How to Make Project Management Work in Your Company

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It is one thing to know how to manage projects effectively. It is another to get people actually to manage them that way. Running by the seat of the pants seems a lot easier than doing all that planning, scheduling, and monitoring. Even when people invest three or four days in project management seminars, you find that they soon forget what they have been taught and go back to the old ways.

I have struggled with this problem for over fifteen years, and I finally have some answers. Here are suggestions on how to make the principles of project management work in your company.

• Dr. Edwards Deming learned more than fifty years ago that if you don't get top management involved in a program, the program will be short-lived. That doesn't mean just having top management pay lip service to it. As Tom Peters suggested in his book Thriving on Chaos, if an executive wants something to happen in the company she has to change her calendar! Spend time talking about project management. Sit in on project planning or review meetings. Start asking to see people's project notebooks. Ask questions about how projects are doing. In other words, show an interest in the subject.

• Build into performance appraisals items that evaluate a project manager's use of the tools of effective project management. Reward people for practicing the methods. If necessary, sanction them when they do not. But be careful. Be sure upper management is not keeping managers from practicing good methodology.

• It helps to have the entire team trained in the basics. After all, when you tell members of your team you want them to do a WBS for their part of the project and they have never even heard the term before, they can't very well deliver. I have found that project managers generally need a minimum of three or four days' training in project management, and team members need about two days' training to learn just the tools.

• Senior management should have a one-day overview of the principles of project management so that it knows what is realistic to expect. One of the ten most common causes of project failures is unrealistic expectations on the part of senior managers.

• After the training is complete, pick a project that already has a pretty high probability of success. Don't pick your hardest job; it has too high a likelihood of failure—and have your trainer/consultant walk the team through the steps. This is the hand-holding phase, which I have found to be essential (as have a number of major companies with which I have worked). It really helps to have someone help the team practice what it has learned. All new procedures feel awkward when you first try them, and an outside expert makes things go smoother. In addition, an outsider can be more objective than members of the team.

• Plan small wins for people. Forget the Pareto principle. It's wrong, even from an economic point of view. According to Pareto, you should begin with your most important problems, solve them, and then move on to the simpler ones. Sounds like good economic sense, but it isn't. It ignores the fact that the biggest problem is also likely to be the hardest to tackle, so people are more likely to fail, become demoralized, and give up. No sports team ranked tenth would want to play the top-ranked team for its first game. It would rather play the ninth-ranked team, maybe, or even the eleventh. Don't set the team up to be slaughtered!

• Practice a lot of MBWA (management by walking around) as the project progresses, but do it to be helpful, not in the blame-and-punishment mode. Give people strokes for letting you know about problems early, rather than after they have turned into disasters. Don't be too quick to help, though. Give people time to solve the problems themselves. Just ask them to keep you informed, and tell them to let you know if they need help. Be a resource, not a policeman.

• Do audits to learn, and try to improve whenever possible.

• If you find you have a problem individual on your team, deal with that person as soon as possible. If you don't know how to handle the problem, talk to someone who has the experience and who can help you. Don't ignore the problem, as it can wreck your entire team.

• Be very pro-active, not reactive. Take the lead. Break roadblocks for your team members. Go to bat for them.

• Have team members make presentations to senior management on their part of the job. Give them credit for their contributions. Build ownership.

• If you are running a project to which people are temporarily assigned while still reporting to their own bosses (matrix organization), keep their managers informed about what they are doing. Try to build good relations with those managers. You may need their support to get the job done.

• You may find that you have to co-locate the people doing activities on the project's critical path so that you don't have them constantly pulled off to do other jobs. This method is being used more and more by major corporations for highly critical projects.

• It may be useful to consider setting up a project support person or office to do all scheduling for your project managers. Rather than have everyone trying to master the scheduling software, it might be better to train one or two people to competence level and to train users only enough to know the capability of the software. Under this scenario, project managers give raw data to the support group, who enter it into the computer and give back a proposed schedule, which is then massaged until it works. Subsequently the support group does all updates, what-if analyses, and so on for the project manager.

• It is also possible to appoint a project administrator to either do the project support or delegate it and to sit in on project review meetings and hold the team's hands to walk members through planning, audits, and so forth. Naturally, you need to be running quite a few projects (at least ten to twenty) to justify creating this position. Such a position can be helpful when you have project managers who have little experience with managing or who perhaps have poor skills in dealing with people, or both.

• Benchmark other companies to find out what they do with project management. Note that the fact that others don't practice good methodology does not give you grounds for abandoning it yourself. I know of one major corporation that does not track actual work put into a project; yet the company is extremely successful. However, I believe that because the company doesn't track work, it will lead to problems eventually.

• Have individuals take responsibility for championing various parts of the project management process. One person, for example, the earned-value champion, might go around the company trying to get everyone to use the method. Another might take responsibility for dealing with WBS notation, and so on.

• Join the Project Management Institute, attend chapter meetings, and learn more about the practice from other professionals.

• Try to read current management books, and glean everything you can from them that will help you do your job better. Managing projects is a demanding job, and you need all the help you can get.

• Look at managing projects as a challenge or even as a game. If it doesn't strike you that way, it probably won't be very exciting. Experiment with new approaches. Find out what works and keep it. Throw out what does not.

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Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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