The ultimate measure


We project managers are constantly told our sole responsibility is to accomplish our projects within the scope, time and cost boundaries set by our customers and stakeholders. This idea reminds me of those horses with blinders on their eyes to block their peripheral vision and focus them solely on the path they are running. In the same way, project managers can lose sight of the big picture—that our projects are only a means for our company or customer to accomplish strategic organizational objectives.

In times of uncertainty and recession like now, the stream of new projects is dramatically reduced. To survive, we must develop the ability to sell our services and promote opportunities for increasing or at least maintaining a healthy flow of projects.

Talk of the Town

I recently had the opportunity to visit Panama. I've traveled to this beautiful country before, but this was the first time I'd been there since the famous Panama Canal project fully began. Every Panamanian I talked with spoke about the exciting times they're living in and the importance of the many amazing projects they are developing there.

“It is not only the canal widening,” Luis Fasano, president of the PMI Panama Chapter, told me. “We are talking here about some of the biggest projects in Latin America, like the cleaning of the bay project, a new coastal highway, the tallest residential building in the region, a new biodiversity museum designed by Frank Gehry and many more.”

That's not bad for a country with roughly 3 million inhabitants and a GDP of US$23 billion in 2008. This small Central American country relies not just on abundant natural resources, but also on the ability of its people to overcome big challenges with hard work and a long-term vision.

What amazed me was not the size or the importance of the projects, but the passion and commitment the people of Panama show for their projects. Panamanians know that if the world is aware of what they're doing right now, the country not only gets recognition, but it also generates more interest in Panama—and therefore more investment, projects and jobs.

It's a lesson project managers around the world can benefit from. Here are some other tips I picked up on my trip:

img Project managers can lose sight of the big picture—that our projects are only a means for our company or customer to accomplish strategic organizational objectives.

1. Be passionate about what you're doing and communicate that enthusiasm to everyone involved in the project. Team members, stakeholders and customers should know you care about the end-result of the project—and about the benefits the project is expected to deliver to the overall organization.

2. If your customers don't know what they want, it's not their fault, it's yours! Work with your customers and stakeholders to understand their needs. Then, try to find the best solution—or you risk ending up a onetime provider instead of a long-time partner.

3. Constantly try to identify additional opportunities based on the project you're working on. But always treat these findings as a means to better serve your customer, or you risk scope creep.

4. Forget about quarterly quotas. Keep the focus on your customers' strategic objectives. And then be ready when the time comes for you to position you or your organization as the best option for a project.

In times like these, we must do as Panamanians do. Yes, scope, time and cost are our responsibility, but the ultimate measure is whether our customers continue to turn to us for help in achieving their strategic goals. PM

Roberto Toledo, PMP, managing director of Alpha Consultoria, is a trainer and consultant who works across Latin America. He can be reached at [email protected].




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