Thirteen easy steps to implement project management into a financial firm
Thomas A.Tarnow,Vice President, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter
When measured against original scope, time and budget parameters, the great majority of projects fail in the financial services environment. In an attempt to better this dismal success rate, organizations have applied various project management techniques and approaches, from establishing project offices to introducing sophisticated methodologies. Oddly enough, such programs have, in many cases, proven ineffective in combating the failure.
How can this trend be reversed so that projects can be successfully delivered? Project management rollout can be realized through this simple 13-step approach, which has been successfully implemented and is currently operative in one of the world’s largest financial services firms.
The 13-Step Approach
Organizations can be transformed. Projects can be delivered successfully. The following program has been successfully implemented and can be used as an implementation model in other organizations in the financial services industry.
The 13 No-Fail Steps
Step 1. Grow Project Management Slowly
Manage expectations and roll out a project management program based on client demand.
Most change management efforts, including business process reengineering, quality control, ISO initiatives, continuous process improvement, management by objectives, and the rollout of project management, eventually fail. Not only do the change initiatives fail, but also they frequently set back the careers of their implementers. Why? Overzealous change agents, especially in the financial services culture, feel their worth and value is determined by how quickly they can roll out changes throughout the organization. But the change is usually pushed out more rapidly than the traditional culture in the organization has the ability to absorb it.
Change is like a rubber band being stretched. When stretched too far, the rubber band will snap and break. In much the same way, when the culture gap between an organization’s change agents and its bureaucracy becomes too great, the resulting stress on the establishment precipitates a break. The proposed change along with the change agents are rejected. Their rejection is normally solidly grounded and deeply rooted at the bottom of the organization. It is no wonder there are high failure rates for efforts to roll out project management.
Step 2. Business Unit Project Office
Position the project office in the business unit organization. Projects should be driven by the users and clients who will benefit from their implementation. Keep project office support decentralized to ensure proper alignment of client requirements and priorities.
Usually, internal support units such as information technology first apply project management techniques to their own operations. These initiatives normally fail due to a number of reasons. They fail because of grassroots rejection even within their own information technology organization.
These internal support units also often fail to successfully implement their project management approaches within the business units whom they are serving because they are not in a position, as an internal supplier, to influence and manage upward to their client. In addition to these forces within the information technology or support unit obviating against acceptance of project management approaches, the client, or money-making business unit whom they serve usually does not understand why or how project management works— they just don’t get it. The client side is usually focused on their business and not on the concerns of their support organization.
Thirteen Step Project Management Implementation
There is an additional critical factor that is not usually understood. The most important critical project success and failure factors depend on the client, not on the support group such as the information technology support unit. The top three reasons that projects fail, as reported by the respected Standish Group project success study, are:
• Incomplete statement of requirements
• Lack of user involvement
• Lack of resources.
The top three reasons that projects succeed are:
• User involvement
• Executive support
• Clear statement of requirements.
One way to ensure that these forces against success are minimized is to increase contact and involvement and is by organizationally locating the project office within the client or business unit where it can influence these critical success factors.
When the project management effort is on the business unit or client side (e.g., not in the supplier organization such as information technology), it is positioned to effectively influence their support groups such as information technology.
Step 3. Demonstrate Benefit With Pilot Projects
Provide proof of the concept in a pilot program, and then allow word of mouth to communicate the benefits and generate demand.
Top-down command and control does not work in a Wall Street environment. The environment is normally very entrepreneurial and oriented toward the efforts of individuals. Typically, money generators in business units, such as traders or investment bankers, are making millions of dollars and in some cases hundreds of millions of dollars for the firm. These individuals and their business units are the seat of absolute power in a financial organization. The CIO or the head of a business unit may provide management edicts, but even they may be ignored due the power and influence of the money generators within the firm.
In such Wild West atmosphere, how can change be implemented? The most effective way to roll out an initiative like project management is from the ground up, engaging the power brokers. This can be done by piloting a project in specific areas of the organization’s operation in order to demonstrate success. If done right, the success stories will spread, generating interest and demand for implementation of the project on a broader scale.
Step 4. Establish Total Client Orientation
Be client oriented. Know your client and focus on customer service. Provide total customer care and flexibility by giving clients what they want, not what you feel they need.
Standardized project management practice will likely fail in an entrepreneurial and individual-oriented business setting like a Wall Street firm. To be successful, a flexible and client-centric approach must be offered. Most project management initiatives fail because they do not adapt to the client, and therefore, do not give the client what they want. It is better to give the client what they want and enjoy the success of some project management progress, than to give them what you feel that they need, with resulting rejection of the entire initiative.
Step 5. Understand the Business Unit
Study the specific business and leverage its power. Minimize reliance on a centralized management or process group. Keep the money-making business units happy—they are the source of power and your success.
Don’t take a consistent or centralized approach to implementing project management to your internal customers. Adjust the project management offerings to fit the needs of each individual client and business unit. Offer a menu of services to provide the exact type of support the client wants. Adjust your project management offerings to fit the people, process, technology, and politics of the particular business unit.
Step 6. Provide Hands-on Project Management Support
Clients want help to make their lives easier, not more difficult.
Many initiatives to roll out project management approaches fail because they create more burdens and more work for the project client. One example would be to force managers to adhere to a rigid process and heavy documentation requirements. Even if they can be forced into this bureaucratic burden, do not count on voluntary compliance.
Examples of where project management can be rejected would be to force the managers to adhere to a rigid process and heavy documentation requirements. Maybe people can be forced into a bureaucratic project administration role, but do not count on voluntary compliance. Be prepared to provide hand on project management support to ensure long-term success of the project and the project management roll out initiative.
Step 7. Forget Best Practice
Applying “best practices” as a standard is not appropriate. Best practice is much too rich for fast-paced, no-nonsense Wall Street professionals. Consider your audience; consider the level of maturity of the organization.
Best practice for Wall Street is not the same as best practice for Hewlett Packard or AT&T. Those project management professionals who envision applying the generally accepted best project management practices to Wall Street firms will likely fail. The gap between the perceived best practice and what the organization can absorb is wide, and can be the source of rejection and ultimate failure.
Best practice in the Wall Street environment must be based on flexibility, simplicity, and adaptability. Unless the project manager can determine and adapt to a new paradigm for “best practice” in the Wall Street environment, the implementation of project management will likely fail.
Step 8. Forget Sophisticated Tools
Keep the tools simple. They likely will not solve the business problem and will be rejected.
Most implementations of project data and reporting mechanisms fail. Too often they are technology driven rather than driven by business or user need. Technologists may excel at building extensive project databases, but the systems they build are often not user friendly. The critical success factor for project information in Wall Street business units is to keep the system simple, and to keep the interfaces to the users easy.
Step 9. Create a Simple Process
Keep the process simple and flexible. Stick with the basics.
There is likely a positive correlation between the scope of a project management process and its rejection. Any process for a Wall Street business environment cannot be extensive; rather it must be simple and easy to understand and use. Forget using the highly regarded processes that are offered by companies such as Anderson or PricewaterhousCoopers. These heavy duty processed likely will not work in any “best practice” type organization. It will absolutely fail in a Wall Street setting.
Design a project management process that is scalable so that only the appropriate activities for a specific project need to be done. Do not scare the clients with critical paths, work breakdown structures, pert charts, and logic diagrams. Keep to project planning and tracking basic: what is to be done, by whom, and when?
Step 10. Simple Project Reports
Write simple project reports. Keep the project status reports clear and low-maintenance, with a business view. From this report, clients should be able to determine how much project management they need in order to deliver.
Typically, project status reports, especially those written by, for example, information technology specialists, tend to be very technical. Reports are pulled into the mud with detailing the project’s myriad tasks. All of the means are reported, but not the ends. The report may focus on accomplishments and next steps, but give no indication of total costs, end dates and overall project status.
Develop a simple, high-level, one-page-per-project report that is easily understood by business managers in the business units rather than something written for accountants or technologists.
Step 11. Web Enable
Use the Web for project communication. Create a mechanism to proactively push project information to clients, but do not expect many to proactively use it.
It is common for technologists to refer users in need of project information to the Web. Many times the Web is used, but communication is not occurring. There is still the need to push out project information to the interested parties. A hard copy of a project status report delivered to a manager’s desk is still the best way to ensure that communication reaches the intended audience.
Step 12. Provide First-class Project Management Training and Overviews
When training, bring in a big name for executive overviews of project management initiatives. Make the training relevant to the process and the organization by making its presentation applied, rather than academic.
The best way to turn people off and fail when rolling out project management is to provide dry, unexciting training delivered by a bland trainer. Consider spending the money necessary to bring in the best and most well-known names in the training field. In addition to implementation of project management training, establish a shorter executive overview to pump up upper management and create buy-in. Create training that is easy and relevant—that is connected to the organization’s purposes, processes, tools, and products. Apply the training so that trainees know exactly what they need to do after completing the class.
Step 13. Hire the Best
Hire the right people. Find people who have external consulting experience and can adapt to others’ personalities and work modes. Avoid scheduling experts.
Typically, project management professionals tend to hire other project management professionals like themselves. In providing project management support, the worst thing that can be done to alienate is to hire scheduling consultants to work with the project personnel, because they are dedicated to doing it the right way. These people will be viewed as aliens in the organization, and their efforts will likely be rejected.
Hire project management professionals from respected consulting firms, such as the KPMG, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, or Anderson Consulting. Any individual who has successfully kept their external clients happy while billing $400 per hour can make it in the Wall Street environment. A successful external consultant will likely be able to read their clients, adjust to them, connect to them, and thereby be in a favorable position to successfully influence them to attain new project management highs.
The financial industry has unique project management challenges created by its short-term mentality. The industry in characterized by huge information technology spending along with high project failure rates. These 13 project management steps to roll out project management have been proven to work in building effective project management into a large, institutional financial firm. These steps will ultimately increase project success in this challenging environment.
Frame, Davidson. (1995). Managing Projects in Organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Frame, Davidson. (1999). Building Project Management Competencies: Building Key Skills for Individuals, Teams, and Organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Standish Group. CHAOS. (1995). Available on the Internet http://www.standishgroup.com/chaos.html.
Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
September 7–16, 2000 • Houston,Texas,USA
What’s your PMTQ? Our Pulse of the Profession® research shows that organizations that combine technical skills with project management approaches drive more successful outcomes.