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.

I recently started to work for a company that hired me as a project manager. Now that I am managing my first project, I realize that this company does not have a good project management foundation. The company I came from had common processes, templates, and a consistent set of expectations around managing projects. At my new company, it’s up to each project manager to manage on his or her own. Some are using a decent set of processes, but many are inadequate. My understanding is that the organization has a bad reputation for managing projects successfully.

I would like to change things if I can. How would you recommend trying to convince executives of the value of project management to the organization?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to your question. In my opinion, there is no question that a common set of project management processes provides value to an organization. I don’t just mean the kind of project management you apply on a million-dollar waterfall project. Even if your organization utilizes “light” methodologies, there is still value in implementing a common set of “light” processes that everyone can use on similar projects.

That being said, you asked how you could convince your management of the value of project management. The exact argument is going to be different from company to company, because every company has a unique culture and unique problems that it faces. Each organization is also starting from a different reality and with a different set of problems it is trying to resolve.

Is your company feeling any pain?
If your organization delivers projects okay today, then your arguments would have to focus on how project management would bring improvements in project cycle time, costs, and overall quality. However, the argument is easier if you can identify areas where your organization is feeling some pain today. In that case, your executives will be much more open to changes, since they should be able to more easily see the value. You mentioned in your e-mail that your organization has a bad reputation for delivering projects. This is definitely a problem area, and so, because of this problem, your executives should be more open to a standard project management solution.

Enter project management
I think the majority of organizations are like yours—they have a spotty reputation for delivering projects within expectations. Characteristics of these organizations include:

  • Consistently completing projects late, over budget, or not meeting agreed upon requirements.
  • Weak standard processes and techniques used inconsistently by project managers.
  • Applying project management in a reactive manner and not seeing it as providing value.
  • Not building the time that is required to manage projects proactively into the work plan, and considering that time “overhead.”
  • Completing projects “successfully” in spite of a lack of planning and project management, with heavy stress and overtime work being prevalent throughout the project’s life cycle.

Good project management discipline is the way to overcome these shortcomings. Of course, having good project management skills does not mean you have no problems; it doesn’t mean that risks go away; and it doesn’t 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.

The cost of project management
There’s also a cost of implementing project management. This cost is at both the organizational level and at the project level. Some of the organizational costs, such as building a project management office, are long-term. The costs at the project level are more short-term and include the one-time costs associated with having to learn new project management techniques and templates.

Ultimately, if the result of project management were that projects would complete slower, cost more, and have poor quality, it would not make sense to use it. However, the opposite is true: Using sound project management techniques and processes will give you a higher likelihood that your project will be completed on time, within budget, and to an acceptable level of quality.

The costs and benefits are also factored in when I say that the project management processes must be scalable. You don’t want to build the project management processes for a $10 million project if your project costs only $10,000. Make sure that your common processes always provide more value than they cost on projects of all sizes.

High-level value proposition
Showing the value of project management is difficult because the concept is broad. To work around this, you need to look at the various aspects of project management and show the value associated with each component. Project management processes and techniques are used to coordinate resources to achieve predictable results. The value proposition for project management goes something like this: Implementing a common set of project management processes takes effort and resources. However, the value of project management to the organization is much greater and includes:

  • Better expectation-setting through up-front estimating, planning, and project definition.
  • Faster execution through the reuse of common processes and templates.
  • Fewer project problems encountered when utilizing proactive project management processes.
  • Better organizational decision making through more effective project communication.
  • Higher client satisfaction and less rework by building a higher quality product the first time.

I cannot give you the exact set of arguments that will convince your executives. The arguments you use for one company might fall completely flat for another company. However, regardless of your situation today, the basic value points above probably hold true in every company. I’ll go through these value points in detail in an upcoming column, so check back to see which of these points make the most sense for your situation.