One of the most crucial aspects of management in any organization is planning. With an informal project management approach in the R&D organization, planning may not be optimized. Without a systems approach, planning tends to be segmented, with concentration on aspects of the project that can be accomplished within the R&D unit. Little effort is applied to involving functional units in the planning process, and there is a general lack of integration of the project plans with the operational units.
Although R&D projects are difficult to plan and schedule because of the large numbers of unknowns, planning in R&D units of small companies tends to be very short term, for only one to twelve months. Without formal planning tools, such as statement of work, work breakdown schedules, linear responsibility charts, and PERT networks, planning tends to be simplified, but important details, responsibilities, and interfaces may easily be omitted. In certain respects the shorter-range planning, although not identifying the need for future resources, does not commit resources to a schedule that is or can be very tentative. There actually may be an advantage to short-term planning, since project plans that interface with other functional units can be more realistic with respect to the amount of support needed, amount and type of work to be done, and schedules, although the functional personnel must have sufficient notification of plans or needs to be able to act and react to these plans without undue strain on their schedules and resources. Of course, this advantage can be utilized in a formal planning procedure by constant updating of plans and schedules so that the functional units are aware of the progress of the project, especially as their work or assistance comes into the near-term planning horizon.
A common mistake made during the planning phase in the informal type of project management is that the functional managers are not included in the planning of the project, even when the project involves work performed in their department. Time, costs, and procedures may be established for the functional department by the project manager without input from the functional manager. The functional manager can be difficult to work with, once he learns that something else has planned his involvement and that he is supposed to adhere to these plans.
Lack of effective communications may be a major reason why R&D does not include functional managers in project planning, and why, once plans are established and approved, functional managers are not aware of the progress of a project. There is no doubt that functional managers need to be aware of potential and real changes in schedules, resources, and work scope that may affect their department. Without effective communications neither the project manager nor the functional manager knows what the other is doing, or what the current problems are. In fact, planning, coordination, and management cannot be performed effectively and efficiently without effective communications. However, communication on the horizontal or project level is not the only problem that the informal project management system has; all communication with upper management is filtered through the director of R&D. This may be an effective route for upward communication, but in downward communication two problems are common. First, because R&D is often considered a necessary evil, much of the information on business plans and strategies is not communicated to R&D. Second, since the director of R&D is the filter of downward-moving information from upper management, he may omit information he feels is not important or does not want his people to know. This lack of information on what the company is doing or going to do has a negative effect on the morale of the R&D group. Moreover, the reverse may also be true—R&D may have to toot their horn instead of relying on the results to "speak for themselves."
A number of the problems presented could be markedly improved or resolved by adopting a formal project management organizational structure in the entire company or just in the R&D unit. The R&D organization is probably an excellent proving ground for the introduction of project management to the company. A
major reorganization such as the introduction of project management, preferably as a matrix type of structure, is a difficult task. The implementation of such a reorganization must be carefully planned, and a formal implementation program must be prepared. Generally, the success of such a major organizational change will depend not only on effective planning and implementation, but also on the degree of commitment of upper management. A well-planned project management approach should include solutions to the problems present in informal project management.
Although this discussion has centered on the problems commonly present in informal project management in small-company R&D laboratories, many successful projects can be, and have been, completed in this environment. Efforts by individuals to solve or minimize these problems personally have produced very acceptable program results. However, in these cases, success depends on the management skills of the individual and his or her understanding of the business environment. Personal experience indicates that many scientists and engineers, especially those involved in development projects, are at least cognizant of many of the business considerations that can affect the implementation of their development projects, such as costs, acceptable versus superior performance, and time constraints.4 This observation may be influenced by the small-company environment that allows one to obtain a good perspective of the entire business more easily than in a larger company. In fact, the small company may be a good training environment for project managers because of this more accessible vista of the overall organization, and because, since resources are usually limited, the small-company engineer or scientist must be more self-reliant and learn to perform a number of varied skills using a wide range of tools.
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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.