Recognizing project management excellence- – making it crystal clear

Laurie A. Reese – Project Manager, AT&T Wireless Services: Transport Implementation

Excellence can be attained if you …

care more than others think is wise.

risk more than others think is safe.

dream more than others think is practical

expect more than others think is possible.

Author Unknown

More than anything else, employees want to be recognized for a job well done. Study after countless study has shown that praise and recognition motivates employees to put forth their best efforts and to perform at high levels. The recognition value, that is, the intangible, symbolic, and emotional value, of any award is by far the most motivating aspect. Formal awards are useful for acknowledging significant accomplishments, especially those that have spanned a long period of time. Rewards motivate behavioral change. Recognizing performance in excellence results in more of the same behavior.

Recognition of Project Management Excellence is not done nearly enough within companies where meeting deadlines is a must, satisfying or exceeding customer needs is critical or expected, and all the while staying within budget. Many times, it is the essence of the Project Management discipline that enables a company to successfully deliver business results.

Background and History

Within our company, we have established a working infrastructure, which is comprised of a Project Management Council (PMC), a Project Management Center of Excellence (PMCOE), and a Project Management Executive Council (PMEC), to support the project management community. The PMC and PMEC are comprised of project managers and executives from the various business units across our company. For the most part, participation on the PMC is solely done on a volunteer basis and is “in addition” to their full-time “day” job.

The PMC originated in 1994,but it wasn't until 1998 that it obtained executive sponsorship. At that time, the PMC formed working committees and in the fall of 1999, the PMCOE was established.

The Council's first mission statement included developing, maintaining and operationalizing “best in class” project management practices by establishing processes and standards and fostering communication and information sharing among the various business units. The initial project plan included:

• A focus on education and professional development

• A drive to increase the visibility and recognition of the profession

• Standards/definition of best-in-class practices

• Seeking executive support and sponsorship

• Seeking to ensure appropriate representation for the Council.

Out of the plan came the creation of a number of “working committees,” created to address the areas of interest of our Project Management Community. One of the PMC working committees was chartered specifically to focus on project management recognition. The initial charge the recognition team had was the establishment of a number of awards to recognize and honor attainment of significant & substantial business results through the use of Project/Program Management, contributions to the profession and for achievements in the Project Management field. The awards were categorized into three areas: Organization, Project, and Individual allowing recognition of organizations or business units, teams, and individuals. The Project Management Excellence Awards were born.

Just as the Malcolm Balridge Award focused energy within major corporations toward excellence in quality, the goal of the our Project Management Excellence Awards focused specifically on the use of energy within our company to identify, apply and sustain excellence in Project Management. These awards were developed to be significant in terms of recognition for those who were accomplished and mastered in the professional field of Project Management.

The Project Management Excellence Awards

The Project Management Excellence Awards are in three categories with each award having its own unique and distinctive criterion. In order to be eligible for the award, all submissions had to meet this criterion. From a corporate perspective, four basic questions provide the impetus for these awards:

1. Are we creating the right culture (people skills and leadership support)?

2. Are we project managing the right things (project selection criteria)?

3. Are we project managing right (PM processes and tools)?

4. Are we delivering business value (triple constraint performance and client satisfaction)?

Organization Excellence in Project Management

The criterion for the Organizational Excellence Award focuses directly on the organizational maturity, project manager maturity, and the establishment and effective use of formal processes in attainment of role model execution and performance in project management.

Project Excellence in Project Management

The criterion for the Project Excellence Award focuses on the project's project management adherence to best practices (tools and techniques), encouraging development, and, documenting and tracking performance (i.e., budget, schedule, resources, and quality). These criteria must be consistent throughout the project.

Individual Excellence in Project Management

The criterion for the Individual Excellence Award focuses directly on the Project Manager development and maturity level, as well as the establishment and effective use of formal processes in attainment of role model execution and performance in project management.

Within the Individual Award, there were three types: gold, bronze, and silver.

In October of 1998, the Project Management Excellence Awards were introduced at our company's first Project Management Symposium—the stage was set for 1999.

Our First Year—The Awards Are Established, Now What About the Process?

In February of 1999, the Awards and Recognition Working Committee consisted of six volunteers. The team began meeting to review the criteria established and discuss what it meant. During that time, the existing team members solicited other members from their work groups to join the team, and by April 1999, the team had a total of 10 volunteers, representing most of the business units within our company.

Knowing our end date was September 13, 1999, the date of the Project Management Symposium, at which time, the Excellence Awards would be presented, the team put together a very high-level timeline with major milestones. Those milestones included advertising, publishing the criteria, defining the evaluation process, and selecting the recipients. Realizing this was the first year for the Excellence Awards, and knowing that the only way anyone within the company knew about them would have had to be at the Project Management Symposium in October of the previous year, the team decided to begin advertising right away. The team assumed the risk of starting advertising before the final criteria documents were complete. Communications announcing the Awards and a call for submissions was rolled out on March 19, 1999. We used e-mail distribution lists, local building monitors, and our internal companywide news forum. We also arranged to have a voice mailbox for employees to call to leave questions. Each team member monitored this on a volunteer basis one week at a time.

The team continued to meet on a weekly basis (February through April) to define and document the criteria associated with each award, along with developing a process to receive and evaluate each submission. After three months of discussion, tweaking, and formatting, the criterion documents were ready to publish and the team had a rudimentary evaluation process defined. On April 29, 1999, the Excellence Awards Criteria Documents were published; advertising was completed; now all there was to do was wait. The team had two fears: we wouldn't get any submissions, or we would get too many. Exactly how many were too many—we had no idea.

The Process—Submissions Started Coming In

The submission and evaluation process the team defined in the first year was very simple, yet manually complex. All submissions were to be sent via email to the team lead. Each submission was to be no more than 20 pages, but all needed to provide answers to the criterion questions outlined. The submissions were due by July 15, 1999. Time was of the essence!

As the submissions were received, they were distributed to every team member, as well as some Council members that were recruited to help. Every team member was to read, evaluate and score each section of the submission against the criteria. After the submissions were “scored,” all the scores were collected, averaged, and ranked among the other submissions in each category. The team then identified which submissions to “take further” in the evaluation.

Up to this point, we had received 35 submissions: 17 Individual, 16 Projects and 2 Organizations. After the first round of evaluations, 22 passed to the second round (2 Organization, 12 Project, and 8 Individuals) and were assigned audit teams (or more like audit “individuals”).

Audits were performed on each of the submissions and audit findings were reported back to the team. For one full day in August, the team reviewed each Project and Individual submission—a total of 20 submissions. Each aspect of the submission was discussed and compared against the other submissions. Where one submission excelled, another submission did not, but excelled in another. This day, the team was faced with selecting only ONE Project recipient, and the THREE Individuals (gold, silver, bronze). It was a very difficult meeting. How can you identify just one project recipient when the projects themselves were very different and called for different project management applications, tools and techniques?—Definitely a lesson learned for the following year. The good news was that we had submissions that were eligible for receiving the award; the bad news was that maybe the criteria defined didn't help us elevate which one should receive the award.

At the end of our selection process, the team had identified an Organization, a Project and three Individuals to receive our Project Management Excellence Awards.

The Presentation

Since this would be the first ever presentation of the Project Management Excellence Awards, the team felt that the presentation during the symposium should be meaningful and note-worthy. We arranged to have the President of one of our business units help with the presentation of the awards. Then, for the award recipients, the team would pursue their executive Vice President to co-present. Having senior leadership take part increased the significance and importance of the awards, while presenting the award in front of a room full of their peers, helped us accomplish our original goal—to recognize project management excellence.

That September, the first ever Project Management Excellence Awards were presented at our annual Project Management Symposium. Those receiving the awards were recognized for a job well done—providing shining examples of project management excellence to those in the audience (see Exhibit 1).

Our Second Year—We're on a Roll

In February of 2000, the team found themselves starting the year with a goal of identifying and awarding project management excellence. It would be our second year together as a team, which would provide us with a number of advantages. The original team was back with a few additions (through word of mouth, or from our exposure at our annual symposium). This was a great news story, since the team could draw on its own lessons learned—keeping what worked and changing what didn't. We also had a year's worth of experience, which told us that we would need more personpower, especially looking at the changes we needed to make and hoping that the volume of submissions would increase.

Using our lessons learned as a starting point; the team identified a course of action that included seeking out other recognition programs and seeing if they had similar lessons learned and how they addressed them. The team went out to review other award programs in place within the company, and looked at what PMI had in place. The team concluded that changes to the criteria and process would help the team remain successful in the years to come.

Our goals for 2000 were developed:

• Present the 2000 Project Management Excellence Awards

• Execute improvements for 2000, taking into account lessons learned, for the Award Criteria and the Submission and Evaluation Process

• Introduce additional recognition to the project management community.

Exhibit 1. The 1999 Project Management Excellent Awards

The 1999 Project Management Excellent Awards

Reason for Change: What We Saw in 1999

The Project and Individual Awards received the majority of submissions in 1999. The submissions varied in the information provided; the type and length and size of a project, the number of projects an individual was managing, etc. This information, in addition to the project management tools and processes, became part of the decision, when maybe it shouldn't have been. The focus on this “background” information brought subjectivity into the decision, and may have clouded the issues that should have been used as the basis for recognition.

For example, in reviewing our lesson's learned, questions came up for improvements in 2000:

• How do we take out the subjectivity when evaluating the awards?

• For the Individual Award, how do we judge the project managers who have one large project vs. a number of smaller projects?

• How do we evaluate projects—small vs. large? How can we compare the two?

• Do we need to introduce different levels for project like the Individuals?

After one year under our belt, the team was prepared to reevaluate the criteria and the evaluation process. The main focus of the discussion kept coming back to:

If a project demonstrates success—meeting the customer's satisfaction and meeting the triple constraints, and using and practicing a project management process/methodology, then how does the team choose one project over another? Should all projects that meet a certain threshold, receive the Excellence Award?

Therefore, the Awards and Recognition team concluded that the Project Award should be restructured so that more than one project can receive the award, but hold the criterion steady. Working with the award changes and process improvements, the team felt they would be more efficient and effective in meeting the goals and objectives for 2000. Therefore, the team made the following changes in 2000.

Award Changes

The first of the award changes was redefining/refocusing the three Individual Awards (Gold, Silver, and Bronze) into one Achievement Award. The recipient(s) of the Achievement Award will be one outstanding Individual, Group, or Team that has clearly demonstrated significant and sustained contributions advancing Project Management within the company. Contributions were to be above and beyond day-to-day responsibilities.

The Achievement Award replaced the Individual Awards that were presented in 1999. The change in direction for this award was based on a number of factors; the submissions received last year for the Individual Award, the review of other award programs within our company and the desire to recognize contributions to project management, but not limit it to just project managers.

The second change in the awards was for the Project Award. The Awards team aligned the Project Award Criteria (with no change) with our recently published Project Management Process Methodology. The two areas of criteria focused on Project Success and Project Management Process Methodology Adherence.

Project success is defined as project performance evaluation that requires clear definition and execution of metrics for client satisfaction, triple constraint performance, and business case performance. Project Management Process Methodology adherence requires clear definition and execution of initiating, planning, executing and control, and closing.

One last change to the awards, which was more behind the scenes, was the decision to not limit the Project Award recipients to only one. The team chose to increase the number of Project Awards to be given. The Project Award will be given based on the projects' demonstration of success in meeting customer expectations, meeting the triple constraints, and using and practicing a Project Management process/methodology. All projects that meet the threshold criteria will receive the award.

Process Changes

Award changes were not the only changes the team worked on during 2000. There were also changes to the Awards Process. There had to be a better way to anticipate how many submissions the team would receive. On a continuum, you could have both extremes, and all the while, hoping to land in the middle. Although, the volume of the submissions was a concern, the team was also concerned with the quality of submissions. After looking at quality and quantity issues, the team incorporated the following changes into the process during our second year.

• Require a Registration Form be sent in to register the submission. The registration form would allow us to size the number of expected submissions, and identify the category, and from where the submissions would be coming, so that evaluators could exclude themselves if there were any conflict of interests.

• Require a District (third level) manager to sign-off on the submission (Division (4th Level) for Achievement Award). Why—To address the possibility of submissions continuing to be submitted at all levels of management, put more of the “weeding out” on the organization nominating a project or individual. In 1999, we had submissions that were not well written and did not convey the information requested, mostly due to a lack of ability to effectively write a response to the criteria. This held back a submission, when it might have been a good candidate. Therefore, the team required at least a District level (third level) to signoff on a submission. This will create more of a screening process at the origin; possibly reduce the number of submissions, while striving to increase the quality and credibility of the submissions.

• Require 360-degree Feedback on Submissions. This was a way to introduce a Metrics Philosophy: Get the project manager, customers, team members, and management team of the submitted project to provide their assessment of and verify for the success of the project, compliance with PM methodology and PM effectiveness. This is what we say is the 360-degree feedback. This will allow the audit teams to spend their time integrating information, clarifying and deciding against the criteria, and less time gathering and verifying data. Why—This will aid in showing tangible and intangible benefits of the project outcome, the project management best practices and contribution to the organization. These would be our metrics needed at the start of the evaluation.

The above changes were to find a more formal and objective means to assess project success, compliance with PM methodology, span of PM authority, and evaluation of effective PM behavior.

Team Changes

The 2000 team, about 16 members, all of whom were volunteer members with full time job responsibilities, were working on the criterion and process changes. There was always fear that we would receive more submissions than we could handle in the three-month window we allowed for the examination of submissions. Therefore, in partnering with the Project Management Center of Excellence, a letter was sent to our PMP community to ask for their assistance in the evaluations. What better way to contribute something back to the company, utilize their experience and knowledge, as well as add more worthiness and credibility to the Project Management Excellence Awards? In addition, the PMP's had the ability to acquire PDU's for recertification. A win-win for everyone!

A letter went out from the Project Management Center of Excellence, and within two days, we had received about 35 responses. People were more than happy to volunteer their time for our cause. Once we identified those willing to help, further information was given to them about what was entailed, the time commitment, and a final orientation was held (half-day session) to bring everyone up to speed on the process. There were people whose workload changed, causing commitments to change, but in the end, we maintained 35 new volunteers. By adding the additional PMPs to the evaluation teams, we expanded our team by more than 100%.

Exhibit 2. Organization Award

Organization Award

Other Changes Considered

In addition to the above changes, the team also thought about categorizing project submissions, but decided against it. We had intended to find a better way to use information on_project size/duration/value during the assessment and decision process. Since the Awards Team objective is to find and acknowledge excellence in Project Managing projects, then the size, duration or value to the business should not be a strong consideration. If to allow a fair assessment of excellence, like projects need to be “bucketed,” then separating project nominees by some sort of dimension (example: Small and Large) may be useful.

Categorizing Project submissions would be an attempt to establish an Awards Team Audit methodology that will ensure objective assessments across projects, without letting size, duration or value influence decisions. The same size and duration projects can be put into the same bucket, rather than having different size projects being compared against one another. This promotes multiple project awards.

More focus should be on the success (customer satisfaction, triple constraint and quality), the compliance with Project Management methodology, the span of authority, and the demonstrated effective Project Management behavior (team building, communication, escalation, decision-making, risk management, etc.) rather on size, duration, and value.

Exhibit 3. Project Award

Project Award

Presenting and Coordination of the Awards

Our coveted crystal Project Management Excellence Awards are presented once a year at our company's annual Project Management Symposium, where an average of 250 project managers participate from the across the company. Company Executives participate in the awards presentation, which not only heightens the importance and excitement, but also demonstrates the support surrounding the importance of successful project management needed to deliver business results.

Once the awards evaluation team identifies the award recipients in all categories, congratulatory letters are sent to the submission contact with copies sent to their respectful PMEC representative. The Awards team invites their direct Vice President to participate in the award ceremony along with other internal company executives. For each award recipient, the organizations Vice President has an opportunity to say a few words to congratulate the recipients, and present the award.

During the Award Ceremony, we hold the recipients up as shining examples of “Organization,” “Project,” and “Achievement” project management excellence to our entire PM community. Each recipient is identified as examples that should be emulated and ask the recipients to share their learning's and experiences with all project managers across the company. Along those lines, we have been successful in engaging the previous year's recipients to present a track session at the next annual symposium.

Exhibit 4. Achievement Award

Achievement Award


Recognizing performance in excellence results in more of the same behavior. Our goal was to increase the visibility and recognition of the project management profession. By establishing the Project Management Excellence Awards, we have not only provided a way to recognize and honor attainment of significant and substantial business results through the use of Project Management, but we have linked the project management community together across the company—those that are members on the Awards and Recognition Team, as well as those involved in the award submissions. We have created a way to identify mature project managers, their processes, tools and techniques—all of which have been successful in delivering results to the business.

Recognition of Project Management Excellence, along with implementing the project management discipline, is a key component to support the success of a project management culture. Done with volunteers, who have a passion for Project Management, the costs to establish a recognition program are negligible, while the return on investment is tenfold.

Excellence can be attained if you …

care more than others think is wise

risk more than others think is safe

dream more than others think is practical

expect more than others think is possible.

Author Unknown

It can be DONE … even through volunteers, and it's well worth it!

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
November 1–10, 2001 • Nashville, Tenn., USA



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