In 2011, we saw a spate of scandals involving executives accused of poor project management. Halfway through 2012, headlines are full of news about cost overruns on major government and corporate projects. Yet we know that poor decisions and poor project planning cost billions of dollars and they are usually a result of poorly defined objectives or a failure to meet deadlines and budgets.
Experts agree that project management and a project portfolio framework help win back a competitive advantage and cope with the increasing complexity of business management. This is due to the rigour they provide and also the flexibility they offer in adapting to a wide range of circumstances. Effective project and project portfolio management is essential today for companies and organizations that want to achieve efficient management of their resources.
So What’s Stopping Us?
Many things can stifle innovation, be it short-term vision, the fear of not being first, the feeling that we are wasting our time with planning or personal ambitions. However, we must do our best to help managers understand the need for change, and this is not just one person’s responsibility. Many attitudes need to change in order to achieve this. It starts with valuing the team and not just the manager. Unity in organization of the work and a shared vision are essential in order to mobilize people and build support for the manager. The focus must be on common challenges and approaches that promote access to information in order to stay the course.
For smart managers who have resolved to embrace new ways of doing business, here are some tips and suggestions to encourage openness to change and avoid making the headlines for the wrong reasons. In order to provide organizations with a process that fosters communication, transparency and effective management of investments, companies must support their managers in making changes. Innovation in project management requires a healthy dose of change; everyone involved must contribute and make the necessary effort to bring about a genuine cultural shift.
Six Steps Toward Embracing Change
- Be patient. First, we need to be mindful of one of the facets of human nature: When we try to do everything, we are liable to accomplish nothing. The various aspects of a management framework are so numerous that to analyze all of them is extremely complex and it is difficult to anticipate everything that might arise. Consequently, we must move forward step by step, gradually introducing things as they are required, according to the capacity of the organization. This is precisely the reason for the maturity levels referred to in the literature on project management. So be consistent in your approach and remember that change needs to be introduced gradually; however, to achieve this, concrete actions must be taken. Don’t forget that we have to learn to walk before we can run.
- Set goals. You need to know exactly what your objective is. Too often, a company’s strategic planning is not sufficiently aligned with its business processes, in order to allow it to achieve its strategic direction and, thus, create value. The main difficulty is communicating and interpreting the strategic actions in terms of concrete projects in order to achieve the objectives in priority areas. A project must support the implementation of a strategic goal. Start by categorizing your projects and making sure each project initiated supports a strategic pillar. If not, get rid of it.
- Prioritize your success criteria. Once projects have been selected according to strategic focus areas, they must be ranked in order of priority and, if necessary, in order of delivery. This step is crucial in order to work within the organization’s capacity to deliver. Set realistic criteria for pursuing your priorities. Again, be pragmatic and start with a few criteria associated with costs, benefits, risks, strategic priorities and finally the availability of human resources. But be careful: Organizations have a strong tendency to overestimate their ability to deliver. Always remember that a project whose benefits are understood by everyone will be more readily accepted by your peers.
- Surround yourself with a team you trust. It is important to be clear about the reasons behind a project and what it is likely to achieve. To a large degree, organizations still operate in silo mode; well-intentioned management believes it is doing what is best for the company, too often to the detriment of its strategic priorities or of certain colleagues. Involve all stakeholders and acknowledge the contribution of all staff who are working to achieve the company’s objectives. A word of caution to all you brave warriors, dead set on delivering at all costs: Innovative managers who follow their convictions and launch headlong into initiatives to make improvements without the support of their peers often find themselves at a dead end, occasionally getting themselves into serious trouble.
- Train your team. An all-too-common error is the failure to promote learning. A project always brings its share of changes and new management practices will inevitably be introduced. Training must be of a high quality and, above all, reflect the day-to-day reality of the work environment. It is essential to encourage learning so that all new items are fully mastered. So provide sufficient time and give people permission to make mistakes.
- Have an effective management framework. When automating new business processes, it is advisable to consider tools that are simple and scalable. This will facilitate the use of a management framework at a particular pace and enable the team to capitalize on each step. The framework will allow all stakeholders to collaborate and exchange decision-making information safely and to interact effectively while improving the company’s performance.
Remember These Sayings
“The daily routine blinds us. Change paralyzes us. And time vindicates the good ideas.”
“Keeping track of your investment projects requires all your attention, not all your time!”
I hope these few steps will allow managers to consider changing the way they manage large investment projects and help them avoid bad press in 2012. It’s a question of choice. A picture is worth a thousand words …
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