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The ‘Right’ PM Effort in the Face of Tight Budgets

A big issue in and around project management circles these days is how to manage effectively in the face of tight budgets and fewer human resources.  Do you cut back on PM activity to save resource time and money?  Do you have project managers wearing performer hats while managing?  Is this an opportunity to make the PM process Lean?

The goal is to find the right balance between thoroughness and efficiency.  Think of a musical instrument.  If the strings are too loose then the music is distorted; if the strings are too tight they will break.  Too much effort is wasteful.  Too little PM effort increases the risk of failure and decreases optimal performance.

What is the right level of PM effort?    As consultants have learned to say, “It depends.”   It depends on the size, complexity, significance and regulatory requirements of the project, as well as on the degree of PM automation and other factors.  Rough estimates range from 10% – 20% of overall project effort.   

Who applies the effort?  Project management is a shared competency.  Project managers, team leaders, individual performers, suppliers, functional managers and their resources all do it.  PM automation and PM process (methodology, standards, procedures, templates, archived examples, etc.) significantly affect the level of effort.  When the PM work is effectively distributed among the team members less effort is required of professional project managers and there is more likely to be better information and control, leading to better performance.

Let’s test the 10 – 20% estimate.  Across the team, that equates to from 4 – 8 hours per 40 hour week per person.  That’s between half a day and a full day per five day work week, spread across the week and integrated with performance work.   Not a small amount of effort.  Do we need that much? 

Individual performers estimate and schedule work, post hours and completions to track time and accomplishments (perhaps 10 – 15 minutes per day), write up change requests and issues and provide progress and projections.  There may be team meetings (in some projects a 10 – 15 minute daily meeting and maybe a longer (30 minutes -1 hour weekly meeting) and reviews.  Roughly, meetings alone can amount to about 2 ½ – 3 hours a week.   The project manager effort can be full time for an individual or team, depending on project size and criticality.   Project administrators, coaches, auditors and others may play a PM related role, expending more PM effort.

Are you including the right level of PM effort in your projects?  Are you maximizing the leverage of automation, centralized PM coaching services, clear and scalable standards and procedures, and PM knowledge management?

What are your standards for estimating the PM effort on your projects? 

How can you reduce the cost of PM without increasing the risk of project performance shortfalls?

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.