Service model for project communication management to practitioners

Abstract

In today's projectized world, businesses and institutions out-source their operation, service, and support functions to external parties or contractual staffs; then they manage the activities like projects. Besides businesses and institutions, the same project management (PM) disciplines have also been applied to financial development, event management, personal career advancement, and preparation for early retirement in our daily life. Hence, the demand of the project manager is getting so high around the world that the experienced staffs or the project initiators have assumed the responsibilities out of convenience. However, many projects are still operated in an ad hoc manner like the popular TV series “The Apprentice”. When a project encounters problems, this broad type of project manager may lack the specific knowledge and expertise to direct the project back on track. Because of this, there is a market potential for on-demand project management services in the format of Hotline Support and Project Coaching, which goes beyond simply hiring and firing the project managers.

From the service perspective, this paper proposes a Hotline Support and a follow up Project Coaching approach, through new formats of project communication management to help projects achieve their goals from any where around the world. This service model can also be considered a powerful marketing tool to promote and customize PMBOK practices and services in the global market.

Introduction

When we were young, our parents wanted us to be a medical doctor or a lawyer. As a grown up, we find that we also want our children to be medical doctors or lawyers. What do medicine and law have in common? Similarly, they both help people solve the problems they may have, for a substantial fee. Medicine can help resolve health problems, and one could argue, to the extreme of preventing suicide. The legal system can respond to and resolve interpersonal or social problems to the extreme of preventing homicide.

Today, we live in the knowledge world. Government, military, public utility, transportation, communication, finance, education, manufacture, and supply chains etc. are all operated under automated systems. When problems to these systems occur, which professionals are going to help us to “cure” and resolve the problems to the extreme of preventing total system failure or breakdown? For suicide and homicide, we have trained and qualified professionals to help us on the emergency basis. However in the event of automatic system breakdown or catastrophe, where are we going to find the trained and qualified professionals to answer the 911-like emergency hotline and the follow-up support? Are all of the stakeholders of the system able to solve their complex operational support issues alone? Do we really want to leave all these critical operational support issues to the faceless out source or contractual staffs who run the system for us remotely? When we encounter problems in personal planning, which fall out of the realm of expertise of doctors and lawyers where do we get immediate help and following up support?

The confusion can only get worse. Is the general public capable of understanding the 403 pages and 10 Mega Bytes of document called “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)” (PMI, 2003) without any professional service or support? What can practitioners and accidental project manager do when they are in crisis? How can they get continuous support afterwards?

In the book of Genesis of Holy Bible, when the God saw people building the Tower of Babel, He said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” (Holy Bible) Human beings are only clones based on the God's image. Individually, our strength may be limited. However, if we help each other and work together, we will have infinite capacity to achieve impossible tasks like the God.

Process, Practice, and People

All projects need people that practice according to a set of agreed processes, such as the standard project management processes defined in PMBOK® Guide. A project may fail due to process issues, practice issues, people issues, or a combination of any of the above. By focusing on these three key dimensions, we can create a service model to support a project using two new formats of project communication management: Hotline Support and Project Coaching.

The practitioner who leads a project may be too involved in the situation to identify where the problems lie. Exhibit 1 demonstrates an example of a project which may be struggling due to the lack of experience during project integration, uncontrolled change management, schedule delay, budget over run, inadequate quality assurance, poor staff management, miscommunication among stakeholders, lack of risk tracking, and/or inefficient procurement sourcing.

Example of a Trouble Project

Exhibit 1 – Example of a Trouble Project

The support structure of this service model involves two major steps: 1) problem determination and 2) problem resolution. By using PMBOK® Guide as a template, it can help us comb through the process, practice, and people to identify the issues and determine their root causes. Once we know the root causes of the problems, we can provide solutions for short term fix and/or propose a permanent fix to resolve the problem by request.

Problem Determination

Doing Vs. Knowing

There are two determinants of human behaviours: knowing and doing. The combination of knowing and doing creates the following 4 quadrants during problem determination, as depicted by Exhibit 2.

1.      Knowing what I have done - practice: when a project manager is in action, he knows what he has achieved. What he needs to validate is how much he has done in meeting the project goals and deliverables.

2.      Knowing what I have not done - gap: If the project does not meet all the project goals, then the project manager needs to identify the difference between the current status and the expected target and deliverables.

3.      Not knowing what I have done - habit: sometimes, a project manager may have done other things which are not specifically defined in the project plan. The project manager needs to be aware of his habits for achieving optimal results.

4.      Not knowing what I have not done - transformation to the next level of performance: as a practitioner, sometimes he does not have the chance to catch up with the latest trend and development in his area. If he can discover his new strength and opportunities, he may be able to perform his works in the next level of excellence.

Doing vs. Knowing

Exhibit 2 – Doing vs. Knowing

In general, a project manager knows what is required of him and does it as expected. But due to unforeseen obstacles, he may not be able do every thing that he is expected to do. This creates a gap between expectation and practice. While it is critical for a project manager to take action and deliver what he is expected to do, from time to time, he misses the target and creates gaps to the initial plan. Out of habit, a project manager may also do things which are not required by the project. To achieve optimal results, we need to know what areas of the practice can be improved and how it can be done differently. Knowing the habits and the missed opportunities, a project manager or the project team may improve the process, practice, and people skills; and transform to the next level of performance.

For the (1) and (2) quadrants, Hotline Support outside of the project team can help identify what has and has not been done beyond the traditional project communications management. It can also help the project manager proactively identify risks and issues and find a way to work around it.

For the (3) and (4) quadrants, Project Coaching can help uncover what the project manager has done habitually and discover what his opportunities are for performance and business transformation to the next level of efficiency.

Hotline Support

A Hotline Support is an emergency service initiated by an urgent request depending on the level of severity and the predefined service level agreement. The basic flow of Hotline support for the first and second quadrants is defined as follows:

1.      Understand the current situation to define the problem statements. The problem may be a missed dead line, shortage of funding, unclear scope, or a lack of resources.

2.      Clarify the project charter, mission, objectives and deliverables

3.      Identify the gap of what is missing in the current state.

4.      Analyze the root causes of the problems

5.      Propose a work around or quick fix to the current situation

6.      Further investigate the options and alternatives for a permanent fix through the follow-up coaching.

Hotline Support

Exhibit 3 – Hotline Support

The Hotline Support structure may include the following:

1.      An online Helpdesk to receive the request through different communication media.

2.      On-call project experts in the domain area.

3.      An escalation channel to request additional resources and/or actions

4.      A governance of support structure to ensure service quality, code of conducts and privacy protection

It is important to note however, that the Hotline support can only provide a quick fix to recover from a problem state. Understanding the unknown quadrants of a project may be more critical to the project's success and future transformation. A project may have been on target throughout three quarters of the project plan, but fell apart at the last minute. When tracing through the history of the project, there may have been warnings and signs of problems, but these may have been disregarded or were swept under the carpet. In other cases, the assumptions of the project were so unrealistic or the issues were completely beyond control, that the project faced higher risks right from the beginning. Hence, it is essential to determine what has been done and what has not been done help in order to find an appropriate fix for the troubled project.

Problem Resolution

A quick fix or work around may not be a permanent solution. In a quick fix, the same causes which led to the current problem state may not necessarily have been removed or corrected. A permanent fix should be identified and implemented in order to prevent the same problem from recurring. From the project perspective, project coaching to the project manager can help the manager discover habits (behaviour patterns) in the past for both good projects and bad projects, as well as uncover the strength and opportunities for the next level of performance and transformation.

Project Coaching

From my experience, organizations and institutions spend a considerable amount of effort to educate, train, encourage, and motivate project mangers and team members to achieve their project goals. Project managers and team members will do their best to stay on their jobs and fulfil all requirements. At the end of the day however, they are nothing but their own agents for their best interests. They must make decision based on the best of their knowledge. A project manager may manage multi-million dollar project(s) with more than fifty members reporting to him. But, during the year end review, statistically only half of the project managers will be told that they have achieved an above average performance. For those below average performer, when a contract is over six months or one year later, he may no longer have a job. Instead of being highly rewarded and motivated, half of the project managers will feel stale, burned out and eventually lose their jobs. The most frustrating situation is to have worked harder and put in long hours at work to catch up, only to find out that other people worked smarter with less hours and accomplished more results. The longer they stay at the project the worse they feel. The disillusionment forces them to eventually become ineffectual and be forcefully removed from the project. The same situation and discouragement may apply to project team members as well.

The project manager who is caught in a vicious circle may not be aware of what he has done or not done that led him in this upward battle. Project Coaching is a non-intrusive approach outside of the project to help identify what has been done due to the habits, circumstance, or limiting beliefs developed in the past. Project coaching can not only help uncover the habits which may damage or benefit the project performance, but also help discover the strength and opportunities that may transform the project to the next level of performance. The ultimate success of a project may come from discovering the opportunities for the project manager or project team to accomplish above average results to move up to the next level of performance.

Habit

The basic flow of Habit Discovery in the third quadrant is as followings:

1.      Identify what other actions the project has taken, which were not required by project.

2.      Determine whether these results can be part of the project deliverables.

3.      If it can not be used as part of the project results, find out what was the purpose of doing it.

4.      If it has a purpose, then find out how to leveraging the strength.

5.      If it does not meet any project objectives, discontinue doing it, to save effort.

6.      On the other hand, if the results can be used as part of the project deliverables, find out its quality.

7.      If the quality does not meet the project standards, determine whether it can be improved. If the quality can not be improved, then stop doing it to reduce the waste.

8.      If the quality is good, update the project plan to add more value to the project.

The strength of a project manager or a project team can be in any of the following categories:

1.      Leadership and management skills: lead and motivate people with vision and commitment

2.      Strategic and forward looking: long term strategy, research, and innovation for better results

3.      Planning: work breakdown, schedule, budget, and resource planning and risk management.

4.      Execution: process definition and optimization, practice enhancement, and results tracking.

Beyond habits, if a project manager can take advantage of his strength, further exploring the unknown aspect of which has not been done in the fourth quadrant, he may be transformed to the next level of excellence.

Habit Discovery

Exhibit 4 – Habit Discovery

Transformation

A project manager and project team may have strengths that have not been fully developed. A project coach can facilitate a project manager or project team to find new opportunities and potentials and transform the project's effectiveness and greatness in the future. The basic flow of Transformation is as follows:

1.      Determine what can it be done differently in the future which will fully develop the strength identified in the third quadrant.

2.      Will it add values to the project?

3.      If it does not add value to the current project, will it create new opportunities for the future?

4.      If the answer is positive, find out how to use the strength for transformation.

5.      If it does not create any new opportunity, the additional action may be irrelevant and can be ignored.

5.      On the other hand, if the action adds values to the project, will it introduce any risk?

6.      If the action will introduce risk in the future, determine whether the risk is manageable. If the risk is not manageable, then do not pursue it

7.      If the action has low risk and thus it is safe to be included in the project plan, then include it into the project plan to add value for better performance.

People have different strengths. A practitioner or accidental project manager may be good at the execution and detailed planning, but lack the leadership and forward looking vision, or vice versa. People in general do well with positive encourage and recognition. Sometimes, people take the project manager/executive/director role for the sake of money or material rewards. However, project manager may not be a right profession for every one, especially for those that are consistently below average performers. Project coaching can help project manager to identify how to transform his career for a better outcome.

Project Transformation

Exhibit 5 – Project Transformation

The project coaching is a maintenance service after Hotline support is performed, for project enhancement. The service can be for either the project manager or the project team. The project coaching support structure and method includes the following:

1.      Subject mater experts in the requested area.

2.      Project engagement health check.

3.      A project coaching plan for the follow-up sessions

4.      An escalation channel for additional requests and actions

5.      A governance of support structure to assure the code of conducts and to protect privacy and intellectual property rights.

Conclusion

In Summary, Hotline Support and Project Coaching is not only a way to help a project manager or project team to get out of trouble by using PMBOK® Guide standards; it can also be a powerful marketing tool to promote PMBOK® Guide practices as a vehicle of project transformation for strategic and operational support. By improving processes, practices, and people skills, it gives life to PMBOK® Guide and transforms PMBOK® Guide from a standard document to a self-learning organic framework.

References

PMI (2003) A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) Third Edition, Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute (PMI) Retrieved from www.pmi.org

The Holy Bible, New International Version, Book of Genesis, Chapter 11 Verse 6.

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.

©2006, Suhwe Lee
Originally published as part of 2006 PMI Global Congress Proceedings - Bangkok, Thailand

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