Project Management optimize

Successfully introduce formal project management techniques to your team

To implement project management processes with a team that hasn't worked under formal PM guidelines before, you must find a good way to sell the idea to your colleagues. Learn how to get all team members on board and lead them to a successful outcome.

TechRepublic columnist Tom Mochal receives dozens of e-mails each week from members with questions about project management problems. He shares his tips on a host of project management issues in this Q&A format.

Question
My client’s company is trying to implement better project management processes, but its managers are still leaving a lot of discretion to individual project managers and consultants like me. I have a fairly large project coming up that will involve 20 people for up to 18 months. I would like to implement better project management techniques on this project. What advice can you give me, since my client’s company is not pushing this discipline very hard at the moment?

--Sandy

Answer
I’m glad to hear that you’re trying to move forward with formal project management processes. It sounds like your client’s company will be supportive of your effort, even if it hasn’t made project management deployment one of its top priorities.

I sense that you understand the challenge is bigger than just telling everyone on the team to do things a certain way. People who aren’t used to working within a formal structure and framework can sometimes rebel when they are asked to do it for the first time. These people will first tend to negatively view the new processes before starting to (grudgingly) see their value.

If you were trying to help implement a project management discipline throughout your client’s entire organization, the job would be much more complex and time-consuming. In that kind of initiative, you would be trying to perform a culture change with project managers, team members, functional managers, and clients.

When you implement project management processes on one project team, the challenge is much more manageable. Of course, the benefits are more limited, as well. The value you’re providing is contained to your immediate project team. You'll also be faced with certain tasks, such as creating the processes and templates for your team, rather than having them taken care of by your client.

Overall, I think there’s value to what you’re proposing, and I encourage you to continue down this path. When your client’s entire organization is moving in the same direction, you’ll really start to see the total value that good project management processes offer.

You have a good project size upon which to introduce and implement project management discipline. In fact, without formal processes in place, it would be hard to see how you could be successful. I recommend you look at five areas.

Leadership
As the project manager, you’re the primary person to lead this change. You’ll set the priorities and the tone for how the project is run. If you define and plan the project well, and then execute and control the project using good techniques, the other team members should follow your lead.

If project team members see that you are not communicating well, or if they see you accepting new scope requirements on your own, or if they see confusion on team members’ roles, they’ll obviously question what they’re doing. Don’t let that happen to you. Talk the talk and walk the walk.

Processes and procedures
I don’t think you can successfully introduce good project management discipline without implementing a set of processes that everyone can see and understand. This starts off with the planning processes. With a project your size, I think it should be understood that you need, for example, a Project Definition and a work plan.

You also need to have processes for managing issues, scope, risk, and communication. These don’t have to be long, tedious procedures, but they have to be at a level where people understand what is expected of them and how the project management processes work.

Project management advocate
Find someone on the team who can be an inside partner. The team will accept the new processes more quickly if there’s another team member on your side. This person should be a senior individual whom the rest of the team respects. The person doesn’t have to be a cheerleader but will set a good example and encourage the rest of the team to follow the work processes established for the project team.

Communication
Introducing a culture change without a frequent, ongoing, and consistent message is difficult. Make sure the team is aware of what you’re doing and why. Explain to them the perceived value and benefit of the project and repeat this message often. This type of communication can take many shapes over time.

For example, if you see team members doing something right regarding the project management procedures, praise them for their effort. You can also track and publicize how the team is doing in terms of meeting commitments for schedule, cost, and quality.

Training
Finally, after you have dealt successfully with the staff dynamics and the required processes, make sure that no one has difficulty understanding project management skills. Your project is long enough that you would expect to receive a positive return on your training investment. Think about providing short training to the entire team to familiarize them with project management processes, and then sending your team leaders or other project managers to more formal project management training.

Final thoughts
Sandy, you have some advantages and disadvantages associated with trying to implement formal project management processes on a project team. In general, a successful implementation is within your control. Your project is large enough that you should easily see the value, and it is long enough that you’ll have a chance to integrate project management processes successfully before the project finishes. Good luck.

Any converts today?
Consultants who bring formal project management processes to clients who don’t follow such steps can receive a great deal of resistance from project team members. What do you do to sell team members on such procedures? Post your comments below.

Project management veteran Tom Mochal is director of internal development at a software company in Atlanta. Most recently, he worked for the Coca-Cola Company, where he was responsible for deploying, training, and coaching the IS division on project management and life-cycle skills. He's also worked for Eastman Kodak and Cap Gemini America and has developed a project management methodology called TenStep.
5 comments
roller02
roller02

I completely agree with the statement that people are the most important determinant of ane project so I'm highly interested in social project management - thank you for your posts. I'd like to add that we have to also remember about the aspects included in the article I've read recently - 'People In Your Projects' http://pm-compass.com/knowledge_base/article/people-in-your-project/1958

amkent
amkent

All well and good, but how do you fight the battle within an immature organization that does not understand the value that a structured project management process adds to an organization? Our IT shop is used to just winging their projects and is resistant to change and see its PM as a roadblock to getting their work done.

jessie_attask
jessie_attask

I am an employee of @task, an online project management software company. One of the questions we get asked is how to best roll out a project management solution that people will actually use. How do you get executives, project managers, and team members to work together to accomplish the goals of the project? After numerous case studies and customer visits, the experts here at @task came up with a solution that takes the ideas of social networking and applies them to the structure of project management. The executives select the project based on a set of criteria and use PPM concepts to make sure it aligns with corporate objectives. The project manager then creates the project. He/She identifies the tasks, organizes the resources, and creates a project timeline. Using the new @task Stream platform, the project manager quickly assigns tasks and team members become an integral and active part of the project. Conversational and quantitative information flows up through the organization, keeping all parties focused on the objectives of the project. This new idea of social project management helps organizations roll out a solution that executives, project managers, and team members will not only want to use, but will actually use because it makes their jobs easier and more fulfilling. If you're interested in learning more about social project management then you can visit http://www.attask.com/stream.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

You need to let them have input into the structure, build one togther that helps them work smarter and better, as opposed to one that merely introduces a lot of check / report points defined and controlled by someone unaware of the environment they works in. Despite being IT thickies, we don't like doing thing twice, or the hard way, or not being able to record the boss' dumbass decision that lead to the wheels coming off. If they see you as a roadblock, then they are right. If you are having to fight, you have done something quite wrong. IT people love efficiency, it's what we do....

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

When denial, deceit, cya and panacea are galloping towards the next acopolyptic disaster. So if you dismount, we will only have three major issues to deal with....