management implementation on the organization and conduct the appropriate changes in approach, as relevant.

Conclusions

One of the key items in the “culture change action items list” is the creation of project office to take the accountability of gradually changing the understanding and commitment to project management. It is important to realize that the change of culture for project management implementation requires patience, the right participants, and continuous improvement effort.

Trying to understand what is easily implemented and using that to create the small successes needed is a great step toward changing the culture. Providing the right training and in the right format allows for the interactions needed to better build the skill set of the project team’s individuals. Making sure that the project manager understands the roles that he or she has to play is also crucial, as these project managers become the change agents for the future.

Appendix

The following is the survey that was used for this study:

MEMO

FROM: International Institute for Learning
TO: Participants in “Hot Topics, Tools and Techniques in Project Management”
RE: Learning Survey

 

As a past participant of a learning offering by the International Institute for Learning (IIL), we thank you for your business and hope that you are able to improve the project management application in your organization.

Project management as it exists today is experiencing an extraordinary growth. Although we have been managing projects for many years using some of today’s principles, we are still deficient in our capacity to apply some of these project management principles, and are still faced with many of the same problems that we were faced with yesterday.

IIL is asking for your very important input to the following list of questions. This will assist us in better understanding the success of our education programs, in better designing future programs, and in coming up with data for a research paper that one of our key instructors and the lead presenter of the series you participated in, Dr. Al Zeitoun, will use in an upcoming Project Management Institute (PMI®) conference. The paper is entitled “Raising the Bar in Project Management Awareness and Application.” This paper focuses on how organizations are learning and applying the discipline of project management.

Thank you very much for your time and effort in completing this and faxing or e-mailing it back to us.

Several questions are on a scale from 1 – 5. 1 indicates the most negative level in the answer and 5 indicates the most positive level in the answer. Scores between 1 and 5 indicate how close your answer is to one of the two ends of the scale.

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Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
September 7–16, 2000 • Houston, Texas, USA

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