The Project Office

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The project team is a combination of the project office and functional employees as shown in Figure 4-10. Although the figure identifies the project office personnel as assistant project managers, some employees may not have any such title. The advantage of such a title is that it entitles the employee to speak directly to the customer. For example, the project engineer might also be called the assistant project manager for engineering. The title is important because when the assistant project manager speaks to the customer, he represents the company, whereas the functional employee represents himself.

The project office is an organization developed to support the project manager in carrying out his duties. Project office personnel must have the same dedication toward the project as the project manager and must have good working relationships with both the project and functional managers. The responsibilities of the project office include:

• Acting as the focal point of information for both in-house control and customer reporting

• Controlling time, cost, and performance to adhere to contractual requirements

• Ensuring that all work required is documented and distributed to all key personnel

• Ensuring that all work performed is both authorized and funded by contractual documentation

The major responsibility of the project manager and the project office personnel is the integration of work across the functional lines of the organization. Functional units, such as engineering, R&D, and manufacturing, together with



Figure 4-10. Project organization.

extra-company subcontractors, must work toward the same specifications, designs, and even objectives. The lack of proper integration of these functional units is the most common cause of project failure. The team members must be dedicated to all activities required for project success, not just their own functional responsibilities. The problems resulting from lack of integration can best be solved by full-time membership and participation of project office personnel. Not all team members are part of the project office. Functional representatives, performing at the interface position, also act as integrators but at a closer position to where the work is finally accomplished (i.e., the line organization).

One of the biggest challenges facing project managers is determining the size of the project office. The optimal size is determined by a trade-off between the maximum number of members necessary to assure compliance with requirements and the maximum number for keeping the total administrative costs under control. Membership is determined by factors such as project size, internal support requirements, type of project (i.e., R&D, qualification, production), level of technical competency required, and customer support requirements. Membership size is also influenced by how strategic management views the project to be. There is a tendency to enlarge project offices if the project is considered strategic, especially if follow-on work is possible.

On large projects, and even on some smaller efforts, it is often impossible to achieve project success without permanently assigned personnel. The four major activities of the project office, shown below, indicate the need for using full-time people:

• Integration of activities

• In-house and out-of-house communication

• Scheduling with risk and uncertainty

• Effective control

These four activities require continuous monitoring by trained project personnel. The training of good project office members may take weeks or even months, and can extend beyond the time allocated for a project. Because key personnel are always in demand, project managers should ask themselves and upper-level management one pivotal question when attempting to staff the project office:

Are these any projects downstream that might cause me to lose key members of my team?

If the answer to this question is yes, then it might benefit the project to have the second- or third-choice person selected for the position or even to staff the position on a part-time basis. Another alternative, of course, would be to assign the key members to activities that are not so important and that can be readily performed by replacement personnel. This, however, is impractical because such personnel will not be employed efficiently.

Program managers would like nothing better than to have all of their key personnel assigned fulltime for the duration of the program. Unfortunately, this is undesirable, if not impossible, for many projects because:15

• Skills required by the project vary considerably as the project matures through each of its life-cycle phases.

• Building up large permanently assigned project offices for each project inevitably causes duplication of certain skills (often those in short supply), carrying of people who are not needed on a full-time basis or for a long period, and personnel difficulties in reassignment.

• The project manager may be diverted from his primary task and become the project engineer, for example, in addition to his duties of supervision, administration, and dealing with the personnel problems of a large office rather than concentrating on managing all aspects of the project itself.

• Professionally trained people often prefer to work within a group devoted to their professional area, with permanent management having qualifications in the same field, rather than becoming isolated from their specialty peers by being assigned to a project staff.

• Projects are subject to sudden shifts in priority or even to cancellation, and full-time members of a project office are thus exposed to potentially serious threats to their job security; this often causes a reluctance on the part of some people to accept a project assignment.

All of these factors favor keeping the full-time project office as small as possible and dependent on established functional departments and specialized staffs to the greatest extent possible for performance of the various tasks necessary to complete the project. The approach places great emphasis on the planning and control procedures used on the project. On the other hand, there are valid reasons for assigning particular people of various specialties to the project office. These specialties usually include:

• Systems analysis and engineering (or equivalent technical discipline) and product quality and configuration control, if the product requires such an effort

• Project planning, scheduling, control, and administrative support

Many times a project office is staffed by promotion of functional specialists. Unless careful examination of individual qualifications is made, disaster can easily result. This situation is quite common to engineering firms with a high percentage of technical employees.

In professional firms, personnel are generally promoted to management on the basis of their professional or technical competence rather than their managerial

15 Russell D. Archibald, Managing High-Technology Programs and Projects (New York: Wiley, 1976), p. 82.

Copyright © 1976 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

ability. While this practice may be unavoidable, it does tend to promote men with insufficient knowledge of management techniques and creates a frustrating environment for the professional down the line.16

With regard to the training needed by technicians who aspire to high positions in a world of increasing professionalism in management, more than half of the technically trained executives studied . . . wished that they had had ''more training in the business skills traditionally associated with the management function." In fact, 75 percent admitted that there were gaps in their nontechnical education. . . . Essentially, the engineer whose stock in trade has always been "hard skills" will need to recognize the value of such "soft skills" as psychology, sociology, and so forth, and to make serious and sustained efforts to apply them to his current job.17

There is an unfortunate tendency today for executives to create an environment where line employees feel that the "grass is greener" in project management and project engineering than in the line organization. How should an executive handle a situation where line specialists continually apply for transfer to project management? The solution being incorporated today is the development of a dual ladder system, as shown in Figure 4-11, with a pay scale called "consultant." This particular company created the consultant position because:

• There were several technical specialists who were worth more money to the company but who refused to accept a management position to get it.

• Technical specialists could not be paid more money than line managers.

Promoting technical specialists to a management slot simply to give them more money can:

• Create a poor line manager

• Turn a specialist into a generalist

• Leave a large technical gap in the line organization

Line managers often argue that they cannot perform their managerial duties and control these "prima donnas" who earn more money and have a higher pay grade than the line managers. That is faulty reasoning. Every time the consultants do something well, it reflects on the entire line organization, not merely on themselves.

The concept of having functional employees with a higher pay grade than the line manager can also be applied to the horizontal project. It is possible for a junior project manager suddenly to find that the line managers have a higher pay

16 William P. Killian, "Project Management—Future Organizational Concept," Marquette Business Review, 1971, pp. 90-107.

17 Richard A. Koplow, "From Engineer to Manager—And Back Again," IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, Vol. EM-14, No. 2, June 1967, pp. 88-92. © 1967 IEEE.

Figure 4-11. Exempt, upper-level pay structure.

grade than the project manager. It is also possible for assistant project managers (as project engineers) to have a higher pay grade than the project manager. Project management is designed to put together the best mix of people to achieve the objective. If this best mix requires that a grade 7 report to a grade 9 (on a "temporary" project), then so be it. Executives should not let salaries, and pay grades, stand in the way of constructing a good project organization.

Another major concern is the relationship that exists between project office personnel and functional managers. In many organizations, membership in the project office is considered to be more important than in the functional department. Functional members have a tendency to resent an individual who has just been promoted out of a functional department and into project management. Killian has described ways of resolving potential conflicts:18

18 William P. Killian, "Project Management—Future Organizational Concept," Marquette Business Review, 1971, pp. 90-107.

It must be kept in mind that veteran functional managers cannot be expected to accept direction readily from some lesser executive who is suddenly labelled a Project Manager. Management can avoid this problem by:

• Selecting a man who already has a high position of responsibility or placing him high enough in the organization.

• Assigning him a title as important-sounding as those of functional managers.

• Supporting him in his dealings with functional managers.

If the Project Manager is expected to exercise project control over the functional departments, then he must report to the same level as the departments, or higher.

Executives can severely hinder project managers by limiting their authority to select and organize (when necessary) a project office and team. According to Cleland:19

His [project manager's] staff should be qualified to provide personal administrative and technical support. He should have sufficient authority to increase or decrease his staff as necessary throughout the life of the project. The authorization should include selective augmentation for varying periods of time from the supporting functional areas.

Sometimes, a situation occurs in the project office in which the assistant project manager does not fully understand the intentions of the project manager. For example, an assistant project manager became convinced that the project manager was making decisions that were not in the best interest of the project. Unfortunately, what is in the best interest of the company may not be in the best interest of the project. The cause of this problem was a communication breakdown in the project office.

Many executives have a misconception concerning the makeup and usefulness of the project office. People who work in the project office should be individuals whose first concern is project management, not the enhancement of their technical expertise. It is almost impossible for individuals to perform for any extended period of time in the project office without becoming cross-trained in a second or third project office function. For example, the project manager for cost could acquire enough expertise eventually to act as the assistant to the assistant project manager for procurement. This technique of project office cross-training is an excellent mechanism for creating good project managers.

People who are placed in the project office should be individuals who are interested in making a career out of project management. These dedicated individuals must realize that there may not be bigger and better projects for them to manage downstream, and they may have to take a step backward and manage a smaller project or simply be assistant project managers. It is not uncommon for

19 David I. Cleland, "Why Project Management?" Reprinted with permission from Business Horizons, Winter 1964 (p. 85). Copyright © 1964 by the Board of Trustees at Indiana University.

an individual to rotate back and forth between project management and assistant project management.

We have mentioned two important facts concerning the project management staffing process:

• The individual who aspires to become a project manager must be willing to give up technical expertise and become a generalist.

• Individuals can be qualified to be promoted vertically but not horizontally.

Let us elaborate on these two points. Once an employee has demonstrated the necessary attributes to be a good project manager, there are three ways the individual can become a project manager or part of the project office. The executive can:

• Promote the individual in salary and grade and transfer him into project management.

• Laterally transfer the individual into project management without any salary or grade increase. If, after three to six months, the employee demonstrates that he can perform, he will receive an appropriate salary and grade increase.

• Give the employee a small salary increase without any grade increase or a grade increase without any salary increase, with the stipulation that additional awards will be forthcoming after the observation period, assuming that the employee can handle the position.

Many executives believe in the philosophy that once an individual enters the world of project management, there are only two places to go: up in the organization or out the door. If an individual is given a promotion and pay increase and is placed in project management and fails, his salary may not be compatible with that of his previous line organization, and now there is no place for him to go. Most executives, and employees, prefer the second method because it actually provides some protection for the employee. Of course, the employee might not want to return having been branded a failure in project management.

Many companies don't realize until it is too late that promotions to project management may be based on a different set of criteria from promotions to line management. Promotions on the horizontal line are strongly based on communicative skills, whereas line management promotions are based on technical skills. An employee was interviewed for promotion to a project management position. The following two questions were asked by the executive:

• Can you write, and I really mean it, can you write?

• Are you willing to give up your car pool?

Almost every corporation has line managers who are extremely poor communicators but were promoted to their positions to reward them for technical excellence.

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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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