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Transformation from Project Management to Work Management

A big change to the way many organizations manage their projects and portfolios is on the horizon.  

In fact, for some it is already here.

Whether you are an individual performer, PMO leader or an executive interested in getting the most out of project management technology, it is time now to plan and see how to make the change an opportunity to improve the way you work.

So, what’s happening?  Microsoft is changing its project and portfolio management (PPM) strategy and product line.  Within three to five years it is likely that Microsoft Project and the PPM ecosystem will be replaced or merged into a work management product line.

This may be good news to those who have found the current tools too complex and hard to use and to those who recognize that work is work and all of it needs to be managed consistently.   The change may be bad news to those who have succeeded in adopting the tools and building training materials and PPM processes around them, and who thought they were done.  Whether the news is good or bad, recognizing that work is work and managing it in a consistent way is smart.

Setting the Stage: Work Management

Organizations perform project and operational work.  Project work is effort to achieve objectives within time and cost constraints.  Projects are temporary; they end when objectives are met or when they are cancelled. 

Operational work is ongoing.  It is the repetitive effort that is performed to produce outputs or provide services.  For example, assembly lines, service desks, accounts payable, portfolio management and other administrative activities are operational.  Some activities within operational processes generate projects.  For example, a service desk operation may create multiple small projects to resolve issues; a sales activity in a consulting or engineering firm creates projects.  Project portfolio management initiates projects.

Work management is managing the workflow and workload of individuals and groups such as teams or departments.  The work may be project work or operational work.

Except in organizations that are highly projectized (for example, construction or engineering firms), project work and operational work overlap and intersect.  Projects to improve processes engage project staff and the operational staff who hold institutional knowledge and who will use the improved process.  Therefor, it makes sense to bring the two kinds of work together in a singular business process.

Strategic View

Project work and operational work are both subjects of work management. 

Inclusion of project work in overall work management recognizes the need to 

  • take an enterprise view to include operational activities and their use of resources when managing portfolios and planning individual projects and programs. 
  •  include projects in the planning and execution of operational work
  • Create a common platform for communication, collaboration and document management.

There is nothing new here.  It is obvious that project work and operational work are both work and that they exist in the same organization and affect one another.   

There are differences between the two kinds of work.  However, when it comes to managing an organization, the two must be managed together in a single process that recognizes and enables the differences with appropriate tools and procedures).  

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Collaboration Platforms

Microsoft and other tool vendors are promoting collaboration tools, simpler project management tools and decision support tools to better enable communication, cooperation, consistency and control.  These tools are the key to the integration of work in a common enterprise-wide environment.

Process Drives Performance

Many seem to have a tool centric view.  The tool providers have, in many cases, sold clients on the idea that all they have to do is get the right tool set and improved performance will follow.  Decades ago I found that Computers + Chaos = Chaos².  

Experience tells us that tools without process will not result in performance improvement. 

But process is not enough.  To successfully implement a robust platform for work management; one that promotes consistency across projects and groups, you need a well planned and managed program that selects the right technology, establishes standards and procedures, provides training and ongoing support and enables continuous improvement.  Further, there must be governance to monitor and regulate compliance.

Case Study: Transformation Does Not Just Happen

For example, one organization implemented SharePoint without training, strategy or establishing a process-based infrastructure.  Several departments implemented almost one hundred sites within a year.  Within two years most of them were not being used and those that were created redundant data and confusion.

A year or so later, new IT leadership at the enterprise level instituted a program to implement collaboration and administrative processes using SharePoint And other collaboration tools. They brought in a SharePoint evangelist to engage executives and key players in each department as sponsors of the creation of meaningful policies, standards and funding.  Power users were engaged to establish sites integrated into business units supported by operational processes.  Direction supported by standards made clear which of an array of collaboration tools were to be used.

That made a tremendous difference.  Far fewer sites were created, though those that were created added value and were used by intended staff.  The new sites were well thought out and integrated, where appropriate, with enterprise applications.  They will endure because each of them was embedded into business processes and developed in the same way any IT application must be for it to be successful.  Document management standards were established. technical support was made available, power users and other users were trained.   A dynamic balance between enterprise level standards and controls and local autonomy was found.

What to Do

Implement a program to take project, program and portfolio management (PPM) to the next level.  That means you need a plan, funding and the skills required to select and implement tools and implement processes to integrate PPM and operational management in the context of work management.  Make sure there is sufficient training and ongoing support.

PMO staff must promote and manage the transformation.  

Vendor partners must adapt to the new wave and retool so they can support the transformation.  

Individual practitioners must learn to use new tools and adapt to the new situation.  They must also be ready to responsibly use the available tools and consider the work management big picture on an individual project or program level until an enterprise solution is available.

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.

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