Successfully Implementing Effective Project Management Initiatives
One of the most significant problems businesses have in implementing project management initiatives is the breakdown between the corporate strategy and the project teams. Looking at the number of projects initiated each year, there is no denying that companies are actively engaged in running their businesses. The question must then be this: Are companies proactively or reactively engaged? The answer to that question will usually determine the likelihood that a project team will be effective. There is no "magic bullet" that will make an organization more effective at implementing its strategy; however, for effective project management, there are some specific behaviors to avoid and steps to take to achieve better results.
For effective project management, business is never looking up if the view is only from the top…
Strategic projects, by their nature, are top-down initiatives. By looking at the mission statement, corporate values, strategic plan, and annual plans, a team should be able to see the connection between their project and the long-term goals of the company. Unfortunately, the "big picture" is rarely communicated, leaving individual project managers, resource managers, and resources to answer the question, "What should I be working on?" The typical answer will be the most immediate problem to be solved, rather than the most important. Without clear priorities, implementing effective project management strategies will be difficult.
A few years back, I was working on a knowledge management initiative for a large company and was having difficulty engaging the operation. Every time I wanted to talk about how to make existing information available to their customers on the web, they wanted to discuss how to make the fonts easier to read for the phone reps. It wasn't until they were told that the company wanted to push customer self-service options as a strategy that the operations team could let go of the formatting issues that had slowed our progress to a crawl.
In project management, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction…
If the only action by an executive is the assignment of a project manager, is it reasonable for that executive to expect that something special will happen next? Many strategic projects fail to gain total acceptance within an organization, thereby stalling effective project management initiatives. Gaining "buy in" is imperative to achieving the desired results. Whether it is with a dynamic personality, a compelling story, or a media blitz, implementing project management can take on a life of its own given the right force. As many people find out, after the big kickoff meeting there needs to be something else that continues to breathe life into the large strategic projects and keeps the momentum going in the right direction.
When a company I worked with announced its latest acquisition, the reaction was less than enthusiastic. When the integration planning began and everyone got T-shirts with the project name on them, the mood was dark. "Someone got stock options, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt," they said. The project was getting nowhere, and the team barely had a collective pulse. This continued for a few days until details started trickling in that the founder of the acquired company was the (much-loved) former CEO of the acquiring company. When their old boss started showing up at project meetings, the meetings became standing-room-only affairs. The project had not changed, the overall company had not changed, but the project culture had changed due simply to the presence of a trusted comrade. The team-building activities he had conducted as CEO continued to pay off years later in a completely different role.
With portfolio project management, confusing the real with the ideal never goes unpunished…
Strategic project management plans are too abstract; people can't relate them to their work. People do not see if or how the strategic plan changes what they do. Alternatively, the plan is not translated into the short-term actions that employees need to take. Portfolio project management is the process of turning a list of initiatives that come from a strategy into a prioritized collection of projects and programs that are funneled through a pipeline. The result is a process that benefits the organization and reduces pressure on the resources expected to deliver the goods.
I recall a project on which the executive sponsor drew magical diagrams, told wondrous stories, and shared top-secret strategies. For weeks, people enthusiastically attended his meetings, drinking the nectar of his words and generally feeling like insiders. After a month, however, the sponsor asked for a project progress report. Everyone stared at the table and avoided eye contact. Reality had brought them crashing to the ground. They had spent so much time considering the ideal of the future that nobody had taken the time to plan the actions that would get them closer to that ideal.
There's no magic, but here are the bullets for effective project management:
- Leadership that embraces top-down direction and upward influence
- Clear strategy and priorities
- Constructive conflict leading to a common voice needed to implement the strategy
- Open communication
- Effective coordination
- Down-the-line leadership with clear accountability and authority
- Project management training and development for the project team
In the end, effective project management is born of the right knowledge and skills being applied to project activities. If everyone in an organization knows their role and responsibilities, and if they are given the knowledge and skills to fulfill their roles, the project will be positioned to be successful. Alignment of roles, knowledge, and skills throughout an organization is the best precursor to aligning the strategic portfolio. So it turns out there isn't one magic bullet for successfully implementing project management initiatives. There are two: communication and education.