The top management project steering committee
Project Management in Action
THE EXECUTIVE'S NOTEBOOK
Joan Knutson, Feature Editor
In Part I we introduced the Project Steering Committee (PSC) and demonstrated how it must set priorities for projects. In Part II, we considered two more key responsibilities of the PSC, resource allocation and some organizational issues. Part III discussed the importance of the PSC addressing the planning efforts that are required of all project teams. In this, the concluding article in the series on the PSC, we look at some critical considerations in the conduct of project review meetings, training required, and the process of managing the many projects involved in pursuing the organization's strategic objectives.
PROJECT REVIEW MEETING
After the project is planned, the PSC will want to keep informed through scheduled project review meetings. These meetings not only provide essential information to the members of the PSC but should be used for setting expectations of the team and creating the esprit that creates and maintains commitment and motivation to make the project successful.
Preparation for the Meeting
The PSC must make sure that everyone understands the guidelines for the project review meetings. What does the committee want to see? How does it want this information presented? People may spend valuable time making slick and glitzy charts and tables that may or may not be of interest to the committee. Both the project team members and the members of the PSC will be more satisfied with the information conveyed if their perceptions of how the meeting should be run is in “sync.” A list of key questions and concerns should be presented to the project team in time for them to prepare adequately for the meeting. Failure to do this will often lead to frustration on the part of members of the PSC and very possibly lead to a de-motivating approach to asking questions and giving directions to the project team.
Also, let members of all the project teams know the criteria that are being used for choosing what projects are being reviewed. Some folks may think they are being asked to present because the PSC thinks they are doing a poor job when the committee is just interested in the status of a major upcoming deliverable. Failure to give attention to the smaller projects can convey the message that these projects just are not that important, leading to de-motivation of those project team members.
During the Meeting
Project review meetings are high-energy high-anxiety, show-off presentations. The project team is sure to perceive the meeting as critical to the continuation of the project as well as a reflection of their own personal abilities and value to the organization. There is a natural tendency to stress the “good news” and downplay the “bad news.” There may be a tendency to use the opportunity to seek additional resources. On the other hand, depending on how the PSC has behaved in the past, there maybe a tendency to aver that the objectives of the project can be achieved in spite of early warnings of trouble.
Great care should be taken to avoid “beating up” on the project team for mistakes that have been made, regardless of the factors leading to the mistake. Do not kill the messenger for bringing bad news. This will almost ensure that future bad news will be bidden till the last minute when there is little or nothing that can be done other than accept the delay or cost overrun, and likely both. Furthermore, beating up the team members will only lead to poor morale and lowered commitment and energy when they walk out of the meeting.
This does not mean that the PSC should let the meeting go by without giving the team any feedback. Even though the committee will want to converse about what they have heard after the presentation is over, they should give as much immediate feedback and positive reinforcement as possible during the meeting. Furthermore, the committee owes the project team a date by which any other feedback will be given to them.
We are assuming that everyone on the Steering Committee and in the project teams is totally conversant with all the skills related to Modern Project Management (MPM). This, of course, is ludicrous. Therefore, the committee needs to support training for themselves and for other members of the project environment, certainly internal to the organization but also key people in the extended organization such as key vendors, contractors and consultants.
Joan Knutson is president and founder of Project Management Mentors, a San Francisco-based project management consulting and training firm. She is a graduate of Ohio State University, and has worked with a wide range of disciplines and industries spanning the areas of high-technology insurance, banking, pharmaceuticals, and utilities, to name a few.
Great care should be taken to avoid “beating up” on the project team for mistakes that have been made, regardless of the factors leading to the mistake. Do not kill the messenger for bringing bad news.
If all the above is to occur, the entire project community must continually be growing, learning, and developing skills in the discipline of MPM. The PSC needs to take responsibility for its own growth as well as the growth of others in the project community.
This development may be in the form of classroom training, either internally or externally presented. It maybe self-paced learning for individual development. It maybe open-forums or brown-bag lunches sponsored by the PSC (Ed. Note: It may even mean active involvement in professional society meetings such as those of the Project Management Institute.) The committee needs to be creative in thinking of all the different ways that people who work on projects can hone their skills and become better at this part of their job.
EVOLUTION OF THE PSC
The PSC itself needs to grow. Limiting itself to setting priorities and monitoring the allocation of resources and progress is short-sighted. There are many other contributions that the committee can make to managing projects in its organization. The PSC should convene focus groups from various parts of the organization either quarterly or semi-annually. These focus groups should include the members of the committee and five to seven of the “best practices” project managers, project team members, and project clients.
The objective of the focus group meeting would be for the PSC to listen to the suggestions and feelings of members of the project community as to how the PSC can better support MPM in their organization. The session needs to be somewhat structured and led by a strong facilitator who can direct the discussion to generate meaningful action plans to be implemented over a set period of time.
MPM IS DIFFERENT
In short, MPM is different than what many managers have experienced on their way up. That is due in part to the differences in the conditions of the human species in most developed societies today. They will no longer kowtow to a bull-of-the-woods type of manager. It is in part due to the new tools and techniques that are a part of MPM. They have more capabilities than the old tools, they are more precise, and they depend on more accurate estimating and reporting of results than has been customary in the past. In part this difference is due to the never-ceasing efforts to improve effectiveness and efficiency through down-sizing, self-managed teams, concurrent engineering, and all the other concepts that are prevalent in today's management theory. It must be realized by all managers that for these management theories to work, a disciplined approach to planning, coordinating, and predicting the performance of all these empowered teams is necessary. Without such discipline, there is a real potential that the teams will stray off in all directions, in fact, losing rather than gaining productivity.
The PSC must cover a broad scope from setting priorities to allocating resources, from establishing how projects are to be managed to guiding the project teams through effective, motivating project review meetings. It can and should consider various organizational issues from establishing performance appraisal review procedures to clarifying roles, responsibilities and authorities of the project players. In addition, the PSC gives direction in the ways project teams can better use the project life cycles, the project management life cycle, good estimating techniques and dependable history bases.
To keep the communication channels open within the project community, the PSC must ask for periodic reviews and provide clear direction as to what they expect in these meetings. Finally, the PSC must take responsibility for seeing that they and all the other project players grow by investing in training and techniques to explore new and better ways of conducting the business of the organization through MPM.
This sounds like a lot of work, and maybe it is. But if projects are the way that your organization's business gets done, then may be it is necessary to invest in this effort. Not all at once, though. One step at a time. Start the committee and formalize the priority setting and resource allocation procedures. Then pick and choose from the above ideas and others and turn each of these into a project to be done in a logical and methodical manner. In the process you will be implementing MPM and demonstrating to the organization your commitment to this new way of doing business ❏.
PMNETwork • April 1994