Project Management Grows Up - Part 1

Twenty years ago, project management was recognized as a discipline only in the construction and defense industries, and of course at NASA. Since then, the case for the widespread adoption of project management has been compelling. Any company looking to make major changes, or add new products or systems has found tremendous benefit in project management. Through a disciplined approach to managing projects, many companies:

  • Focus more effort on planning projects to better control scope, cost, risks and timelines during project implementation.
  • Monitor and track the execution of projects.
  • Clearly define project responsibilities within the context of operational responsibilities.
  • Establish common terminology regarding projects.
  • Create a coordinated timeline for the execution of multiple projects.

Although there are numerous benefits, project management seems to have taken on a life of its own and become a stand-alone entity. Fast forward to a discipline, disjointed from strategy, innovation, and resource allocation resulting in painful side effects for companies.

With project managers and powerful Project Management Offices pushing for greater autonomy to practice their craft, internal clients treat them more like a supplier than an internal partner. This more distant relationship, coupled with ever increasing expectations to deliver more for less, has led to a growing phenomenon of game playing between internal clients and project managers. There are a multitude of scenarios, and you may recognize something similar in your company:

  1. An internal client or user group defines a need to execute a project.
  2. The client and PMO define a reasonable set of business requirements necessary to achieve the objectives of the project.
  3. The Project Manager uses available information and due diligence to provide a reasonable estimate of dollars and time to deliver the project as defined by the agreed upon business requirements.
  4. The internal client pushes back on everything but the deliverables, with the general threat that if the project can't deliver all the scope in a shorter time and for less money, then there won't be a project.
  5. The PMO capitulates, and the project proceeds.
  6. The project goes off the rails, and the deliverables are cut to keep the project within budget and on time.
  7. The PMO presses the issue of the original estimate, the internal client pushes back again, and the PMO capitulates again.
  8. The project continues to fall off the rails and functionality continues to be pared down to keep the project on schedule.

The project is delivered on time and on budget with a fraction of the required functionality...Phase Two is born.

Feel free to insert your own experiences in this scenario. Regardless of the details, the separation of client and PMO has played a major role.

The other common side effect that we see in our practice is the company that can execute projects well, but the projects aren't necessarily aligned to the strategy. This is at the heart of the planning/execution gap (View) where we so often focus with our clients; and a portion of the blame is often traced back to a project management process that is disjointed from the greater operational context.

In our next newsletter, we will bring you Part 2 of our article where we will talk more about how to maintain the benefits of Project Management but avoid some of the problems.