In times of budgets cut and scarce resources success is actually a must for the projects continued or newly started. However statistics show that still far too much projects do not meet the expectations or even fail. Here is a try to investigate the causes from a different perspective: from project management ankle.
Project Management for many companies still is something like a commodity or facilitating discipline. Project’s focus is on strategy, processes or technics. Thus there is much focus on related expertise at staffing the project. Project management or coordination is supposed to be done at the side by someone. That may work with a new database set up or a marketing measure sufficiently, but latest at projects where different functions and departments need to be involved and coordinated the project lead should have interdisciplinary and leadership skills and much room for project management. In projects with strategic significance for the company and/or touch the company’s “philosophy”, e.g. implementing Management Information Systems, Mergers & Acquisitions or organizational and structure projects, the project manager needs to be a generalist with project management skills beyond the average.
What’s needed is no longer professional know how on process or technical level, but high competence in organization, coordination, communication, and motivation. He needs to get the Professionals out of their ivory towers of functional line view into a cross-functional team that makes more than the sum of its resources. In reverse that means, that, where competent project management is missing, the project is at risk from the beginning!
The problem of insufficient project management skills often hits companies with grown, functional line organization, but also in matrix organized enterprises that even conduct many project at the same time, well educated project managers are rare. By the way this applies for the user side same as for many system suppliers and consulting firms. Here also mostly an “experienced” Senior Manager from a process or IT department is assigned project manager. If he and his counterpart on customer side complement each other well professionally, it’s fine, but one of both needs to be the project manager on top.
Most of issues already start at a clear Scope Definition.
- What exactly is the project’s product, and how does it fit, i.e. what measurable contribution does it deliver to the (customer) company’s entire strategy?
- What stakeholders are involved in the project, and how exactly are their expectations and their understanding of the project’s benefit?
In particular high expectations have led to big disappointments in the last (hype) years again and again: risk and probability of deviation from plan is high in projects that deal with new technologies (e.g. loud, Cyber Security, In-memory big data and BI etc.), by nature higher than at “standard” ERP projects, and it therefore affords a more prospective and thorough project management.
Regarding project planning unfortunately a more or less well tailored Microsoft Project plan is understood in many cases instead. The project inherent concurrency of Scope, Time, Budget, Quality and Risk is often underestimated and also wrongly prioritized according to stakeholders’ expectations.
Depending on the company’s organization structure there additionally might be resource issues with the functional lines which can influence the project’s planning and execution significantly. The project manager needs to rely on the unquestioned support from his project sponsor – and he needs to have received the authority to claim it! This is also a weakness in many projects where management tends to let project sponsorship slide in their daily business.
During the project’s execution phase coordination, motivation, and communication activities dominate the project manager’s day. Everyone in the project, especially stakeholders and above all the project sponsor, always should be informed – according to his project role – about the project’s progress, eventual issues, upcoming to-dos etc. up to date. It needs professional handling of agreed-upon measurement (KPIs), tools like Earned Value method etc. Micro-management and “interventions” into detail are rather contra-productive and block the view on the big picture, but this is something many functional specialists can’t quit as project managers.
Last but not least a proper close-out is part of a successful project closure. It is not sufficient to deliver all parts of the project product as agreed: success is measured by the stakeholders’ satisfaction and the benefit it definitely gives to the company. The project manager’s responsibility is to verify this objective realization permanently during the project – until the final sign-off. Otherwise projects become Zombies by rework, or they develop past the company’s objectives until their inglorious ends.
Conclusion of all these thoughts:
In many cases not the project team members – internal or external – are responsible for bad project results or even its failed success but missing or wrong staffing and support of the project manager. In the USA and Asia many clients now request evidence for their consulting or contracting partners’ project management competence. This involves internationally recognized certificates like the ones from the Project Management Institute (PMI), IPMA or Prince2. But as a project always needs contribution of the own organization it is recommended to have an own competent project manager at the table, be it from own internal staff or hired external. Then the probability of well invested budgets in successful projects is increasing significantly.