Returning to the Basics of Project Management
We have seen many times that successful project delivery comes less from having all the bells and whistles and more from effectively executing key processes. In previous posts, we have presented a series of eight project management processes that greatly increase the chance of project success on small- to medium-sized projects when executed properly. We have also presented ways to achieve similar results for smaller or larger projects, with a lesser or greater degree of complexity, number of full-time team members, and duration. These results are possible through using a tiered approach to project management rigor.
The message is clear: not only is a foundation of effective project management possible, it can be attained through simple, straightforward methods that are refined through consistent practice and continuous improvement. We have seen companies greatly enhance their competitive advantage through consistent deployment of basic project management practices.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) also agrees that a return to the basics of project management is essential. PMI observed that companies who are high performers in project management (achieving 80 percent or more of projects on time, on budget and meeting original goals) waste far less money than low performers. They have also noticed that since 2012, the number of high performers has not increased. PMI argues that companies can become high performers by doing the following:
- Creating a culture that supports the project management mindset across the enterprise, helping build the foundation for success.
- Setting up talent management to develop personnel and facilitate knowledge transfer.
- Supporting project, program, and portfolio management through effective processes and alignment with organizational strategy by using project management software.
Following these three steps can help any company, small or large, start their journey to project management proficiency. Once companies realize the value of this journey, how do they get started? From our experience, we recommend the following for developing project management basics:
1. Creating culture depends on recognizing that project management has a place in virtually any company.
Any company is likely to have a project as part of its business strategy. Making an investment in project management can help execute these key projects, fulfilling strategic objectives and setting the stage for further success.
Two steps in creating a culture of project management are securing executive support and establishing a project management office (PMO). We have seen the value of executive support in getting project management jump-started in an organization. Project managers can perform their duties with more confidence when C-level executives and upper managers recognize their contributions and provide necessary support.
Setting up a PMO represents a company-wide commitment to project management excellence. PMOs help develop project managers and set up the standards for project management in a company. Through these benefits, PMOs also support the other goals mentioned above of developing talent management and effective processes.
2. Setting up talent management depends on a company’s ability to leverage training resources toward getting personnel up to speed on project management.
This does not have to be done internally. Consultants and PMI Registered Education Providers (REPs) can help organizations build the framework for knowledge transfer to ensure that incoming personnel are aware of the place of project management in company culture. Companies can also seek out PMI chapters in their area to learn more about the resources available.
Developing talent management capability requires a lot of up-front investment, but the results pay off over time. As talent management capability develops further, companies may look into the possibilities of developing in-house training and/or sponsoring project managers to take courses and earn certifications. As companies become associated with excellence in project management, they will attract more talented people and increase their capability to deliver more projects on time, within budget, and within scope, accelerating their performance.
3. Developing effective processes starts with looking at how projects are currently managed and identifying process gaps.
In other words, what processes currently work well, and what processes need to be deployed? When you are a small/startup business, it can be hard to pinpoint this, but it is possible to put a solution in place that can make it easy to manage. You may not know where to start, but there in no harm in doing a bit of research before going ahead with anything.
In our view, the most effective project management processes any company can deploy are the ones that make the most sense to them. Using every process in the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) may not make sense on smaller projects. For example, if there are no contracts involved and few resources to acquire, then procurement management may not be necessary.
Companies should look at what processes they use, how effective each one is for each project, and where the largest gaps in processes are located. This information can help decision-makers choose what processes to use for any given project. Some other considerations include:
- Number of projects: Are there one or two projects at any given time? Three to six? More than six?
- Duration of projects: Is the average duration measured in weeks? Months? Years?
- Size of full-time project team: How many full-time (or equivalent) employees are members of project teams? If four part-time members are on a project team, that would be equivalent to two full-time members.
- Effort-hours: How many total effort hours are planned for project team members? Is it up to 50, up to 500, or over 500?
- Changes: Are changes expected as a result of uncertain scope or requirements?
- Vendors: Are vendors involved in project work?
Depending on some of these answers, companies may want to stick with very basic project management processes, like the project charter, stakeholder analysis, communication plan, and schedule. More processes can be added as project size and complexity increases.
Even if success in project management is attainable for any company, what is the value proposition? We have heard that question asked many times. In our view, the value proposition for project management is increasing companies’ capability to realize benefits out of their current initiatives, adjust to changes in the competitive landscape, and align their work with their business goals. Any company engaged in these activities is likely to be involved in projects, and strengthening the project management capability is likely to yield positive outcomes. By following these recommendations, any company can build up the basics of project management, giving themselves a foundation for sustained success.