Published here June 2008.


Musings Index

The Value of Project Management

Throughout our career, we have tried to make the case for instituting project management as a discipline for all kinds of projects. For example, see Issacon #1002a last updated in March 2006. However, this may be "too rich" for some people and a simpler explanation is needed. That's why we really liked a piece by Tom Mochal that we have reproduced below with permission. Tom's observations originally appeared in his Email newsletter of September 19, 2007.

As frequent visitors to this web site will know from our home page, we have a Special Affiliation Agreement with Tom who is President of TenStep, Inc. That's because we have always been particularly impressed with Tom's work on developing a practical project management methodology. The TenStep methodology is simple, scalable and straightforward - something that is sorely needed in the world of project management. Indeed, as a result, the TenStep organization has now grown to a network of offices in over twenty countries around the world. Congratulations Tom!

Here is what Tom has to say about the subject.

The Value of Project Management
By Tom Mochal

"There are some companies that have built reputations for being able to consistently manage projects effectively. However, the vast majority of organizations have a more spotty reputation. Does your organization have any of the following characteristics?
  • Projects completed late, over-budget, or without meeting the functionality requirements of your client
  • Weak standard processes and techniques used inconsistently by project managers
  • Project management is reactive and not seen as providing value
  • The time required to manage projects proactively is not built into the work plan, since it is considered 'overhead'
  • Projects are 'successful' in spite of a lack of planning and project management, through heavy stress and overtime work throughout the lifecycle

Good project management discipline is the way to overcome these shortcomings. Having good project management skills does not mean you have no problems. It does not mean that risks go away. It does not mean that there are no surprises. The value of good project management is that you have standard processes in place to deal with all contingencies.

Project management processes and techniques are used to coordinate resources to achieve predictable results. However, it should be understood up front that project management is not an exact science and there is never a guarantee of success. Since projects involve people, there is always complexity and uncertainty that cannot be absolutely controlled.

Project management is a science in that it relies on proven and repeatable processes and techniques to achieve project success. It is an art because it also involves managing and relating to people and requires the project manager to apply intuitive skills in situations that are totally unique for each project. A good project management methodology provides the framework, processes, guidelines and techniques to manage the people and the workload. A good methodology increases the odds of being successful and therefore provides value to the organization, the project and the project manager.

Value proposition. The value proposition for project management goes something like this. It takes time and effort to proactively manage a project. This cost is more than made up for over the life of the project by:

  • Completing projects more quickly and cheaply.
  • One of the biggest benefits of using a common methodology is the value of reuse. Once the processes, procedures and templates are created, they can be used (perhaps with small modifications) on all projects in the future.
  • This results in reduced project start-up time, a shorter learning curve for project team members and timesavings from not having to reinvent processes and templates from scratch on each project.

Saving effort and cost with proactive scope management. Many projects have difficulty managing scope, which results in additional effort and cost to the project. Having better project management processes will result in being able to manage scope more effectively.

Better solution 'fit' the first time through better planning. Many projects experience problems because there is a gap between what the client expects and what the project team delivers. Using a methodology results in better project planning, which gives the team and the sponsor an opportunity to make sure they are in agreement on the major deliverables produced by the project.

Resolving problems more quickly. Some teams spend too much time and energy dealing with problems because they do not know how to resolve the problems to begin with. Having a proactive issues management process helps ensure that problems are resolved as quickly as possible.

Resolving future risk before the problems occur. TenStep includes processes to identify and manage risks. Sound risk management processes will result in potential problems being identified and managed before the problems actually occur.

Managing expectations. Many problems on a project can be avoided with proactive and multifaceted communication. In addition, much of the conflict that does arise on a project is not the result of a specific problem, but because of surprises. The TenStep methodology focuses on proactive formal and informal communication, which results in fewer surprises. So, communicate and manage expectations with clients, team members and stakeholders more effectively.

Building a higher quality product the first time. TenStep contains quality management processes will help the team understand the needs of the customer in terms of quality. Once those needs are defined, the team can implement quality control and quality assurance techniques to meet the customer expectations.

Improved financial management.This is the result of better project definition, better estimating, more formal budgeting and better tracking of the project actual costs against the budget. All this rigor results in better financial predictability and control.

Stopping 'bad' projects more quickly. 'Bad' projects are those where the cost-benefit justification no longer makes sense. A project may have started with sound cost/benefit justification. However, if the project is late and over budget it may hit a threshold where the business case is no longer valid. Effective project management allows you to see these situations earlier so that you can make better decisions to re-scope or cancel the project.

More focus on metrics and fact-based decision making. One of the more sophisticated aspects of TenStep is that it provides guidance to make it easier to collect metrics (measures). Metrics give you information that helps you determine how effective and efficient your team is performing and the level of the quality of your deliverables. Metrics also give you the information necessary to validate whether you were successful or not.

Improved work environment. If your projects are more successful, you will find additional intangible benefits associated with your project team. Your clients will have more involvement, your project team will take more ownership of the project, morale will be better, and the project team will behave with a greater sense of professionalism and self-confidence. This should make sense. People that work on projects with problems tend to be unhappy. On the other hand, people on successful projects tend to feel better about their jobs and themselves.

People who complain that project management is a lot of 'overhead' forget the point. Your project is going to face issues. Do you want to proactively resolve them or figure them out as you go? Your project will face potential risks. Do you want to try to resolve them before they happen or wait until the problems arise? Are you going to communicate proactively or deal with conflict and uncertainty caused by a lack of project information? Are you going to manage scope or deal with cost and deadline overruns caused by doing more work than your budget covers? Are you going to build quality into your process or fix problems later when they will be more costly to resolve?

The characteristics of the project are not going to change whether you use a formal project management process or not. What changes is how the events are dealt with when the project is in progress. Are they dealt with haphazardly and reactively or proactively with a smoothly running process? Generally, it is believed that organizations that follow good processes are more successful than organizations that do not. Organizations that have good processes, and follow them, are sometimes called 'Process Driven Organizations'. These organizations get more work done and they tend to do the work that is of most value. They also have organizational systems in place to help make everyone more successful, including project managers."

Note how Tom explains in his introduction that project management is both a science because it relies on proven and repeatable processes and techniques, and an art because it involves applying intuitive skills in managing and relating to people. Hence a good project management methodology provides the framework, processes, guidelines and techniques for managing the work and the people. Only in this way can you increase the odds of being successful in the final outcome.

So, implement at least the basics of project management and you will enjoy the benefits of the discipline as Tom describes above.

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