Train and gain
BY D. ALLEN YOUNG AND BRIAN C. PARKS
Today's abundance of project management training is a far cry from what was available only five years ago. The Project Management Institute (PMI®) offers various seminars each year, consulting firms sell courses, more and more universities are offering classes and project management degrees, and several educational organizations sell classes, self-study CDs and Web-based learning. Many companies are either incorporating these programs into their organizations or are building their own training curricula. While this is clearly a very positive trend, most organizations—even ones with training programs already in place—are missing a vital piece of the puzzle. To build a strong project-centric culture, the entire organization must understand the discipline and processes to function effectively.
It's not uncommon to hear, “Project management is just for the project managers at our company, not for the executives.” While, in most cases, the intended audience for project management training programs by design and necessity are project managers, program managers, project management office managers and project leaders, and people who are “wannabes” for these positions, excluding other players can be hazardous to a company's health. The firm ends up way out of balance—the trained practitioners start executing from a different “playbook” than the rest of the organization, which creates friction, frustration and failure.
In too many instances, the project manager tries to follow a plan, track costs, manage scope or follow a methodology, only to encounter resistance from every other facet of the organization. Ultimately, the projects suffer, profits and returns decline, and clients become less satisfied and lose confidence in the organization's ability to deliver.
To help prevent this scenario from happening in your organization, it is essential that everyone who participates in any part of the project management equation is sufficiently trained and that the managers of each business unit fully buy into the program. It may even be necessary to develop a business case to convince upper management that this extra level of training is critical and worth the cost and effort.
Who Must Be Trained?
Before answering this question, you must understand what roles a typical project team fills in your company. Most teams of significant size will have at least eight roles:
Client or customer—person or organization that pays for and receives the product or service being offered or requested. Can also be the project sponsor/executive
Project sponsor/executive—builds the business case and justification, obtains upper management approval for funding and resources, manages the client/customer relationship, and reviews and approves major milestones and expenses. For client-based projects in most organizations, this individual typically resides in the sales, marketing or client relations department, and is ultimately accountable for success or failure of the product or service offering.
Project manager—responsible for scope, time, cost, communication, risk, quality, human resources, procurement and integration management, which are A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) standards for the project. The project manager is ultimately accountable for completing the project on time, within budget, meeting quality standards and delivering what is required. It rarely makes good sense for one person to fill the project sponsor and project manager roles concurrently because each job is simply too big, and the required skill sets are too different.
EXXONMOBIL: A STUDY IN PROJECT MANAGEMENT by RICHARD O'D O N N E L L
In one form or another, oil giant ExxonMobil has been successfully applying project management principles to its development projects for well over 30 years. What started as a collection of recognized management processes learned through common sense and field experience, quickly evolved into a formalized system.
“We had elements of project management in place as far back as the 1960s,” says Roger Van Zele, manager of ExxonMobil's Project Management Division. “By the end of the ‘70s, those elements had evolved into a working system, and that system itself continued to evolve over the next 20 years.”
Initially, Irving, Texas, USA-based ExxonMobil concentrated project management methodology in one area of the business but eventually applied it to others as its versatility became more apparent. “At first, we used project management primarily in what we call our downstream business—refining and marketing petroleum products,” says Van Zele. “Later, we applied it to chemical production capital projects, then finally to our upstream business, the point at which we find and produce crude oil. Since the mid-1990s, these three systems have been converging so that what we have now is essentially a single, harmonized system.”
This is not to say that the oil company is locked into a “one-size-fits-all” approach to project management. Over the years, Exxon-Mobil has discovered that project management is nothing if not adaptable. And in a company that manages a broad range of capital projects, adaptability is a vital asset.
Adapting early in the life cycle of a project enables project managers to decide exactly how to tailor the process to fit the project. This approach simplifies planning, expedites scheduling and lubricates the execution phase of the project.
The front end, in fact, lays the foundation for everything that follows. “That's where we determine what we will build and how we will build it,” says Van Zele. “Breaking down the project into component tasks is also important, but that occurs later on, during the implementation phase.”
Because project management is such a highly adaptable process, ExxonMobil Refining has concentrated responsibility for downstream development and application within a single department, which also is responsible for project management training worldwide.
“Our project management department consists of a couple hundred people and offers a full program of project services, including training courses,” says Van Zele. “These run the whole gamut of project functions. They may cover a single aspect of project management or the whole system. Some courses last a day, and some take several days, depending on how extensive the subject is. We believe that a structured system pays off only if it is used with discipline and by qualified practitioners, hence our emphasis on training.”
Project management is undeniably an investment, in time as well as effort, but the return eventually shows up in the bottom line, which is exactly the point. “Project management makes us highly cost-competitive,” says Van Zele. “It also improves our project safety and scheduling and enables us to deliver the technical quality that our business partners expect. We are evaluated by an organization called Independent Project Analysis that benchmarks us against others in the industry, and their findings place us among the top companies in the refining industry.”
Richard O'Donnell is a freelance writer with more than 30 years' experience writing articles on business management and high technology. He was formerly a public relations manager at AT&T and Bell Laboratories.
In too many instances, the project manager tries to follow a plan, track costs, manage scope or follow a methodology, only to encounter resistance from every other facet of the organization.
Project coordinator/administrator— may lead subproject teams, facilitate the resolution of key issues, and handle project documentation or other project administration for the project manager
Functional or departmental manager— typically, the people/human resource owners. While not part of the core project team, this manager has a direct impact on which resources are allocated and for how long.
Business team leader(s)—usually lower- or middle-level managers representing an area of the business side of the house including operations, customer service, product development and business analysts
Technical team leader (s)—usually lower- or middle-level managers representing the technical side including architecture/design, telecommunications, systems development, technical services, Web development, engineering, and research and development
Construction workers—the “doers” of the project team including the designers, bricklayers, carpenters, Web developers, programmers, communications network engineers, hardware specialists, lab technicians and so forth. May be internal staff, consultants, contractors, vendors, partners or any combination thereof.
As e-business and virtual teams start to become the norm rather than the exception, providing traditional lecture-style instruction (LSI) for all participants becomes much more difficult. There rarely is the time or budget to conduct formal LSI training classes, and in many cases, firms don't want to spend the effort or money to formally train people outside of the organization. It often falls within the scope of the projects to agree on the overall project management methodology, and provide training through an alternative delivery approach to everyone on the project teams as required.
Recognizing the enormous return-on-investment potential of alternative media delivery, organizations should seek to provide, at a minimum, a blended delivery solution. For example, Electronic Data Systems (EDS) University has established a goal of 80 percent of all courseware delivery in an alternative (to lecture) media.
What Training Is Necessary?
Each organization will have to make its own judgment call on this, but EDS University has taken a model approach.
First, establish a single global project and program management curriculum to provide the educational foundation needed to help an organization improve and sustain a change in project management behavior.
Next, institute a global project management educational program designed to develop an educational foundation for individual business units. The Global Project Management Excellence (GPME) program for EDS University is designed to help organizations better their overall business performance. This program should provide all employees with knowledge about project management standards supporting the organizational business goals, including the project management methodology and the supporting tools, processes and skills. Components of the educational program should be tailored to meet the needs of the participants and their organizations.
[Training] will help get everyone moving in the same direction, ingrain project management disciplines into the organizational culture, bolster your firm's intellectual capital, improve the morale of project teams and project delivery track records, and make your clients happier.
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Third, align the curriculum with a defined project management job family matrix. Once this is accomplished, use the PMBOK® Guide as the foundation for the project management methodologies.
Last, institute a diverse yet clearly defined project management catalog design such as:
Exploring project management concepts—for any employee with little or no project management experience, this curriculum level includes development activities to introduce the project management discipline, to help students make an informed decision on whether or not to pursue the project management career field and help people to better understand their role on a project team
Fundamentals of project management concepts—for any employee with basic theoretical knowledge or entry-level hands-on experience in project management, this curriculum level includes development activities to improve the basic knowledge and skills necessary for participants to perform project management with direct guidance from leadership or an experienced project manager in the career field
Intermediate project management concepts—for any employee with some practical experience as a project manager or as a member of a project team, this curriculum level includes development activities to enhance participant's skills and knowledge, allowing them, with general guidance, to apply more complex skills and knowledge in the project management career field
Advanced program management concepts—for employees with intermediate to advanced experience in project and program management and mid-management, this curriculum level includes development activities to improve the skills that allow employees, with minimal guidance, to perform advanced skills in the project management career field. Examples of skills include those required at an organization level, coaching and mentoring others in project management, or applying knowledge in complex and broad situations.
Senior program management concepts—for employees with advanced to expert experience in project, program and executive management, this curriculum level includes development activities to enhance the skills that allow project and program managers, working independently, to perform at the corporate level in the project management career field.
All this training won't completely eliminate organizational training problems, but a comprehensive project and program management training program will go a long way toward reducing their impact. It will help get everyone moving in the same direction, ingrain project management disciplines into the organizational culture, bolster your firm's intellectual capital, improve the morale of project teams and project delivery track records, and make your clients happier. Ultimately, your firm's bottom line will improve far beyond the training investment. PM
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PM NETWORK | JANUARY 2002 | www.pmi.org
JANUARY 2002 | PM NETWORK