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Improving Project and Engagement Management Performance

Project management is a business process. Like all business processes, it is subject to improvement.

This article addresses the relationship between project and engagement management and the improvement program that seeks to optimize their performance to satisfy stakeholder expectations. Wise organizations and teams seek to continuously improve processes to optimize performance. That is what assessments,  coaching, consulting, and training are about. Wise individual practitioners also seek to continuously improve processes to optimize performance. They learn new skills, keep an open mind, and cultivate adaptability and resilience. Both organizations and individuals understand the need to define their performance values and indicators so they can measure improvement success.

No Process is an Island

No business process is an island. Project management is performed within an enterprise. It is integrated into engagement management, new product development, maintenance, facilities management, or other processes. While improving a process like project management, be careful not to sub-optimize other related processes. Pay attention to the “system” as a whole and its goals and values. See the article Vision and Systems View to Improve Performance.

Engagement Management

Engagement management encompasses the full range of activities from the initial contact with prospective clients, through the identification and qualification of opportunities, proposal development/quotations, portfolio-level decision making, negotiating and closing the sale, delivery and managing the ongoing relationship, including billing and the extension of services over time to serve the client’s evolving needs.

Engagement management is not limited to business-to-business organizations like consulting and engineering firms that sell services. In-house software development groups and other groups that perform projects to serve operational departments within their enterprise can gain from taking an engagement management approach.

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Improvement Is a Program

To improve any process, treat improvement as a program. If sustained optimal performance is a goal (if it isn’t, think about that!), then coordinate assessment, consulting, coaching, and training to achieve the results you want.

This means going beyond courses and a training curriculum to a formal performance enhancement program with acknowledged leadership, a plan, multiple coordinated improvement projects and training, and regular assessment and review to measure progress and adjust accordingly.

Focused skills training is a vital part of any improvement program. However, unless it is part of an overall program it is likely to go to waste or be far less effective than expected.  For example, training a cadre of project managers on how to schedule and manage risk more effectively may make those managers better at performing those tasks but can lead to conflict with management, staff, salespeople, and clients. Training salespeople in contact and closing skills can bring in more sales.  But organizational performance can suffer unless the participants have learned about and are accountable for a “sale’s” profitability and that they understand delivery pipelines.

A program to improve engagement performance includes project management courses for both hard-core PMs and other stakeholders, sales training, methodology training, emotional intelligence and mindfulness training, relationship and communications training, performance assessments, regular facilitated reviews, and team and individual coaching to better enable putting skills to work collaboratively.

 Evaluating Results

The Kirkpatrick training evaluation model is as applicable to projects and client engagement as it is to training.  The model rates training in four levels – Reaction (Did participants like it? Are stakeholders happy?), Learning (Were skills and concepts learned? Were objectives met?), Behavior (were learned skills applied? Was the product used?), and Results (Were desired performance improvements realized?).

The reaction is easy to measure. Learning is a bit more complex but still not so difficult. These two are measured at training time, or, in the case of projects, upon project or phase completion.  Behavior and Results require assessment over time. Behavior assessment is easy if leadership understands that for skills and products to be useful, they must be used.  To determine if they are used requires resources, assessments, and reporting.

Results are the bottom line. Measuring results is not so easy and is frequently not done. It requires clarity about performance indicators, a baseline, regular and ongoing review, and recognition that multiple interacting factors drive results like greater profitability and higher quality.

Desired Project and Engagement Management Results

When we focus on projects, the desired results are outcomes that consistently meet stakeholder expectations (including benefits realization) by delivering the agreed-upon product or service, on-time and within budget.

When using the term “stakeholder”, remember that it refers to anyone who may impact or be affected by the project, including project performers. Optimally, a project results in a viable product or service that makes a positive difference in terms of cost and effort reduction, improved quality, profitability, and healthy client and staff relations.

To determine if an engagement is successful, it is necessary to look at relationships over time and across multiple projects with the same client. Measure financial and social impact regularly. Recognize that the value of many, if not most, products and services are the result of sustained use and the effectiveness of maintenance, enhancement, support, and customer service. Measure the degree to which project and service staff are happy, healthy, and can sustain effective performance without burning out. Assess attitudes, turnover rates, productivity vs. effectiveness, and the degree to which conflicts are effectively resolved.

Optimizing Performance

Achieving optimal performance requires an improvement program that combines assessment, coaching, consulting, and training to ensure that desired results are achieved consistently over time.  Because improvement occurs through a program its success is measured in the same way any program is measured – have desired results been achieved?

Optimal performance relies upon healthy projects within a well-oiled engagement management process in which success boils down to achieving value and stakeholder satisfaction. An improvement program is essential. Success requires a “contract” and a governance process. The contract (we use the term to include any agreement) provides the objective criteria for measuring success. The governance process makes sure that the flow of improvement and operational projects is moderated to satisfy client expectations, maximize value, and not overburden the performance staff.  It considers success from an enterprise perspective.

George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.