Design and implementation of a project management methodology
from ad hoc project environment to fully operational PMO in three years
CEO, PM Experts Sp. z o.o.
This paper shows the process of implementation of a mature project management methodology in a 2000+- employee organization, from gathering requirements from the board of directors to supporting project managers in the implementation of the methodology in all strategic projects and getting involved in the local PMI® chapter. The process lasted for three years and finished with a fully operative project management office (PMO).
The full process of implementation of the project management methodology is a long-term endeavor leading sometimes from complete project chaos to a stable, predictable project management environment. It takes patience, time, and effort to establish a mature project management culture, as well as a lot of executive support. Many companies try to achieve project management excellence, but most of them strive to succeed. Mostly due to insufficient expertise, a short-term benefits perspective of executives, wrong project management habits, and staff resistance to change.
The following paper presents a proven approach to establishing project management standards used by the author as a senior consultant of PM Experts, a consulting company based in Warsaw, Poland. It shows the full process of implementing a mature project management environment based on PMI® standards in a 2000+- employee, high-tech organization in Poland. It started at the greenfield, from gathering requirements regarding project management methodology from major stockholders and board of directors. As a result it brought a new project management methodology, and its implementation including hands-on experience in supporting project managers in application of the methodology, and standards in the most strategic projects of the organization.
The whole process lasted for three years and finished with a fully operative project management office reporting directly to the chair of the board of directors.
It all started with a phone call from the director of the strategy and development office. He contacted our company and invited us for a meeting regarding the project management maturity of his organization. He mentioned that, following the recent creation of a strategic plan for the company, they would like to become more effective in their project management practices. They didn't know where to start, and they needed external expertise in this matter. The idea had the support of the board of directors, and one of the major stockholders of the organization was strongly interested in the potential positive outcome of our cooperation. This turned out to be fundamental in the later success of the project.
Shortly after the initial conversation, we organized a meeting with the client to find out what challenges they were facing and how we could help. From the very beginning, we observed a high level of commitment from all the important decision makers, from the advisory board representatives and board members to the head of the strategy and development office. The latter did a very good job of laying the groundwork for the discussion and creating an understanding among the key stakeholders that in order to develop fast in their very competitive market, they needed to master their project management function.
When we were investigating the reasoning for the implementation of the project management methodology, we quickly realized that the major stockholder of the company was an important stakeholder of the project. He was very open in sharing with us his view on the current project management challenges the company was facing.
He told us that each year they face the same recurring problem: Some initiatives never end. Everybody knows they are important for the company, and they have support from the board members, but for some reason each year they end up in the same situation. There is always a good reason not to implement something—for instance, a formal budgeting process, which might be quite important for an organization generating hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars (USD) of revenue, or a standard electronic documents distribution system. Those initiatives seemed to be out of control. Later on, this important stakeholder became an official project sponsor, and we attribute much of the success of our mission to his direct support.
Another important challenge the organization faced was a lack of information on how many projects they could deliver based on the resources they owned. Was the organization overwhelmed with the number of projects, or was there still a reserve in resources for important new initiatives?
The very first moment of our interaction was crucial for building trust and confidence in our ability to solve the client's problems. We strongly focused on listening, asking the right questions, and building a relationship based on mutual trust. Early in the process, we prepared the stakeholders analysis, and we soon learned who might be our strongest supporter in this opportunity: the head of advisory board. This person had a very strong position in the environment of the company and a lot of authority among the board members. Our first goal was to build his confidence in us, as well as in the mastering of project management as a solution to the current challenges of the organization.
After a short requirement analysis and successful negotiation process, we decided to gather a team of two experienced consultants to start our endeavor. Our client decided to divide the project into three stages:
- Maturity assessment: This is a formal audit of the organization focused on exploring the strengths and weaknesses of the current project management practices. Our assumption was that since the organization was one of the leaders in the Polish market and they were growing fast, their project management approach couldn't be that bad; there must have been a lot of things they were doing effectively.
- Methodology development: Based on those positive elements of the current project management practice and A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) we wanted to build a tailor-made project management methodology that would be implemented in the organization step by step. Our initial approach was to secure the buy-in from the management representatives and to get them involved in the process of methodology development before we move into the phase of its implementing.
- Methodology implementation: Based on our previous experience with project management methodology implementation projects, we convinced the client that the phase of implementation is a crucial element of the whole process and stated that we would like to be involved in it.
We had guaranteed two of the three stages in the contract, but the third stage was an option for the client. At the beginning of the project they were not sure whether they would like to implement the methodology with us or try doing that on their own.
We wanted to run the project properly and show the client how a mature project could be effectively led. So from our side, we started with a formal project charter and stakeholders analysis. A very important part of the preparation was risk analysis. We knew that if somewhere along the way we lost the support of the executives, the project would be in trouble. Another thing that was clear to us from the initiation phase of this project was that if they decided to implement the methodology without our support, they might lose patience and might not reach their goals.
The first step was to assess where they really were when it came to everyday project management practices. We conducted a series of interviews with representatives of their project management environment, including the owner of the organization (in order to have his buy-in guaranteed from the very beginning), members of the board, top-level management, and people who currently played the role of project manager in the company.
We found that the organization did not take a standard approach to project management. Some people questioned the presence of projects in the company. People responsible for marketing and administration responded, “What projects? We don't have any projects here. All we have is work that needs to be done.” People were coming back to us with all different comments regarding our potential cooperation. Some were very happy, waiting for an improvement of the project environment and looking forward to working in a predictable environment. Some were taking this common opportunity as a threat. They wanted to keep the status quo and stay in the old muddy waters with their projects beyond the control of their managers. So it was also a political challenge to get the most important stakeholders involved and keep their minds open to what was coming.
Our findings showed that there was not a common project management approach in the organization. There was a substantial load of work that we determined to be projects, but these were not formal projects and therefore no one was controlling them, the scope was crawling, and deadlines were not fixed. There was no common project management toolkit available. Some people happened to be using tools like Microsoft Project and OpenProject, but the organization was not pushing this as a standard, and it had no project management process that those tools could address.
We presented these findings in a formal report and a summary presentation for the board of directors. In those documents we highlighted the strengths of the company's current project management practice and clearly defined areas for improvement. As a result of this stage, we agreed on the roadmap to further project management function improvement.
From the very early phases of the project, we wanted to feel that we were working with a group of people who know what mature project management is about. So we decided to start with a workshop presenting the desired state of project management. The audience of the workshop was made up of the major stakeholders of our project:
- Owner of the organization, head of the advisory board
- Board of directors
- Functional managers
- Major project managers
In total we had a group of 16 people working on a future state of project management. They were cut off from their desks for two days, concentrating solely on project management function with strong support from the owner of the organization. Step by step, we presented them with best practices in initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control, and closing the project. Each of these process groups was presented as a model from the PMBOK® Guide and then compared to the reality of the organization. We conducted a group gap analysis and then worked out the strategy for improvement in those areas.
After gathering requirements during the workshop, we came back to our office and started an analysis of what we had found. It took two consultants 10 working days to prepare a preliminary version of the project management methodology, including a process and supporting documentation templates. We knew we could use only Microsoft Office documentation, and there was no budget for any project management information system (PMIS) to be implemented right away. This was also one of our tactics: Instead of moving from a no-tools environment directly to a PMIS, we'd rather take it slow and try to organize a projects lifecycle based on simple Microsoft Office tools.
The methodology included two project management processes:
- Process for strategic projects: higher risk, higher budgets, more complex, long-term, cross-functional, involving a number of outside providers
- Process for improvement projects: short-term, low-priority, low-risk, low-budget, mostly done by internal resources
Methodology 1.0 Fine Tuning
The methodology in version 1.0 was sent for evaluation. The evaluation team consisted of our crucial stakeholders, including the owner of the organization, who stayed actively involved in the process. This was their first approach to reading and understanding the whole system, so there were a lot of questions and a lot of time was spent on the phone to build a common understanding of the process. After two weeks and some refinement, we received permission to move forward with the methodology.
Methodology 1.0 Simulation Workshops
After gaining initial approval of the methodology, we decided to test it in a simulation workshop, where the client's representatives worked on the implementation of the methodology in two strategic projects they were about to start. A group of 20 people representing major stakeholders gathered in a training center outside of their office. Our goal was to try to deploy the methodology in two real projects that the organization was just about to start. In two days we were supposed to come up with project charters, stakeholders analysis, and a project management plan for each of those projects.
The simulation gave the participants an opportunity to do some real planning based on the new process. The simulation of real projects that were just about to start proved to be effective. It guaranteed strong involvement from the participants and, more importantly, allowed two project teams to leave the workshop with project management plans that were almost ready to deploy.
Methodology 1.0 Approval
Evaluation of the workshop, and the effectiveness of the methodology in planning a project, led to the formal approval of the methodology. We received a formal approval of the results from the project sponsor. Then we were ready to support our client in the methodology implementation. They asked us to wait for the call and be ready for the next stage.
After official presentation of the methodology and subtle refinements, the results were officially approved and the methodology was ready for implementation. But then, as happens with almost every project, change arrived. The client decided to implement the methodology without our support. Their strategy and development office consisted of three people, and they were highly confident that they could implement the methodology on their own.
First Approach: We Will Do It on Our Own
One of the major threats of the project materialized. The main stakeholder of the project, the person who had initially contacted us three months earlier, decided not to continue his contract with the company. It wasn't due to the outcomes of our common project. As we found out later, this move had been planned for months and was connected with some personal matters of the stakeholder.
The situation was difficult: Our main supporter in the organization was moving out, and there was no one to take over his role. We knew that the client was in the process of recruiting a replacement, but we also knew this could have a negative impact on our project. The new person was coming from a completely different environment, had not been involved in the design of the project management methodology process, and was not a natural supporter of this change. Moreover, he would be coming to this new environment with the ambition of proving that he is experienced and doesn't need any support to make his projects work. Finally, he would not understand the methodology developed by the company, but he would never openly say that. As we found out later, he had no experience with structured, mature project management at all.
Come and See What We Did
After six months, the company contacted us and asked for a quick audit of the implementation process. They were not happy with the results of the implementation. Basically, things were not moving forward, and the results were not what they had expected. It took us a week to go through the organization, look at the project documents, interview people (including the new director of the strategy and development office), and work out the diagnosis. It looked like most of our efforts had been wasted. The methodology had not been implemented, people were tired of trying without any internal support, and the board of directors was pushing for results. We presented our diagnosis to the board of directors, and they asked if we would be available to give them a hand in the proper implementation process.
Second Approach: Come and Do It With Us
The presentation of the audit results left no doubt with the board of directors. They were nowhere near where they had initially wanted to be in six months. We had to gather information again and prepare another implementation plan. The final document was based on the assumption that one of our consultants would be appointed the advisor to the board of directors in the project management field and report directly to them; this was to secure the required formal authority in the implementation process. Additionally, he was assigned a strategic program consisting of 11 projects leading to important and expected changes in the organization. Both sides decided to start work immediately.
The program consisting of 11 projects of different sizes was chosen to be a real pilot of the methodology implementation. We assigned an outsourced program manager, whose role was to deliver the program goals and test the project management methodology. To secure a good start, we chose a program management team consisting of people involved in the project management methodology development process. The CEO personally initiated the program.
To secure the involvement of the project managers, we deployed a motivational system. Once the goals of our projects were achieved, they could request financial benefits for themselves and their teams. In many cases, finishing projects on time, within budgets, and at the requested level of quality required extra hours, working at home, and going out of the comfort zone people were used to. For many of them it turned out to be worthwhile, and they became natural advocates of the new methodology. We reached a win-win situation when both the board of directors was happy with the results of the projects and the people involved were happy with the recognition for their extra work.
Support of Parallel Projects
This was also when the initial steps for creating a PMO were taken. Our role was to support a group of project managers to deliver the program goals, but in parallel we were asked to support other project managers who were starting their projects based on the methodology. A culture of mutual support and open communication started to arise. People were open to changes and motivated to achieve project goals.
Simultaneously, we started a training program for the group of 20 project managers in the company. It consisted of four two-day sessions, presenting both the organizational project management methodology and PMBOK as a standard. In three months' time, we built a skills foundation not only for implementing what had been established in the form of a current methodology, but also for improving the standards in the future for the benefit of the company.
Refinements in the Methodology
After a year of implementing the methodology we decided to introduce a few subtle refinements in the processes, but not too many, as the whole system was still very delicate. We had gathered some interesting feedback from our project managers, and we wanted them to feel that they can impact the current standard. Based on the interviews and surveys, we prepared a list of refinements. We presented the list to the board of directors and explained the expected benefits of the proposed changes. The board agreed to the proposed changes, and now it was up to the project managers to introduce them in their projects.
Establishing of the PMO
After the success of the program we were asked to design and implement a new project management support function in the organization. Our assignment was only temporary, and the organization wanted to secure project management support in the long term. The sponsor of the project insisted that before we leave we establish a project management office and recruit and train a future manager of that entity.
PMO in the Organization Structure
An important phase of establishing a PMO is finding the right place for the office in the current organizational structure. We insisted on the PMO reporting directly to the board of directors in order to secure the effectiveness of its mission and direct influence on the projects. Instead of recruiting the manager from the outside, we preferred to search for one inside of the company. We were looking for somebody who knows the internal processes and the culture of the company, and who has hands-on experience in implementation of organizational PM methodology.
Due to limited staffing options we had to select those functions that were clearly valuable to the board of directors. We started with three people involved in the establishment of the PMO: the director of the PMO (this function was assigned to the representative of our organization), and two project management specialists (team members who have experience in application of the organizational PM methodology, and could serve as a support to future project managers). The main functions of the PMO were to:
- Support project managers in deploying project management methodology in their projects;
- Develop project management skills;
- Monitor the project portfolio ;
- Assess new project initiatives; and
- Maintain a “lessons learned” archive for organizational projects.
Project Culture Cultivation
Once the project management function was stable and mature, we decided to promote project management as a vehicle for organization improvement. The PMO wanted more people to get involved in projects and thereby prove its influence on the development of the organization. Several parallel actions were deployed.
Yearly Meeting of the Organization
We were invited to present at the company's yearly conference, which was some kind of an integration event, where the company presented its achievements from previous years and its goals for the upcoming season. Representatives of the organization from all over Poland were introduced to the project management approach and invited to take advantage of it. They all took part in a short, fast-track project management training, and they were introduced to PMO staff, who were there to advise and answer questions.
To promote project management internally, we decided to run a contest for the best project concepts. We received about 50 ideas for projects that would improve the organization and make it more efficient.
PMI® Local Chapter Involvement
While implementing the project management methodology, we initiated a local PMI® chapter and invited representatives of the company to join. The first potential chapter meeting was held in the biggest conference room of the company. It included around 100 participants, and the company itself co-sponsored the event with us. As a result, some the company representatives got involved in the chapter and continued their project management development, taking active volunteer roles in the chapter.
Transferring Responsibility to the Inside
After three years of direct support, the time had come to assign a new project management office director and transfer the responsibility to him. The person selected for this post was a current project manager of one of the biggest IT projects in the portfolio. He is a very dynamic and ambitious person, with thorough knowledge of PMI® standards and previous experience in big international companies.
In the first phase of his transition he worked shoulder to shoulder with our consultant and learned the tricks of trade. Then his reporting track was redirected towards one of the members of the board, and he started another phase of the development of the project management culture.
Some time after our project was finished, the company introduced an upgraded, completely self-made version of the methodology that was supported by the PMIS. They are still developing this process, extending their project portfolio, and firmly strengthening their position in the Polish market.
Our experience with this project shows that one of the most important elements of successful project management methodology deployment is strong and consistent support from the C-suite stakeholders. Without their involvement in the process, it would be impossible to change the way an organization behaves in the long term. Moreover, it is not enough to design a state-of-the-art project management process; the key is first to implement it and then to make sure that the organization is using it and that it is benefitting the business. In order to overcome people's resistance to change, you need to offer them some benefits of using the new process. You must address all the major stakeholders and expose the whole organization to quick wins that will result from the new approach to project management. And last but not least, you have to remember that things take time, and you should not expect revolutions to happen overnight. Instead, the goal is long-lasting evolution pushed from the bottom of the organization with firm support from the top.
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© 2014, Piotr Plewinski
Originally published as a part of the 2014 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Dubai, UAE