®Blue print for project success

the 10 keys to creating a best-in-class project organization



Drawing on many years of experience in project management and organizational development, Dave Po-Chedley and Rob St.Germain offer a roadmap to creating best in class project organizations by applying perspectives and lessons learned from Business Process Re-engineering, Six Sigma and other successful change programs. The authors posit that expecting Project Management success by focusing only on the processes in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) will have limited impact, and that the real gains in Project Management effectiveness lie outside the project processes outlined in the PMBOK® Guide and in the realm of organizational development.


“Human beings, it is said, must learn to crawl before we learn to walk and walk before we learn how to run.” (Traditional saying)

If projects were easy we would not need the PMBOK® Guide. If projects were easy we would not need to train thousands of people in the project managers and spend millions implementing PMOs. But, as we well know, projects are not easy. Many of them are complex and problematic. So, we have spent the money and taken the time and yet, we have not achieved the results we all desire. Senior management complains of how consistently late and over budget projects are. Project managers and team members decry the long hours they spend trying to meet unrealistic goals. Bottom line –organizations of all types, public and private, continue to struggle to improve project management performance.

From our work with many of these organizations, it appears that some progress has been made. Project teams are working hard to apply the PMBOK® Guide processes. Still, there is far to go. Could it be that we have somehow missed or neglected certain critical elements that are needed to enable the process changes we have made to reach their full potential? Could it be that we are nearing an end to the low hanging fruit, the easy to adopt changes and improvements? Could it be that the process improvements rightly promulgated by the PMBOK® Guide are only a start, that they are the “walk” phase of our learning how to maximize the business value of our projects? And if so, what do we need to do to learn how to “run”?

The Nature of Organizational Change

John P. Kotter (2002) in his book The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations states that any transformation initiative, be it large scale or small scale, to be successful follows a clear pattern. Since Kotter is one of the most popular change models we decided to use his model although there are many such models that could easily have been selected. In the last two decades the level of understanding of Change Management, helping people through change processes, has come to be substantially better understood. Much has now been written about it.

Kotter’s is a process model. It consists of three phases as follows:

  1. Create a climate for change
  2. Engage and enable the whole organization
  3. Implement and work to sustain the change

Human beings are spurred to action by any number of things –the realization of some benefit or reward for themselves or others on the positive side or a reaction to something undesirable on the negative side. Though we might be willing to lay down our lives for our family and country, our motivation and the degree to which we are willing to risk is substantially less for organizations. Loss of employment, fear of embarrassment or loss of competency are powerful disincentives and often paralyze people faced with change.

It is, therefore, an absolute necessity that we create a climate of relative safety when asking people to change. In addition, we must give them solid reasons to change, reasons to let go of that which is familiar and migrate to that which is new and different, but also threatening at some level. Many practitioners suggest creating a strong business case, a so-called case for action that addresses not only why the company or organization must change but why various individuals should hop on the band wagon. The greater the risk or fear, the stronger the case for action must be. Lessening the fear is more problematic since management is often not believed. “No one will lose their jobs”, we are told, but most remain sceptical until well after the change project is over.

To offset this and to compliment the case for action, Kotter and others suggest creating a vision story, a word picture of what life will look like when the change process is complete. The vision statement for the changed process must speak to each stakeholder in language they can identify with. It must demonstrate the expected success of the future state including how everyone will fit into it.

Lastly, people affected by change need the sense that the change will be successful and that they will be successful if they elect to endorse and join the process. They need to see a clear path to success, a roadmap or plan, which is not only believable but also invites them to join. Such a plan is deemed more credible if the change team is trusted.

This brings us to Kotter’s second phase, engaging and enabling the whole organization. You can talk to people all day. You can try to sell your ideas and their benefits. Nothing though is as effective as inclusion in the process. Inclusion includes listening to concerns, talking actions to relieve pain as well as the obstacles to success. It includes open honest communication to keep people abreast of current status and the realities of the project. Kotter also recommends creating the opportunity for short term wins.

The third Kotter phase is about perseverance. Not only must you continue to press forward with the vision and new processes but you must also take action to insure that participants to not slip back into old ways to doing things. Making it stick (Kotter’s term) is sometimes one of the hardest of the change processes.

Though Kotter’s process is quite complete in terms of process, it does not address (at least visibly) structural and support issues that constitute barriers and impediments to change. For this we need to need another model – the business diamond and our project management adaptation of it, the geography of value.

The Geography Of Value

Lessons from the past

Some time ago, while studying systems theory, we became aware of a shortcoming of our culture’s predominant thinking style, reductionistic thinking. Simply, when faced with a problem, people in our culture most often analyze that problem by seeking its root cause, the (often) single broken piece. It is a shortcoming because many problems are not the product of one causal agent but are produced as unintended consequences of the various parts of a process or system acting together. It is not a single part that is broken; it is the whole system working (or not) that produces the outcome. And, to fix the problem, you must address the various parts of the system. Fixing one part will not fix the whole.


One of the best-known business improvement methodologies of the last decade is Business Process Reengineering, sometimes called business process redesign or BPR. Simply described, BPR attempts to improve overall organizational effectiveness by understanding and redesigning business processes. Practitioners of BPR quickly learned that changing only the process most often did not work. You had to change the whole system. For the new process to work it required changing all or many elements of the existing organizational system, adjusting those elements that did not support or were in conflict with the new improved process. Those additional elements include:

  • Management systems
  • Support systems (like Information Technology)
  • Organizational structure, job descriptions and training in particular skills
  • Culture, beliefs, and organization norms

They are shown graphically and referred to as the Business Diamond (Exhibit 1):

Business Diamond

Exhibit 1 – Business Diamond

If you were, let’s say, leading a project to redesign an auto accident insurance payoff process and the goal was to remove cost and time from the process, you might eliminate most of the claims processing department and place more authority in the hands of the insurance adjustor to make decisions and even write checks at the location of the accident. To do this you must substantially change the job description of the adjustor and train them in a number of new skills. You must provide a considerable amount of I.T. systems support and substantial operating policy change. Lastly, you must change the management oversight procedures, and culturally, define a whole new way of looking at the business and function of those adjustors.

Taken as a whole, these changes enable the process. They are all required to gain business value from the change.

Applying The Lessons To Project Management Organizations

Building on our knowledge of the above models and our many years of experience working with project managers, teams and project organization, we instinctively knew that just changing project management processes and bringing them in line with the PMBOK® Guide would produce only partial (albeit sometimes substantial) gains. We knew that like reengineering projects and total quality management, project management process improvement would require addressing all the elements of the business diamond but in a way specific to projects. From this emerged the project organization business diamond that we call the “Geography of Value™” (Exhibit #2). This model describes the territory and the 10 keys speak to the process of change.

PM Governance Processes

Project managers and project teams cannot do it all. We tell our students that the title may be Project Manager but the role of Project Management is one in which everyone must participate at an appropriate level. In other words, project management is a shared practice. This role sharing and distribution of duties includes senior management. They are responsible not only for setting the strategy for the organization but are equally responsible for linking or at least helping to link that strategy to the projects in the portfolio. This alignment process strongly implies that they carefully weigh proposed projects as to their value prior to making them approved projects. In addition, upper level management must lend their support to individual projects, project managers and project teams as active sponsors.

The Geography of Value

Exhibit #2 – The Geography of Value

Organization, Skills and Jobs

Project management improvement for many organizations is about training. “Put enough people through PM training and you have changed the organization” is the popular myth. As trainers we wish that were true. To be sure, training is needed and it should not stop with Project Managers. Since project management is a shared function, team members need to understand their role in the PM process. Senior managers too should avail themselves to updated learning about their role to be sensitive to practices they may be following that constitute barriers to success and to become aware of things that are not doing but need to do in order to assure process improvement. Being a willing and involved sponsor, as mentioned above, is an example of this. A strong case can also be made for a whole array of support skills such as leadership, team processes, communications, problem resolution, negotiation skills and others.

One high profile part of the geography of value is the creation of a PMO, a Project Management Office in any of its various permutations. The PMO is a structural change. To the extent that Project Managers report to the PMO we have considerably altered the organization. So, this must be accompanied by changes in the job description of the Project Managers and others effected by these changes such as various department heads, functional managers, who used to control projects and now must ‘share’ such duties with the project manger.

Balancing authority between Project Managers and Functional Managers is a pre-requisite for PM success. The relationship must be rationalized so that Project Manager have appropriate authority as well as unquestioned support of functional managers. For a project manager to run a project effectively they must be able to negotiate and receive required resources and, once those resources have been allocated, they must be able to direct those resources on project tasks without interference. Functional managers must, of course, retain their policy setting and control function. Where issues arise, an escalation process must be in place to enable fast resolution. The escalation process is another example of right involvement of upper level management.

PM Support Systems

Project management is overhead. To the extent that we add project management process, we are adding to overhead. It is then common sense that we must provide a number of tools, automated and non-automated, to support project managers and teams or we squander the productivity we are working hard to gain.

If we want Project Managers to be effective task leaders they must have the benefit of good tracking and reporting tools like enterprise project management software and administrative personnel to run it. If we are sharing resources among multiple projects, we need resource management tools. Portfolio management tools enable us to coordinate and integrate the many projects we are running at any one time. Project management dashboards provide ease of access to metrics at both the project and PMO level. Knowledge management tools capture valuable project process learning. That information must be easy to access to be applied to new projects and continued improvement. Lastly, human resource support tools which tract skills and capabilities of project resources permit better staffing decisions in addition to enabling the improvement of overall skills levels over time.

Culture, Beliefs and Norms

There are many misperceptions about project management. At minimum is the belief that almost anyone can do project management and that a broad skill set is at best “nice to have” as opposed to a basic requirement. Senior management and (because of senior management) most of the rest of the staff do not seem to be aware of the value creation role of projects. Most regard participation in projects as work extra to their jobs. This “not my job” perception is problematic. It leads to lowered productivity and a lack of willingness to participate. It makes the job of running a project enormously more difficult.

Employees in general need to understand the big picture, the strategy of the organization. They need to understand how projects fit in and enable the strategy. Most organization we work with do a poor job of this. They measure the Project Manager on time and budget but not on delivered value. Accountability is almost non-existence for team members and functional managers who must support the project managers. These organizations often lack adequate metrics and performance management programs except for the Project Managers who are measured and punished based on project lateness and budget over-runs for which they had little control.

The whole organization needs to buy into the belief that project processes must be continuously improved over time and that they must not only support it, they must be part of it.

10 Keys to Creating Best-In-Class Project Organizations

Every profession and industry have things unique to them. Project Management is no different. Kotter provides a good generic approach to organizational process improvement but to be effective a bit of translation to the project management environment is needed. Over the years we have worked extensively with project organizations. We have witnessed first hand the ‘cost’ of not following good change process when trying to make project management process improvements. And, we have been gratified by the success of our clients when they employ the following Ten Keys. This approach is not rocket science as the saying goes. In fact, in so many ways they are obvious. Yet, it is disturbing to see how many organizations cut corners on change process and then are disappointed with the change outcome. Combined with the structural targets of the geography of value, these Ten Keys constitute a proven approach to obtaining the full value and potential of project management envisioned in the PMBOK® Guide.


Keys to Getting Started

1. Alignment: As indicated above, we must ensure that the performance development effort is clearly tied to one or more strategic/organization goals. Participants must see that what they do in the trenches is an integral piece of the success or the organization. They need to internalize the essence of those goals so that decisions made at or near the bottom of the organization are consistent with that organization’s strategic drivers. Management may make the big decisions but success in any organization is the sum of the multitude of little decisions that are made by people on the front lines.

2. Get the Stakeholders on Board: Just as we teach project teams to do with their development projects is even more needed in an organizational change process. The lore is replete in stories of leaders who run faster than their army or workers and then wonder where the team went. Just wanting people to change does not change them. We must provide basic tools to understand, support, promote and reinforce new skills and processes. We must make the structural changes indicated in the Geography of Value and must provide the Case For Action, Vision, and Plan for how to get where we are going. If we make them part of the change process, we are not doing it to them, we are doing it with them.

3. Identify Specific Needs: Determine specific needs and support requirements (project governance, training, process development, tools, etc.) required to develop and achieve a high performance organization. The Geography of Value is a comprehensive guide for this process steps. It identifies all the structural pieces that must be covered.

Keys to Making It Happen

4. Build the Scoreboard: Build a scoreboard with clearly defined, well chosen metrics of success and do it early so everyone will know that progress is being made…and by all means, be more creative than just project due date and budget. Metrics need to be real and achievable. To be real they need to direct behaviour to those things that add value. They need to be specific. They need to support higher-level goals. If project due dates are the goal, we must identify those things which are chronic inhibitors to bringing in projects on time and correct those underlying causes. If we are estimating poorly, we need performance metrics for better estimating.

5. Show Them How: Build performance capability with customized training and resources that address their specific development needs. One of mentors that taught us a lot use to say, “training does not an intervention make.” Formal project management training is only one step. People cannot grasp all there is to learn in a single class. Professional like baseball and basketball players go each year to their respect training camps to focus on fundamentals. Project management people need this as well. They need a periodic opportunity to focus on how to change ‘their’ game. Coach by professional is an excellent help but few companies seem willing to fund this activity.

6. Make it Part of Their World: Make the new processes part of their world by integrating appropriate tools, techniques, and concepts into processes, procedures and methodologies and do it in a way that makes it safe and easy. Provide opportunities for many small victories. All people to internalize and demonstrate new competencies and reinforce it with recognition programs. If we make them part of the change process, we are not doing it to them, we are doing it with them.

Sustaining Top Performance

7. Remove the Obstacles: Identify, prioritize and remove key systemic barriers that are inhibiting the progress of the change. The geography of value identifies a number of structural issues. Each of the 10 keys themselves may be met with resistance. To be successful, the change team together with senior management must be ready and willing to remove these obstacles as they occur. Once the culture learns that management is really behind them and it willing to work along with them to make it happen, all but the most sceptical will hop on board.

8. Watch the Scoreboard: Provide ongoing measurement and evaluation of project results and the progress of the change effort, and in particular process improvements leadership and team effectiveness. Given the opportunity people will revert to old systems and methods. The scoreboard shows they are making a difference and identifies where they aren’t. People need to feel that their efforts are paying off. The scoreboard is therefore a positive tool. Conversely, management and the change team must be careful not to use the scoreboard in a punitive way. Scoreboard feedback should trigger obstacle elimination and other supportive behaviour not a tirade from the boss.

9. Leverage What Works: Ensure that lessons learned on each project are effectively captured, shared and redeployed on later projects. This should be part of every project you do. It is part of the PMBOK® Guide close process and is considered a best practice. This is more than an opportunity for team members; management should take part. In additions to specific learning, everyone should be looking for patterns and practices that are producing success. Just putting the learning into a database is not enough. The organization must find ways to periodically review the information so that it is refreshed in everyone’s mind and becomes part of standard practice.

10. Get the Word Out: To everyone! Clear communication of the initiative’s progress and results is a necessity both to establish the change, get desired collaboration and maintain momentum. But, it is also an area for focus for the change process. Not only do we need to communicate what we are trying to do in the change process but we need to fix the whole process of communication itself.

We survey clients in a variety of ways as we work with them. One problem that shows up regularly is communication, and communication affects projects in a host of ways. For one it is a time eater. Meetings, one of the more insidious inventions of the human species, take up considerable percentages of project time, and, to the extent that these meeting are not productive, they are eating project schedule. Most organizations meeting habits are tragically poor.

Throw email into the equation and the time lost to poor communication adds up to several head count equivalents for most projects of any size. One survey conducted by us over the last 10 years with over 1800 project management course participants yielded very troubling data. On average, these participants reported 7.9 hours per week of lost productive time due to poor communications with poor meeting and email practices being the largest part of the problems. This equates to 46.4 workdays per year or 9.3 weeks. Extrapolating it to headcount yields a depressing 19.7 heads per 100 project workers. We often hear complaints of inadequate resources in projects but this survey suggests that we are losing the equivalent of these resources due to poor communication.

This survey only measured lost productive time. A true survey of poor communication should included lost business, rework and other costs and would yield even more dramatic results. Improving communications in projects would, by itself, yield significant improvement.


In this paper we have tried to demonstrate that adopting the practices of the PMBOK® Guide and training people in its use is not enough to achieve the full potential of project management. We have provided well respected and proven models from other successful programs of change and have adapted them to project management organizations. Change is not easy but it is not easy but it is doable and worth doing. By addressing the structural components of the organization using a sound change process, the organization and its change makers will be rewarded with project success and greater business value.

Kotter, J. P. & Cohen, D. S. (2002) The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations Cambrige, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing

PMI (2004) A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

© 2007, David Po-Chedley & Rob St.Germain
Originally published as a part of 2007 PMI North American Congress Proceedings – Atlanta, GA, USA



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