Project Management Institute

Get SMART for better management

by Joanita M. Nellenbach and Pat Hinds


KPMG CONSULTING L.L.C. WASN'T playing around. The stakes were high, and the company needed a new way to handle a client's project, so project managers decided on a then little-known approach developed by Francis T. Hartman. Hartman was only too glad to further test his SMART project management framework.

“We started on a very large multibillion dollar project where we had a very small piece that wasn't directly connected to the project,” Hartman said. “Mike O'Neil of KPMG was working on this engagement and thought it might be a nice place to try this different SMART stuff that they'd never tried before. We had a go at it, and our little engagement worked out remarkably well. We got a second engagement and then a third one, and they all flourished. We achieved our objectives, and Mike was impressed with what he saw, so he suggested to others at KPMG that maybe they ought to look into this [SMART] a bit more carefully.”

SMART is the acronym Francis T. Hartman, Ph.D., coined for his style of project management:

SM=Strategically Managed


R=Regenerative work environment

T=Transitional management.

Hartman, president of Quality Enhanced Decisions Inc. and an experienced project and program manager before becoming professor of project management at the University of Calgary, saw a need to update the way projects are managed. “Project management as a technique and process hasn't really changed an inordinate amount in the last 10 to 15 years, but the way we do business has,” he said. “What was needed, I thought, and a lot of my research sponsors in the industries where we do our research thought, were better ways. So we started collecting these “better ways” about seven years ago. And what came out of it was an approach that, when we tested it, proved to be rather more effective with what I call project-smart companies. Those are large oil and gas companies, big high-tech companies, and so on; big multinationals that do projects for a living. The results were, in some cases, quite surprising when benchmarked against performance in those companies. In one company, in three months, we saved close to $100 million on one project alone.”

Hartman describes his process in Don't Park Your Brain Outside: A Practical Guide to Improving Shareholder Value with SMART Management [Project Management Institute, 2000]. He says every project needs a “holistic view” that includes four factors:

Joanita M. Nellenbach is news editor in PMI Publishing Division. Pat Hinds is a former writer and editor with the Publishing Division.

Ensure that we keep the project in tune with the organization for which we work. Any project undertaken by an organization needs to pass a simple test: Can we identify what the project does to add value? How does it help the organization achieve its strategic objective? If we cannot answer these questions, no matter how big or small the project is, we should not be doing it.

Consider what we need to do to minimize the waste of effort associated with so many projects. Wasted effort manifests itself in a number of ways: redundant work; effort spent meeting unjustified deadlines; doing the wrong thing and having to go back and fix it later; waiting for information, materials, or tools; dealing with items that have just become critical and thus necessitate a sudden change in plans and priorities.

Have an effective team working for or with us on the project. This is made tough by a number of factors. First, we do not get to pick our team most of the time. We usually have to make do with a group of people who have not necessarily worked together, may not want to work together, or already have a lot of things to do for their regular jobs. They may be asked to work on our project in addition to one or even several other projects, which usually seem to have higher priority! Therefore, we need to have an effective way to manage our project teams so that they will want to work on our projects.

[Have the] ability to keep an eye on the world around us. It will not keep still while we try to make our project work. Not only that, but the chances are good that our project will affect this world in some way. Typically, the larger the project, the greater the impact, although this is not necessarily true. What does it mean? Two things in particular: (1) we are managing something that will change, and (2) what we are managing will happen in a changing world. We are working with transition.

KPMG began using SMART about two years ago. “It's given us a whole different perspective from the client's side on what the engagement is about, what the project is about,” O'Neil said. “If we are doing a piece of work with the client using SMART, the client is now saying, ‘Gee, we're not used to this. We're spending a lot more time looking at alignment, a lot more time looking at questions like: Is this the right project? Do we know what the risks are? What is the clear and accepted definition of success? Who really should get involved? Who cares at all about this project? Who doesn't care? And do we have enough time to take this project on, let alone, why are we doing it?’

“This is a fundamental shift in how we start engagements, and clients have gotten very excited about it because it pushes them, and it pushes right where they want to be pushed. We work out the nature of what they are trying to achieve; is it going to pay off in value for the shareholder; who is actually going to deliver that value; and when are we going to be able to measure that we've achieved that value. These are tough questions, but the results are significant. Current measures of project success, from independent surveys looking across a number of industries using the criteria of cost, time, and deliverables, are that less than four in 10 projects are successful. We are aiming at a success rate of 100 percent.”

O'Neil said that SMART also enables KPMG to monitor changes more quickly than the company could before, changes that “could risk the project and undermine the communication and subsequently the project itself—those are the things we find very elegant and practical to use.”

KPMG has purchased 15,000 copies of Don't Park Your Brain Outside. “We see the book as accomplishing two things for us,” said Kevin Martin, KPMG's senior vice president and chief knowledge officer, and the author of the book's foreword. “No. 1, it becomes the foundation for teaching our own people this very different approach to program and project management. So the book is a key item on a reading list that we have incorporated into our project-management training curriculum. This is a mandatory course for all of our management group or those who would be in a project management responsibility, be it a small or large project, up through our executive team.

“In addition, we have purchased from PMI® a number of copies that we can distribute worldwide with our practice leaders so that they can begin to use the book in the marketplace, providing it to clients, helping them understand why we think this is a valuable alternative in terms of an approach to program management that they should consider.”

But KPMG is not the only company that finds SMART valuable. Nortel Networks recently used SMART to help it solve a problem on one of its projects:

“We have a major project that we've just completed in which we used many of the SMART principles,” said Peter Garrett, Nortel vice president. “We were able to dramatically shorten our time to market. In our business, reducing time to market is the key objective, so time is more valuable. We'd rather be 100 percent overspent on our R&D than six months late. The principles that we used enabled us to save over three months on this particular program. So we've had a very positive experience. We're looking at deploying many of the SMART principles throughout our entire organization. We aren't just listing it as [Hartman] is preaching it; we're customizing it to the Nortel environment and making it our own. We're looking to embed it throughout our entire business unit.”

Reid Crowther, a Western Canadian engineering consulting firm, also uses SMART. The firm consults on projects involving transportation, water and wastewater, municipal infrastructure, and building engineering. With so many engineering disciplines involved, Reid Crowther was looking for ways to improve project delivery.

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“We got to know {Hartman} at the university [of Calgary], and now he teaches all of us,” said Doug Harrison, Reid Crowther vice president. “Twice a year he teaches SMART project management to any new project managers that join the company and anyone currently with the company who hasn't taken it. We're trying to get all of our project managers through that program. The key elements of the program for us are doing your budgeting and scheduling by deliverables, rather than by tasks. A deliverable is something real and you can measure that it is done. Preliminary engineering is a task, but a pre-design report is a deliverable. We can tell where we are in the schedule, we know whether we hit a milestone by producing the pre-design report, rather than just measuring how far along we are with preliminary engineering. We either have the report or we don't.”

Harrison said that SMART helps his teams focus by detailing every section of the report. When every aspect is known, he said, “We hit our schedule, we hit our target, and we stay within our engineering budget. Furthermore, the client is quite willing to pay us by deliverables when he has the pre-design report. He's willing to process our invoice and pay us quickly because we've identified how much of our fee goes into producing that report. It allows our teams to focused on what the deliverable is and deliver it; it allows our clients to know exactly where we are in the process.”

But while teams stay focused they aren't consigned to a rigid, cast-in-concrete plan. In fact, Hartman says, SMART is a framework rather than a structure. It can be adapted to the needs of the individual company and the individual project. He also introduced the SMART concept at just the right time. Lots of firms were looking for a better way to manage projects.

“It so happened that at that time there was a kind of global search for a better way for managing projects,” Hartman said. “Any large organization is always looking out for something that is flexible enough that it can be adapted to different cultures. A global organization has different ways of doing things. They don't always stick together in terms of being completely in synch, so to speak. When [KPMG] saw the SMART stuff, after a due-diligence process, they decided that this was the answer to their problem. We don't tell people how to do their jobs. We provide a framework that makes it easier for them to work through what they really need to do.”

That structure also is valuable because it actually allows the project team to have fun. The team members bond in a special way that sparks creativity. O'Neil has found that his team members communicate more openly when they use SMART.

“You come up with all kinds of different ideas and examples where you maybe have an award of the week, but more so, because the communication is so open in SMART and everybody is trying something a little bit new, we think the outcomes are just fabulous. You see people talking about issues openly instead of trying to steer away from them. You don't blame people because it's now a team approach, and you sit down and try to tackle the problems as a team. That builds spirit and, when you get into actually doing things together you end up actually being able to have more fun together.”

SO, SMART IS a fun way to work at the serious business of getting projects done. It focuses on the goals while letting team members create innovative solutions. ■

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.

PM Network August 2000



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