Tuesday, 16 August 2011 10:09

Project Management – Why “Good Enough” is Often Enough

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FeatureAug17thIt’s a phenomenon that I’ve witnessed sufficiently often that the evidence can no longer be termed “anecdotal”.  An organization wishes to improve their project management capabilities – through investments in process, staffing and/or technology they experience some initial successes.  But a few months in to the initiative, momentum and enthusiasm wane and focus shifts resulting in the capability improvement hitting a plateau or even worse back sliding to pre-improvement performance.

There are multiple triggers for this behavior, some of which I’ve covered in previous articles:

  • Lack of effective, committed sponsorship
  • Improvement initiative was not structured, planned or managed like a project
  • Lack of a multi-phase roadmap with SMART business objectives defined for each phase
  • Ineffective change management
  • Shifting priorities cannibalizing resources from improvement efforts

There’s an old saying “Anything worth doing is worth doing well”.  I’ve underlined the initial use of worth because it identifies a probable root cause – project management is considered a hygiene factor by many organizations as opposed to being the source of competitive advantage that associations like PMI have attempted to evangelize. 

For a typical organization, once critical project management issues have been addressed, the change effort involved to achieve a higher level of maturity can’t be justified and focus shifts to other priorities.  Hiring skilled project managers is often viewed as a simpler approach to addressing project predictability challenges.

This behavior tends to be common in industries where competitive pressures are low, service and product prices are high, or they have a captive market.  For example, a few years ago in the legal industry it was difficult to gain buy-in for capability improvement initiatives because most law firms were doing very well in spite of having low project management maturity levels. 

An analogy can be drawn to IT operations management – while there is significant knowledge about methodologies and best practices, most organizations are still choosing to operate at a low level of maturity.

Does this mean you shouldn’t try to champion or launch a PM capability improvement initiative?  No, but you should be realistic about expected outcomes, and focus on developing and implementing changes that will fit the culture of your organization.  “World class” project management capabilities do not make sense for all organizations.  As with any capability improvement initiative, it is crucial to balance the hard and soft costs against expected benefits when defining a target for improvement. 

Avoid gold plating – each change should have a demonstrable connection to a perceived business benefit.  The “engine” of improvement initiatives runs on the “fuel” of success so make sure to track and report all achievements.  And keep “soft-selling” the value of project management.  With persistence, planning and realistic expectations, managing your capability improvement initiative will not feel like a roller coaster ride!

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