By Russell Harley, veteran project manager and Director at PMO
There is some thinking that equates project management with being a roadblock to speedy delivery of critical projects. This is reinforced by the number of processes and documentation that can be involved in a project. After all, when a company is trying to meet market needs or break into trends, the last thing it needs is a project manager/PMO saying, ‘We need to have all this documentation before we can start working on this.’
So how can project management be an effective tool versus a roadblock?
Do we throw everything out and just start executing on the work involved with minimal planning/processes involved? That is certainly one way to proceed. But remember the word ‘execution’ has several meanings. An execution of someone’s job could be one example of another meaning of the word. Needless to say, not the use of the word that everyone was hoping for.
For project management to be an asset in critical time to market projects, it needs to be flexible and very agile to borrow a term from our software development friends. Almost the opposite of the standardized way project management is supposed to work, careful and deliberate. Can this be accomplished? In a word: Yes.
The key is to compress and reduce the project management processes and requirements to an acceptable minimum level. This could actually be formalized so critical/fast paced projects have their own separate project track with minimal documentation/processes involved. Of course the risks would need to be evaluated to using this approach, as this type of ‘fast track’ procedure could expose the company to unacceptable risks. This way the business could decide if the timely completion would be worth the risks involved.
Is this easy? No. Reducing these items in a project runs counter to the formal project management way of doing things. Also project managers are taught through the Project Management Institute (PMI) that projects must be done following the five steps: Imitation, Planning, Execution, Control and Closeout. Following these makes it difficult to complete a project in a short amount of time. This is why people tend to sometimes think of project managers as part of the problem, not something as part of a solution.
Project managers need to be able to evaluate the needs of the business versus the background of their training. This exposes the project manager to additional risks, since part of their job now is to cut corners and decide what part of the processes to use and which ones to skip. Even with agreement that these are the steps to be cut by the project’s sponsors, it is likely the project manager’s position could be in jeopardy if the project fails or goes badly. This explains why many project managers want to stay with the industry standard project processes versus being very flexible.
Decisions that need to be made about how to streamline the project process for fast tracked projects should also be made about the project team, including the project manager. These need to be spelled out so the team will not be punished and/or blamed for project issues due to the business’ decision to streamline the normal project processes. This will go a long way to help project managers become an asset versus a liability on these types of projects.
Given the correct setup, project managers/PMOs can be a huge asset in helping companies achieve and maintain a company’s growth. Setup incorrectly, the opposite will occur. The difference between these two extremes is the difference between a wonderful dream and a nightmare.
Which one do you want your company to have?
Russell Harley is a veteran project manager and PMO director, passionate about helping organizations embrace world-class project management practices and “climb out of the quicksand” in terms of gaining control over complex, ever-changing project portfolios. The best practices he advocates stem from key learning’s acquired from his M.S Degree in Project Management, combined with over 20 years of hands-on PM experience in the high technology, telecommunications, and clean energy sectors.