The Total Package

How One Organization Developed a Culture of Self-Learning


By Stefan Bokander, PMP, and Håkan Olsson, PMP

Organizations looking to improve their project management may invest enormous efforts in two areas: training project managers and establishing effective processes. Often, they’re surprised when these don’t generate the expected benefits. But focusing on just these two areas overlooks an important factor in improving project management: creating a self-learning environment.

Tetra Pak discovered this truth the hard way. In the 1990s, the packaging and food processing equipment company realized that too many large projects were not realizing their benefits. It needed both a renewed focus on quality for new products and more accurate estimates of how long projects would take.

As part of the solution, management undertook a massive project to develop project management processes for the company. This involved assigning global process owners and creating extensive guidelines and templates for each project type.

A steering team that met monthly was set up for governance, and a project service organization was created to support usage of the new process.

The result was improvement—but, frustratingly, not as much as hoped. The project managers knew what to do, the framework was in place, the governance was in place. Why didn’t the company have consistent, high-level performance? Why were the project managers still working so differently from each other?

One business unit at Tetra Pak identified two of the culprits:

■ Project managers had no common culture and no channel to work on self-improvement as a group.

■ The processes had been developed by process specialists, sometimes too far from the action, resulting in low ownership on the part of the project managers.

After some negotiation, the sponsor approved a new three-year background project. The first step was to form a common steering team of all project managers at that business unit (approximately 15 people). The team performed a self-assessment and an analysis of the gap between what was needed and the company’s current situation.

As part of the work, the team looked at each Knowledge Area in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), focusing in particular on Project Quality Management. The team decided to create a quality management plan, and the most experienced project managers began by reviewing the product development process, phase by phase, tollgate by tollgate. The project managers highlighted the factors that they knew would best secure project or product quality. These factors turned out to be reviews by various experts: for instance, a PMO director review, a fellow project manager review, a design review or a steering group review.

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The company was then able to settle on a generic quality management plan. It relies on reviews that serve a double purpose: ensuring the quality of project deliverables and providing opportunities for the project managers to share and learn from each other.

The work has paid off. In an environment where complexity has multiplied, the company managed to raise its tollgate on-time rate from 13 percent to 98.6 percent over 10 years of continuous improvement. Perhaps more important, Tetra Pak also created a self-learning organization. The extensive review system means project managers are constantly gaining practical, immediately applicable knowledge from each other. The project managers are now a self-adjusting group that can spend less time on quality reviews and more on developing leadership and business understanding. PM

img Stefan Bokander, PMP, is a program manager at Tetra Pak, Lund, Sweden.
img Håkan Olsson, PMP, is a senior consultant at P4M Consulting and a former project portfolio manager at Tetra Pak, Lund, Sweden.



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