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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.