The eproject manager--ready for the future
Over the past five to ten years at least, there have been many discussions on change and its impact on project teams and their ability to execute projects effectively. This has had a positive impact on project management where we are seeing a greater emphasis on the soft skills required to help and nurture team members through change to minimize project impact. Are project managers now able to work more effectively in today's rapidly changing environment, and if so, are they ready for the future? We are now moving into a future that will rely heavily on the use of these soft skills, but in a virtual world where the team concept is not often evident. More projects are being executed where team members are not situated in the same locale and in many cases fragmented across borders and oceans. The next wave for project managers is to become more computer literate and entrenched in eBusiness to continually change at a more accelerated pace to keep ahead by maximizing the use of eBusiness to manage their projects.
Large companies are struggling with the implementation of one new technology when the next generation is upon them. Under these circumstances, they are not seeing the efficiencies and financial benefits that the vendors are projecting. This can often lead to lack of commitment to fund and implement new technology because the business case is often not met. Small companies are able to react more rapidly in terms of implementation but most often do not have the investment money or staff to justify the use of some of the high-end technology. The path forward is not clear and may seem filled with trepidation. There is so much new software out there, very similar in most respects, that the software requirement decisions become difficult and are often not made until a crisis occurs. Trying to find the right software to meet projects or department needs can be very confusing and time-consuming. My advice is when you find the right software for you, stick with it, and make it the company standard. Do not allow project managers the freedom to select their own software.
As our work increasingly becomes more global, project managers are trying to communicate, lead, and control team members in virtual project teams on a more regular basis. Traveling costs are increasing and there is more stringent control over associated costs because of reduced profit margins. With new technology such as NetMeeting and a plethora of web-based programs, we should be able to communicate without all of the traveling. Right! Face-to-face meetings are still more efficient can they are not needed for every meeting. Project team members need to become more proficient is using the new communication tools for meetings and information sharing. There will always be a need for some travel but it can now be reduced judiciously. On a recent project, it was 12 months before our team had its first face-to-face meeting and we all survived the very successful project.
How do project managers deal with the issues related to business management's expectations and the real world of managing the Virtual Team? The reality is confusing and moving so fast that it is making us dizzy. So many issues extraneous to the software have an impact on the efficiency of the systems we use. Most are not within the control of project managers but can severely hamper effective management of projects. Adequate telephone lines with high baud rates, adequate ram and modems in our desktops and laptops, easy access to the Internet with secure connections and high on the list is training. Most of these issues have a high impact on Virtual Team performance but many are not being addressed adequately.
In a recent survey in Houston, one of the recurring pieces of feedback we received was that employees are so tired of inadequate training and tools that they are investing in workshops and software out of their own pockets to make their life easier and projects more successful. This was especially true with younger employees who were not working at a time when employees relied on what we may now call entitlements. Training is not looked upon as an entitlement but as an essential for success and to build a current knowledge base for career advancement. We work hard, we get paid. If performance is poor, we find another job. That is the reality. In order to get ahead, it is necessary to make some personal investment in our own careers because many companies are not going to do it for us.
We need to get project managers to focus on the e-side of project execution and this can only be done by education and training. Much of the e-side of project execution is not in the control of the project manager. It is essential, therefore, that the relationship between the project management organization and the IT organization is dynamic and honest. The goals of the organizations are not the same but are essential for joint success. Companies that have a Project Management Resource Center have greater leverage with their IT associates. In these cases the needs and requirements for executing projects can be addressed and given appropriate priority. On large projects, we may be moving rapidly to the stage where we need a full-time IT representative on each project team to ensure that communication and productivity are maintained at an acceptable level for successful project execution.
Project Execution Plan
There is a greater need for IT requirements to be identified in the Project Execution Plans, initially at the strategic level and as the project progresses to the tactical level. The project execution plan needs to outline project needs especially those that need to be funded by the project and/or department. Whether you are a project manager or a business manager, your execution plan or business plan must highlight strategy and tactical plans that include automation needs in terms of hardware, software, and resources. Associated training costs should also be included with related schedule impact. These needs can have a large cost impact on project expenditures and must be in the funded estimate.
An example of content for the Automation section of a simple project plan are as follows;
• Automation Plan Content Requirements
• Automation Plan Contents
• Project Requirements
• Deliverables and Requirements
• Drawing Formats
• Document Formats
• Automation Infrastructure
• Electronic Mail (email)
• Engineering Environment
• Electronic Drafting Environment
• Hardware and Software
• Infrastructure Support
• Information Technology Service
• Skill Area Group(s)
• Outsourcing Discipline Support
• Third-Party Vendors
• Responsibility Charts
Another section of a good Execution Plan is the communications section. This section can be quite complicated when the project team is operating as a virtual group especially if they operate in different countries. Part of the communications plan should highlight a 24-hour communication schedule. This schedule can indicate time zones and when optimum communication windows can be made available.
It has been estimated that in the next decade 50% of our current knowledge and accepted business practices will become obsolete. This means that we must continually learn new and improved ways to increase our productivity to remain competitive in the global workplace. This furious pace will have a major influence on how much training we will make available and how we will be training our employees and team members to meet this demand. Project managers must be the catalysts in doing all that they can to ensure the latest tools are available and understood by their project teams. The implementation of Project Management Resource Centers has been successful in enabling this to happen effectively.
Project Management Resource Center
The more successful engineering groups have now centralized their project managers in a virtual Resource Center from which selection is made to satisfy the characteristics of each project. This centralization enables consistency in training, work processes, documentation, and the assignment of project managers to meet project specific requirements in terms of skills and experience. A Project Management Resource Center, although often a virtual office, has more leverage than individual project managers in dealing with business management. A Resource Center is more successful in being able to enlist IT attention to technology issues to improve project performance and thus become better able to deal with disconnects between business needs and project execution requirements.
Well-established Project Management Resource Centers have been developed to maintain a cadre of trained professional project managers and work practices to bring a competitive advantage to the management of projects. The essential ingredient is the steward who manages the Center and ensures that all tools, concepts, and practices are current and that they are being applied effectively across all project management resources. The second ingredient is a cadre of experienced practitioners who can train from within the group. The last ingredient is a method of giving all employees who are involved in project execution, easy and immediate access to standard forms, programs, reports, lessons learned, and execution guidelines. Various forms of browsers and intranets are being used, giving access to project data stored in multiple servers. Browsers and intranets also allow access from remote locations and for virtual teams who benefit from standardized data. This technology exists but is not used consistently across industries. These Resource Centers are able to use their organizations as leverage to influence required technology implementation for project execution. Questions to be addressed by Resource Centers are:
• What new technology should our teams be experts on?
• What new skills do we need to develop in order to maximize the impact of the new technology?
• Will this new technology be adequate for the future needs of projects and team members and the continual improvement of project execution?
The Project Management Resource Center concept enables consistency in training, work process application, documentation, and the assignment of project managers to meet project specific requirements in terms of skills, competencies, and required experience. Such Resource Centers have been implemented successfully and without increasing staff by the commitment and judicious use of skilled project managers within these Resource Centers. This environment can enable the acclamation of new project managers as well as the continuous development and promotion of those project managers who demonstrate acumen and enthusiasm in their profession. In addition, it has made current project management practices and technology available to all project managers and has insisted that training be a critical part of project management development. In so doing, they have put professionalism in project management to the forefront and are reaping the benefits in improved project execution. Successful companies have driven this concept from the top through a steward committed to ensuring that e-working becomes a way of life for the project management community and the corporation. The greatest advantage of the Project Management Resource Centers is the leverage they have over individual project managers trying to get needed technology and training through functional groups.
The main objective for companies seeking productivity gains by the judicious use of the latest technology is to increase the amount of time spent on value-added activities and reduce the number of hours wasted on those that add no value. In a survey carried out by Accenture among several hundred executives and employees, the average respondent estimated that 25% of time at work fell into the unproductive category. Some of the root causes were information that takes too long to access, multi-levels of communication and processes that are duplicated or fragmented throughout the organization. Employees who are unable to find and disseminate information expeditiously end up chasing paper and become disillusioned and frustrated. Productivity losses are high and directly affect the cost of project execution. One concept that has been successful in eradicating some of this wasted effort and helps increase productivity has been the implementation of intranets that effectively give access to the employees’ administrative center. These intranets have provided access to data and knowledge in a more developed form providing an interface to automated functions such as expense sub-mittal and approval to obtaining capital funding.
Core technologies give birth to tools that anyone can use to gain competitive advantage. For a comprehensive list, refer to the Daniel Burrus website and review his list of tools that can be used to implement strategy within your corporation or project. When developing the project execution plan, ensure all of the following have been addressed in terms of needs, cost, and schedule impact.
1. Internet and the World Wide Web
Can your team access and use the Internet to find information and improve communication on a global basis? If not, develop the impact analysis for your project and follow up on implementing those needs through your IT organization.
Do you have fax machines that are outdated by improved communication tools? If you decide to avoid the use of facsimile machines, what are you replacing the tool with and what is the impact on communications with your customers and suppliers?
3. Intranets and Extranets
Could your project team benefit from and use browser software to create a secure, knowledge-sharing network where project files are easily accessed worldwide? This could be a critical issue if many of your team travel overseas and need continuous access to current electronic data.
4. Knowledge Databases
Does your team have unique knowledge that could be captured and shared within other parts of the organization to improve corporate performance on future projects, and do they understand the strategy for sharing this information with contractors?
6. Internet-Based Education
Can your team access educational programs that can be delivered more cost effectively over the Web to train your team? Can just-in-time training be made accessible to project team members in virtual locations to ensure standardized processes and procedures are applied to project execution?
8. Desktop Videoconferencing
Would your team benefit from desktop videoconferencing and how can it be accomplished over different time zones? Does your team need a secure system for collaborative computing like Net-meeting? This tool can be easily implemented and reduce extensive traveling.
9. Electronic Agents
Do you need to find equipment and materials purchasing information quickly over large networks or the Internet? Will project team members be expected to purchase materials and equipment over the Internet securely?
10. Parallel Processing Computers
Are the speed and power capabilities of your current computer systems limiting your team's ability to quickly share and analyze large amounts of data?
11. Advanced Compact Disks
Could you eliminate paper-based files and increase accessibility with these tools, especially when archiving projects at closeout?
Designed and implemented effectively, intranets can reduce duplication and aid standardization while enabling data access from anywhere in the world. Companies need to focus more on standardization as a method of reducing nonvalue-added activities and improving productivity. Many companies have standardized work processes. This in effect should enable standardization in activities but has not always been taken to the next step whereby documentation is standardized in the form of software, procedures, electronic forms, and templates. The potential benefit of standardization has not been fully realized because of the inadequacies of earlier tools for storing and searching for information and data, which resulted in knowledge being stored in multiple databases. Project team members remote from head office need immediate access to templates and forms or their needs will be developed individually. This reduces their effort on more meaningful tasks. Easy access to intranets where standardized data is stored enables team members to focus on value-added tasks while being highly productive.
One of the lesser-realized benefits of procurement through the Internet is that the process forces standardization. Designers tend to purchase a standard item when they purchase online. When dealing with vendors directly there is a strong tendency to add bells and whistles to the item causing the cost to increase dramatically. This is not so easily achieved when purchasing from a catalog online. Another significant benefit is the reduced turn around related the bidding process and approval signatures. In some cases this can reduce procurement cycle time from three to one month. Designers are given more autonomy when using the Internet to purchase and therefore have more responsibility.
No one doubts that the impact of rapidly changing technology is a major challenge affecting the execution of projects. There is also little doubt that the vast majority of this technology is having a positive impact on the way we do business and execute projects of varying size and complexity. However, this continual change can be disruptive to careers, business continuity, and communication. A major breakthrough in technology in the midst of a large capital project can test the ability and fortitude of even the best project manager and team. When technology is changing every 12 to 18 months, the automation implemented may be two generations old before a large capital project is complete and online. A serious question project managers are faced with on large projects is “Should we update technology during the project life cycle or make the change on subsequent projects!” Project managers will need to become very much aware of the latest technology changes and how they will impact their ability to be successful. A close relationship with IT organizations is going to be required to ensure understanding of project requirements and priority in terms of technology implementation. The Project Management Resource Center concept can give added leverage to project managers who individually may have difficulty influencing IT organizations to put execution tool improvement or implementation on a high priority. Project managers are going to become more computer literate and entrenched in eBusiness to successfully manage their projects.
We should not underestimate the change in culture required to increase the use of automation and make it work effectively. However, it is essential for continual improvement by reducing nonvalue-added work. The business case for investment in new technology should be based on freeing time for project team members to spend on more productive high skill level activities, especially on projects that make their own contribution to company profitability. Increasing standardization and reducing non-value-added are essential to improving project success. Project managers now need to ensure their e-skills are current and then lead their projects and team to success by being aware of and utilizing the latest technologies to execute projects.
eCollaboration by Accenture, published in Management Today (UK) 2000.
Daniel Burrus. 2001. www.burrus.com
Ray Piper. 2001. MIMgt, Putting Professionalism into Project Management, PMI Europe.
Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
November 1–10, 2001 • Nashville, Tenn., USA