Project managing the project management process


What do you do when you are a 116-year-old company that is only three years old? What if you were a mechanical manufacturing company on the leading edge of the dot com revolution? What if you had over 700 properties in around 70 countries and a huge portfolio of projects and no staff (well hardly any)? What would you do if you had a history of success in project management, but you didn't know why?

NCR separated from AT&T in 1997 leaving the 116-year-old company with few useful procedures and many headaches. This paper will chart how in September of 1998 the Engineering Design and Construction (ED&C) department of NCR Corporate Real Estate (CRE) decided to build upon the existing high level procedures (the Level 0 and Level 1 elements of the Manual as described in Exhibit 3) in order to produce a comprehensive Project Management Process. The ensuing Project Procedures Manual, which is one part of this Process, was written, introduced, amended, adapted, issued as a web-based tool and implemented in 365 days, inception to completion. This paper will further detail the technical and change management aspects of the introduction of this Procedures Manual and how it has been successfully developed and extended.

Prior to the Procedures Manual being introduced NCR tended to operate like many similar companies, with a loose affiliation of systems and procedures applied differentially or not at all. Some core aspects were in place prior to the introduction of the Procedures Manual but they were often applied highly selectively especially given the geographical dispersion of the in-house PM staff. Learning curves were steep and repetitive and similar errors were observable on many projects. Up until 1997 many real estate projects were undertaken “locally” by Business Units or facilities management individuals with the centralized PM function concentrating on projects over US$1m. However, due to a change in emphasis within the company toward the selling of solutions and professional services rather than manufacturing, the bulk of NCR‘s projects came under the centralized control of the ED&C function. Exhibit 1 shows part of the current structure of NCR.

Exhibit 1. NCR Organizational Structure (Part)

NCR Organizational Structure (Part)

Exhibit 2. Four Primary Stages of the Project

Four Primary Stages of the Project

The Challenges

The challenges of introducing a worldwide project management process include:

1. Cultural Barriers

2. Communications issues

3. Change Management

4. Making it appropriate and relevant

5. Building on the existing high level project procedures without “reinventing the wheel”

The Procedures Manual was viewed as a project in itself and the author of this paper was appointed as the project leader and chief editor of the Manual. Much time was spent in the initial stages of the project determining the exact structure of the Manual and the timetable for introduction. A date of 1 September 1999 was set for the publication of the Manual with a date of 1 January 2000 for the “Manual to be fully implemented and in use.”

The greatest challenge was undoubtedly to make it appropriate and relevant. NCR CRE undertake 150 to 200 projects per year with 13 project management staff. Most of the work is outsourced, of a short duration (typically three to six months) highly intensive, often mission critical and low budgeted. The median cost of projects undertaken in 1999 being around US$400k. However some projects were as small as US$35k while some as large as US$20m or more. The 13 NCR Project Managers are spread across three Regions (Americas, Europe Middle East and Africa, and Asia Pacific), of very different cultural backgrounds, (American, British, Japanese, Singaporean etc.), and with very different skills and experience. Supplementing this group of world travelers are a large number of diverse outsourced providers such as architects, engineers, interior designers, project managers and contractors, all of whom had to work with and in many cases fully implement the project procedures that were to be devised.

Exhibit 3. Manual Sections and Production Schedule

Manual Sections and Production Schedule

In addition to all these challenges the procedures have to work in countries with different legal and cultural backgrounds and must be flexible enough to cope with these highly different systems. None the least of all the challenges were the change management aspects of this project, introducing a semi rigid systems approach where a softer approach had been in place before.

The Procedures Manual project was divided into four primary stages as shown in Exhibit 2.

Stage 1. Development and Research

The first stage of the project took place between September and November of 1998 and consisted of data gathering and understanding what was current practice around NCR and amongst other similar organizations. At this stage it was decided that the PMBOK® Guide would be used as the basis for the approach but would be adapted to NCR‘s method of working. In addition to this a number of leading texts were reviewed and ideas culled from all these sources. It was decided at this point to produce a manual that was not so much a “book” of procedures but an integrated step-by-step skills guide to the NCR Total Project Management Process.

From the outset a project plan was established for how the project would be undertaken and this plan included a milestone schedule, a Statement of Work and a Work Breakdown Structure. The WBS was used to develop the structural layout of the Procedures Manual. It was determined that the existing high level (Level 0 and Level 1 as NCR term them) procedures could be adapted and improved upon while still maintaining the overall structure familiar to the NCR Project Managers. It was felt that this was not only a good structure, but also one that would be easily accepted and assimilated by the Project Managers, thereby aiding the change management aspect of the introduction and implementation phases.

It was quickly determined that the Manual would be a skills based system in order to cope with the large number of countries and systems under which the Project Managers and their outsourced partners work. The structure and detail of the Manual would be one where the NCR Project Managers would be encouraged to develop and adapt the procedures to meet the individual project needs and that few if any of the practices would be mandated.

Once the structure and layout were established and an initial review of these concepts had been undertaken amongst a small group of senior Corporate Real Estate executives the sections of the Manual were allocated to two of the NCR Project Managers. In particular emphasis was placed on making the Manual relevant and accessible, and not too “academic.” Therefore every procedure utilized has a real live example of the form or report attached as an appendix to each section of the Manual.

Much of the drafting of the Manual was split into two sections, the so-called critical elements and the secondary elements. The critical elements were drafted as part of the Alpha stage, while the non-critical elements were completed as part of the Beta issue of the manual. Exhibit 3 shows the detailed sections of the Manual and their production schedule.

All draft sections were transmitted by e-mail to the project leader, edited for content and layout and incorporated in to a series of section templates established as part of the Research Phase.

Stage 2. Introducing the Process

The Alpha release of the Manual was a rough draft in terms of layout and content issued in February of 1999 to four of the 13 NCR Project Managers for review. At this time these Project Managers were encouraged to commence utilization of the procedures as a “test.” All comments on the Alpha section were received by April of 99, at the same time as the draft sections of the Beta issue. One month later the Beta version of the Manual was issued which was essentially a complete draft. This was issued to all members of the Project Management staff and a select number of the NCR outsourced PM partners.

The project then entered an important stage, the selling of the procedures to the Project Managers. Having issued a draft version of the Manual by e-mail the project leader then convened three project workshops, in Singapore, Dayton Ohio and London U.K. each lasting three days, to introduce and discuss the Process, the rationale behind the Process, and the contents of the Manual.

The workshops were an interactive, intensive review of the procedures with the NCR Project Managers and other relevant or interested stakeholders, such as the head of IT infrastructure development, or the Director of Asset Management. All through the development of the detail of the Manual these members of the Corporate Real Estate Leadership Team were invited to comment on both the detail and the structure.

As a result of these workshops a series of additional elements were added to the levels three and four of the Manual and a number of Project Managers added substantial elements to the document. In particular the amendments to the design management, Integrated Workplace Strategies and a detailed explanation of fire risk analysis were added as a result of the workshops.

Stage 3. Issuing the Procedures Manual

The workshops commenced the detailed review period and comments and amendments were compiled until July of 1999. The final draft version (Version 1.0a) was then issued to the VP of Corporate Real Estate for approval. Approval was granted at the end of August 1999 and the Procedures Manual was issued in the final, applicable form on 1 September 1999.

It was made clear during the workshop sessions that the Manual, once live, would be the stated method for managing all of NCR‘s Real Estate projects. However it was also made clear that the Manual would be informally introduced from 1 September 1999 until 1 January 2000 (the soft implementation period) thereby giving everyone time to become accustomed to this new way of working. From 1 January 2000 it would be a compulsory requirement that all projects be managed using these procedures and that the procedures would be audited from that period forward.

It was always envisaged that the Manual would be issued in both a written form and on the web. A web server was obtained in August of 1999 and 1GB of space allocated. Approximately 250MB being required for the Procedures Manual and the rest being required for the PM database, which will be eventually added to the space.

The Manual was then converted to a fully linked and integrated web site and issued as a live site on 1 October 1999. A number of features were added to the web site, such as links to the NCR Knowledge Centre, live links to other web sites such as the PMI® site and so forth. The real power of the web site is in its ability to be constantly updated and linked to the latest forms and procedures. To aid this a search function was added and a particularly powerful tool, the “what's new” page. The Project Managers are encouraged to check this page at least weekly, and where ever possible immediately they log on.

The paper version of the Manual is no longer issued and only the web version is kept up to date. Quarterly a CD-ROM version of the web site is issued to NCR‘s outsourced partners.

Stage 4. Implementing the Procedures Manual

Producing the Manual has been the easy part; the difficulty is in having it implemented effectively. Any new procedures, no matter how extensive or comprehensive will go through the normal change challenges of storming, norming, conforming, performing and reforming. Initially there was some resistance to the Procedures Manual (too large, too small, too many steps, too few steps, too detailed, not enough detail). The introduction of the web site (where the volume of information is not so obvious as in the printed version) has helped to overcome some of the “too large” objections while addressing the ‘not enough detail’ objections through the steady increase of information contained in the web version.

An important part of this storming and norming process has been the fact that the Director ED&C was the author of the Manual and is the functional leader of the Project Management Department. He has been able to give instant feedback on any questions regarding the Manual and immediately change any ambiguities or mistakes through his ownership of the web site. The flexibility and instant reaction time of the web site has been a major selling point for the procedures.

The adaptation of the various procedures has been progressing at a differential pace throughout the team of Project Managers, from 1 January 2000; however, they have a greater incentive to work to these procedures. Not only were the procedures made “compulsory” from this date, but also each Project Managers Performance Appraisal (PA) Objectives were linked to the utilization of the procedures directly.

These steps were reinforced through the introduction of an auditing system. The auditing system tests compliance to the skills based procedures and has been a useful tool in both understanding how the procedures are being adapted in the field but also for emphasizing how seriously the company is viewing these procedures.

A further important aspect with regards to take up of the procedures is their flexibility. They are not rigid procedures that force the Project Managers to work in a set manner, they are highly adaptable, useful and systematic, thereby aiding the project delivery not hindering it. They are also addressing many of the regular and repetitive problems NCR experience on their projects. In particular the:

• Setting of a clear and systematic baseline/scope

• The development of a detailed project execution/communications plan have been an important and useful addition to NCR‘s method of working.

Not every procedure has been successful from day one, some have needed adaptation and changing and another important aspect of the change management process has been management's willingness to change what is not working or not useful in the procedures. The web site and its ability to be instantly changed have promoted this willingness to adapt and change and has promoted the “reforming” element of the change management function.

Other Elements to the Managing of NCR Projects

The Procedures Manual is only one part of a structured revision to the way NCR manages its projects. The other three elements are the outsourced partner relationships, the data management database and the introduction of PMP® training/certification as the “skills audit” element of the Total Project Management Process.

The outsourced partner relationships were bid in December to February of 2000 with award in March of 2000 on a regional basis to outsourced PM partners. The Request For Proposal for each bid was accompanied by a CD-ROM version of the Procedures Manual and an important element of each bid submission was how each prospective candidate would manage NCR‘s projects using this system. The most satisfactory provider in each region was then awarded a region wide PM outsourced partners agreement.

At the same time each and every Project Manager is to attend a PMP® training course and by the end of 2000 every Project Manager is to be PMP® qualified (this is also a PA objective). The demand was greater than expected in Dayton, where 15 Project Managers, including outsourced partners and Project Managers from other NCR organizations wished to attend the training. NCR therefore devised an in-house training program running for 1.5 hours per week for six months, with the specific aim of qualifying every attendant as a PMP®.

There is one further major element to the Total Project Management Process/system to be completed and that is the introduction of a data management database. This element will be developed with, and run by, each of the outsourced providers. The selected system is currently being developed jointly by NCR and the outsourced partners.

It should be established at this point that a heavy emphasis is placed on people skills in the Process and training of each Project Manager or outsource partner. Simply writing down a set of procedures and having the data entered into a data management system will not in itself significantly improve project delivery. However, this combined with improvements in leadership, motivational and people management skills will. It is important to have both sets of skills in order to have a progressive Total Project Management Process, the hard systems and communications tools established by the Procedures Manual (and data management database) and the soft systems or people skills promoted through better training and personnel selection.


As of 1 April 2000, the Procedures Manual and the new Total Project Management Process have been truly live for only six months; by PMI® 2000 Houston it will have been live for one year. The initial results are good, there is some natural resistance to change, but in general the NCR Project Management community are taking up the Process.

The outsourced partners have found it particularly beneficial since they are able to train their local project management staff on how NCR expect projects to be delivered thereby ensuring a smooth start up and close down for each and every project.

By improving standardization, speed and quality improvements have been made in the execution of NCR‘s projects, thereby reducing risk and promoting fewer changes and a higher grade of product for the same cost. It is difficult to exactly quantify the benefits accrued using this system since there is a tendency to get NCR‘s projects right first time, thereby reducing the visibility to changes and cost/time overruns (there being fewer and with less consequences). The Process is by no means perfect or finished (there is an emphasis on continuous improvement in the Process); however, it is a good starting point and one that has promoted a closer working relationship with the outsourced partners and our in-house Business Units. In particular the scope definition and communications processes have been improved through the introduction of the procedures and there are far fewer “budgeting errors” on the projects. There is some resistance from the BU‘s since they now have to detail their requirements earlier and in greater clarity, but they see the benefits of this approach outweighing the costs.

By implementing all these elements, the procedures, the outsourced relationships, the skills improvement and the data management database, NCR are seeking to free their in-house Project Managers from the day to day management of each project while maintaining a high level of visibility and accountability for these projects. This will then enable the PM staff to think more strategically and work closely with the Business Units of NCR in order to drive added value and quicker response time thereby improving NCR‘s time to market and real estate utilization. Emphasis is now being placed upon leadership, long-term objectivity, outsourced relationship management and service delivery rather than product delivery. The outsourced partners through the application of the procedures are now driving the product delivery while at the same time being closely monitored by the NCR Project Managers. In effect the NCR Project Managers are now becoming project directors, managing each of the outsourced partners in order to drive value for money and speed of execution.

The proof of the success of the Total Project Management Process will be in the ongoing project delivery, will NCR‘s Corporate Real Estate projects be delivered with greater certainty, efficiently, with less cost and with manageable risks? Only further time and process improvements will tell.

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.

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



Related Content