Wednesday, 17 March 2010 00:00

A Simple Plan for Improved Project Results and Increased Maturity

Written by Bryan Peterson and April Boland

Many of the clients we work with are a “PMO of one.”  Usually this person has been brought in to establish common processes and procedures around planning, managing and executing projects.  Most often, there is a broad spectrum of project work being performed by varied project teams within the organization, including a range of maturity levels spanning from no established, repeatable processes to very formalized and documented processes.

According to the Project Management Institute, “Companies with greater maturity should expect to see tangible benefits that include better-performing project portfolios, efficiencies that come with better resource allocation, and increased process stability and repeatability.”[i]  On the other hand, companies that are less mature tend to be reactionary, trying to dodge problems as they come rather than strategically planning and executing projects.  Often, these companies have various groups working in their own siloes, so there is no centralized view of resource availability or up-to-date project status.  Project managers are consequently unable to prioritize projects or schedule them with accuracy.  This can lead to lost opportunities and failed projects time and again.  A new study on organizational maturity has confirmed the need for defined repeatable processes, finding that companies which use them have a much higher project success rate than those who do not.[ii]

So how can the “PMO of one” bring teams and processes together to get everyone on the same page, speaking the same language, and doing things in similar ways?  Here are some things to think about for establishing common project processes that can be adopted throughout the organization, providing better performance and tangible results. 

Focus on the Critical Business Issue

There are number of reasons why an organization would decide to unify its project management processes.  It could be a response to client pressure, a desire for an additional competitive advantage, or part of the general evolution of the company.  Other times, the lack of organizational maturity is leading to lost opportunities.  Understanding the reason behind the shift will not only give you direction as to how you should approach it, but can also help project managers to find creative ways to address the issue.

Don’t just establish processes for the sake of establishing processes.  Rather, let the fundamental issues you’re trying to address or avoid drive your direction.  You might find, for example, that re-engineering your processes isn’t what you need at all.  Perhaps providing increased transparency, visibility and collaboration around all of the projects across the organization better addresses the critical business issue.

Transparency, Visibility and Collaboration

Adding transparency, visibility and collaboration to your projects is integral to achieving better organizational performance.  In a recent article, Gina Abudi recommends a central system or “portal” as a means to implement best practices and improve project results.[iii]  This does not, however, have to be an overwhelming PPM solution.  A simple, easy-to-use system to interface between time tracking, resource management and project scheduling allows businesses to retain processes that are currently in use while still benefiting from increased visibility to crucial data.

Software alone will not solve your critical business issue, but it can serve as a hub that provides one “pane of glass view” for all processes throughout the company.  Keep in mind that it is necessary to choose the right system for your organization.  A few key requirements are as follows:

  • Improved visibility of resource allocation, including project work, non-project work, vacation, etc.
  • Real-time status information across all projects with warning indicators and alerts
  • Integration between work requests, schedules, resource management, project roadmap and prioritization

A system that provides these benefits will enable project managers to focus scarce resources on the projects that are most profitable.  Project managers will also be able to keep track of which projects are on time and which ones are not, helping them to take immediate action as needed.  Finally, they will no longer run the risk of scheduling a project under the assumption that certain resources will work on it, only to find out later that the resources are already allocated or will be out of the office.

Leverage What You Already Have

Just because you are trying to improve your organization does not mean that you should blow everything up and start over.  Chances are you have processes currently in place that are working, and you should leverage these to get you to the next level.  For example, you might find that despite the varied maturity levels, experience, and background within your organization, most people are using Microsoft Project™ and Microsoft Excel™.  A “rip and replace” approach where you force everyone to stop using these tools and start using a different system could have very adverse effects.  Instead, you might look at how you can enhance and extend the tools, allowing people to keep the processes they are comfortable with while maximizing benefts and value.

Abudi agrees that you need to learn about what is currently being done throughout the organization before you try to make a change. Only then can you “discuss how standards may be developed organization-wide using a composition of processes already developed and being successfully implemented and filling in the gaps with new processes where needed.” In other words, rather than taking a standard like PMBOK® or PRINCE2® and forcing everyone to change their processes in order to uphold it, you can be a little more creative, retaining the things that work and improving or replacing the things that don't.

Communication is also important because many employees will be resistant to change.  They might be suspicious of your efforts to improve processes when they feel that the status quo is “good enough.”  (Remember what Jim Collins wrote in his book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Other Don't: “Good is the enemy of great.”)  It is important to instill trust in these people so they understand that you are not looking to replace their current processes, but to improve and enhance them.  Buy-in from your team is necessary in order to achieve success because they are the ones who will be helping you to reach your goals. 

Better Project Results

Whatever you introduce is going to represent change, so it is important to understand how much change the organization and team can take and be mindful of that.  There is no silver bullet, and something that worked for one company may not be a good fit for another.  Only you will know what your needs are, what will and will not be adopted by the organization and how much time, money and energy the organization is willing to spend in comparison to the potential return.

Don't rely solely on software either.  Remember to integrate your processes and people, and manage them well.  Your software solution will need to empower team members and facilitate their work. 

By evaluating existing processes, organizations can replace the weaker ones and maintain the stronger ones for optimal success.  Integrating these processes in such a way that everyone involved in a project is on the same page provides a way to learn from your failures as opposed to repeating them.

[i] http://www.pmi.org/BusinessSolutions/Pages/Maturity-and-its-Benefits.aspx
[ii] http://pmtips.net/practices-mature-organizations/
[iii] http://www.ginaabudi.com/one-central-resource/


Bryan Peterson is the Director of Application Consulting for Journyx, Inc. He has been working with various clients in the areas of project execution, resource management, project time tracking, project cost accounting, and time & expense reporting for nearly a decade. He can be reached at bryanp@journyx.com.

April Boland is the Resource Manager for Journyx, Inc. She is a former Jeannette K. Watson Fellow who currently develops and coordinates communications strategies to meet organizational objectives. Her email address is april@journyx.com.

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