Probably, 90+% of the readers of this article in Project Times are convinced that project management is valuable. Project managers know that consciously planning and controlling projects contributes to successful outcomes. So why write an article about the value of PM? The answer is, it is part of the project manager's job to convince other stakeholders that PM is practical and that it adds value.
A recent exchange highlights the issue:
Executives, managers and performers at every level of the organization often view PM as a bureaucratic process that gets in the way of progress. They do not value the conscious decision making, transparency, clarity and planning that are at the foundation of PM.
PMI's 2016 Pulse of the Profession: The High Cost of Low Performance finds that "Organizations that invest in project management waste 13 times less money because their strategic initiatives are completed more successfully. We know project management is essential for any organization’s success, yet the message is not being realized."
The study finds that almost fifty percent of companies do not fully understand the value of project management. This leads to an absence of effective project selection and performance so that projects are not fully aligned with organizational strategies. It leads to a lack of standardized practices and insufficient training and development for project managers, and that leads to insufficient planning and poor performance.
Executives initiate projects by expressing a desire to get something done. The people reporting to them all too often plunge ahead to meet a fuzzily defined objective without sufficient planning and control. Some view formal project definition and planning as a waste of time.
The Impact: An Example
A senior executive expresses a strong desire to deliver a customer facing software application within twelve months. If the next levels of lower management, driven by the desire to satisfy the boss, order their staff to dive in and "just get it done.” They may be on the road to failure.
To hit the deadline, performance managers may do a surface job of defining requirements. They may design a solution without engaging architects and designers or assessing alternatives. The delivery team may be pulled off planned tasks and put to work on the project of the hour.
Expectations are likely to be unreasonable and go unmet. As the project becomes delayed or a poor-quality product emerges, there are recriminations and a cycle of increasing lateness, cost increases and growing quality issues caused by a rush to finish and get it right without having a concrete sense about what "right" is.
This can be avoided if the organization respects the power of project management and has made it an integral part of the culture. A healthy, non-bureaucratic, flexible PM process will ensure that everyone pauses to step back sufficiently to assess the situation and make sure everyone is on the same page.
In this example someone would create a brief document that describes the project and a high-level plan for what could be a 6 - 12-month initial project followed by additional projects to iteratively add functionality.
An initial report back to the executive level would provide an expected start time and high-level estimate based on the availability of the resources and experience with similar projects. The impact of resources being reassigned from current projects nearing completion will be assessed and the Executive Sponsor will be informed. A decision to move forward immediately will weigh the loss associated with pulling people out of their current work against the real need of quickly starting the new project.
This - the ability to make informed decisions - is the principle value of project management. A healthy process need not take a huge amount of time. In fact, it can be consciously bypassed, if that is the informed decision of executives.
How PM Adds Value
Project management adds value in several concrete ways. On the highest level, effective project management brings together three important elements - technical skills in scheduling, estimating, risk analysis and the other competencies specific to project management, leadership skills and business knowledge. According to PMI, when organizations cultivate all three, 40 percent more projects are successful. When you as a manager personally bring these three together you are more likely to succeed in satisfying your stakeholders and yourself.
Project management promotes an approach that recognizes cause and effect relationships and the benefits of thinking out the way an outcome is to be achieved. It manages expectations by confronting stakeholders with the realities of the complex nature of projects, the inability to predict outcomes with 100% accuracy and the need to monitor and adjust as the project unfolds. This adds up to a more realistic approach to getting the work done to satisfy the needs and expectations of stakeholders.
Project resource management makes it clear that because of the learning curves and the effort required to ramp down and up, it is costly to start and stop work on one task to jump to another and then go back to the original. If a project must be stopped to transfer resources to another, then at minimum wait for a place in the project that makes for a smooth transition. If there is a choice between working your tasks serially or in parallel, you will find that doing them serially to minimize multi-tasking is the better way to go.
Projects and tasks of any size are far more likely to be successful if you take the time and effort to define objectives, roles and responsibilities; identify tasks, dependencies, and deliverables and their acceptance criteria; estimate realistically and to manage expectations through transparent communications across project life.
While they may be helpful, don't rely on academic studies. Look at your own experience. When do you and your team perform better on complex tasks? What happens when you "wing it" as opposed to when you set a foundation for how best to accomplish the work? When will there be less rework? Fewer arguments and frustrating dead ends? Less stress?
As a project manager or team lead you may or may not have the power to influence senior executives to mandate project management professionalism from the top down. You may not even have the power to influence your own boss. But, you do have the power to apply your skills and knowledge in a way that uses project management principles in your work.
If you are working in an environment that does not have PM standards, there is nothing that says you can't document your project, even if it is in a one-page overview. You don't have to call it a Project Charter, you just write it and send it around to get feedback?
You can plan and, within your scope of control, engage others in planning and control. Putting things in writing (without over doing it) will influence stakeholders to pay attention and say whether they agree with your assessment of project objectives, roles and responsibilities, constraints, dependencies, estimates, assumptions and risks. If they don't pay attention, you have a guideline for yourself and your team and are ready to provide guidance and leadership if the opportunity arises.
In general, thinking ahead, recapping and putting things in writing adds value on two levels: 1) it gives you the opportunity to reflect on your own understanding of the work and 2) it promotes accountability.
If you can't immediately convince others of the value of project management, take advantage of it yourself and in your team or department.
Taking a grass roots approach, you can then influence others by making them aware of the value to be gained by institutionalizing PM in a practical, non-bureaucratic way. Your projects become a proof of concept and an example of effective project management.