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Having been involved with project management over the last two decades, I have seen a great evolution in what is expected of a good project manager. The traditional measure of a great PM was one who could focus solely on the success of his or her project to the exclusion of all else. In the name of ‘focus’ (aka blinkers), we might have been allowed to ignore what was going on around us in the organization, be selfish in negotiating the best resources, use creative estimating skills to get a generous budget, zealously guard that ‘signed off’ scope document and cross the finish line on time and on budget!!

Not so any more (thank goodness!). How often have we tripped on a project that was on time and on budget but was not deemed to be successful? As organizations embrace the concept of projects being the most effective method of executing strategy, they are demanding more from their project managers. Much to many a project manager’s dismay, the success criteria for projects are no longer confined to a list of deliverables, meeting timelines and budgets. Measures of success now often include specific references to:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Increased revenue
  • Decreased costs
  • Seamless transformations

Could it be that projects, and therefore project managers, are now being held accountable for business results?

What an exciting yet intimidating prospect!! The project manager of the past thrived only because there was a huge assumption that every project initiated was the right one, and ‘someone’ usually the project sponsor, would take care of the minor matter of actually delivering the results. The reality is, that in a competitive market place, the way many progressive organizations rely on project management practices has changed significantly. Some of the changes in organizational behaviour are:

  • Management of project portfolios
  • Movement from individual projects to programs tied to delivering business value
  • Recognition that business strategy needs to be flexible
  • More sophisticated measurement of results
  • Global risk management

Though even today an overwhelmingly large number of projects relate to technology and engineering, more and more organizations have recognized the value of applying project management to the full spectrum of their business. It is commonplace to have projects that bring about organizational development, business acquisition and mergers, product development and launch, business process re-engineering, and even strategy formulation and strategic planning.

This more demanding and complex environment, combined with growing demand for leaders to fill the void left by retiring ‘boomers’, provides project managers with an unbelievable opportunity. The time is right to change the role of a project manager from ‘technical implementer’ to ‘strategic enabler’.

Does this shift mean that the traditional strengths of sound project management principles are no longer valued? Quite the contrary. We do need to, however, go beyond applying the people, process and tools aspects of project management. So what can we do to meet the new expectations?

  • Find out as much as we can about the business strategy our project is aligned with and linked to. Ask questions till we are comfortable that we understand the specific business goals and the rationale behind them.
  • Make sure that all activities and deliverables in our project are able to support the strategy and business objectives most effectively.
  • Be innovative and persuasive if we think there is a better way to get to the desired outcome.
  • If our project is a part of a program or portfolio, have a clear and accurate understanding of the interdependencies with other projects within the program and the portfolio. Prepare for contingencies.
  • Be prepared to take the back seat and play second fiddle to a more important initiative – we don’t have to be primary to be critical to the organization’s success.
  • Show integrity. If our project is going to deliver the outcomes but not the business benefits, speak up.
  • In our plan, include organizational change management considerations, as typically benefits are realized within the business operations. Make sure mechanisms are in place to measure and monitor how effectively our project is contributing to business results after it’s completed.
  • Constantly assess the validity of the project in relation to business objectives, especially if it’s one of significant duration. The competitive landscape and, therefore strategies, change quickly. Be prepared to be flexible enough to change direction accordingly.

But first and foremost, let’ s take off our blinkers!

Ruchira Chatterjee, MA, PMP, is a senior consultant with SPM Group, With over 20 years of direct project management experience, Ruchira has led a number of highly successful programs and projects both in IT and business areas. She recently successfully directed the transition of a facilities management outsourcing program for a client representing $400 million annual revenue. She was the program director on a $35 million program related to wealth management system implementation resulting from an acquisition. She managed a program to bring about the operational and technology transformation of a property casualty business division. On multiple occasions she has held accountability for projects to bring about organizational changes, start up new departments and implement new processes. She has also managed a variety of technology projects related to such areas as conversions, expert systems implementations, vendor systems selection and implementations.

With a M.A in Economics from Calcutta University, India, Ruchira has also completed a Company sponsored Executive Management training program at Kellogg, Northwest University. She is a Project Management Professional (PMP) as certified by the Project Management Institute (PMI). Ruchira can be reached at [email protected]

Mike Morton

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