Project management rationale
TRYING TO SELL the concept of a more structured project management approach to your management or customer? First, you need to understand the perspective from which management or a customer views the issue.
Management in the literal sense is composed of individuals who manage resources to accomplish a specific purpose. Often those in a management role have dual motivations. One motivation is to do business in the most efficient, effective, productive manner possible. The other motivation is to get a quality job done as quickly as possible for the least amount of money. If the environment or culture in which management works gives the second motivation a higher priority than the first, then even with the best of intentions it is difficult for management to buy into a process such as project management, which appears to add tremendous overhead in time and resources without an obvious immediate return on investment.
The customer is someone who buys something from someone else. This can be the internal or external customer who buys the deliverable(s) produced out of a project process. Whether internal or external, the customer has one motivation—to get the highest-quality deliverable, as quickly as possible, for the least amount of money. This may be where management gets the second motivation. Because of this time, dollar and quality motivation, customers cannot easily buy into a process which appears to add overhead or which might slow down their job.
As consultants, we are often asked, “Can you give me some arguments that will convince my management/customer that project management is the way to go?” Or, “I've been assigned to implement project management in my firm and have been asked to prepare an Executive Briefing. Do you have any sell terms that will get management to buy in?”
The answer is Yes. Here's a series of defensible arguments that help to sell project management, and some expected rebuttals from the ever-present resident cynic.
To sell, one must understand what the customer is buying. Revlon is noted for stating that they are not selling cosmetics; they are selling hope. What are we in project management selling?
Because bosses/customers do not like surprises, perhaps the most appropriate term to describe the advantages of project management would be assurance. Planning and controlling are integral parts of project management; and by definition, to plan and control reduces the risk factors of dealing in a rapidly changing environment.
Today's changing environment asks each manager to plan, monitor, track and manage schedules, resources, costs and quality. The project management process provides the tools and orchestrates the environment in which to do just that, in the most professional manner possible. Let's talk about why this is true.
A typical project planning methodology ensures that a concise, yet definitive project scope statement is generated, detailing specific project deliverables and outcomes from the project as heard from the “voice of the customer.” In addition, a work breakdown structure is prepared, enumerating a thorough to-do list of activities to be performed. These two efforts reduce the risk of misunderstandings or omissions. Of necessity, the customer participates in the process via a matrix (project team) organization to assure the beginning of a partnering relationship through good communication.
The schedules, project budget and quality/defect reports inherently position check-points for reevaluation. These status reporting tools also act as communication tools, and keep all interested parties across the matrix informed of progress. Quality and control are built in through this monitoring, tracking and reporting process, as is involvement and commitment of all project players.
Because the tracking process reveals deviations from the plan in the early stages, management is provided with sufficient lead time to weigh the ingredients of quality, cost, and time in order to make decisions that will ensure reaching the original goal—or if necessary, a satisfactory alternative. As an alternative to panic (the what-do-I-do-now syndrome) this early warning system, or proactive management, mitigates the more drastic actions that might need to be taken later if the project were to get into management by crisis.
A by-product of these efforts is the creation of a history or metrics base for future planning. The WBS template, network model and estimating base all serve as a springboard from which to generate a faster, more accurate plan for the next project. These normalized history bases go beyond scar tissue and provide a prototype plan for future similar projects.
As a corollary benefit to this process, should the project manager or any team member leave the team, documentation is in place to carry on business as usual. This documentation and team organization is the best fail-safe or contingency plan for these inevitable changes.
Another intangible benefit is the experience and professional staff development of the project team by working in a cross-functional team environment. This growth and development occurs by the mere exposure of various disciplines to subject matter experts from different parts of the organization. Networking is established, synergy heightened and esprit de corps encouraged. Because primary and secondary responsibilities are assigned for the completion of each task, roles are clear, accountability understood, and staff members groomed to grow within the organization.
Our resident cynic states, “But what about all the additional paperwork, time and structure imposed by project management?” None of these negative conditions need occur in a well-implemented project environment. With the implementation of a project management methodology presenting a consistent way in which project management is done and a project management organizational approach that supports doing project management business uniquely in each group's culture, the environment is positioned to accept and support the project management process.
The principal disadvantages may be classified under the heading of approach: unclear, inconsistent and disorganized. Serious thought, effort and orientation preceding the implementation of the project management process can negate any of the cynic's negative comments.
SO, BACK TO THE MOTIVATIONS of both our management and customers: to get a quality job done as quickly as possible for the least amount of money. The project management process helps that motivation. It does not hinder it. The time and effort to plan and organize the project before it begins well offsets the time it takes to rework, replan and renege once the project is under way. During the project, early warning signals allow us to reevaluate and respond in a sensible and professional manner. After the project is over, we have mechanisms in place to be a true learning organization—learning from our successes and failures, and archiving these lessons so that others can take advantage of our experiences. Furthermore, cross-functional teams can be formed and reconfigured to take the best advantage of the resource pool at our disposal. In a matrix or cross-functional team environment, the project succeeds and so do the people who participate in the project. They learn, grow and become more productive for themselves and the organization as a whole. ∎
Joan Knutson is founder and president of Project Mentors, a San Francisco-based project management training and consulting firm. She can be reached at 415/9555777.
PM Network • August 1997
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