Project Success Starts with Letting Project Managers Manage

August 23rd, 2012   •   no comments   

There are ten general areas that Voluminant tackles in our business performance improvement efforts — all in pursuit of helping companies reduce costs and improve the quality of their products or services. One of those areas is project management.

Dozens of studies and meta-analyses have been conducted on the merits of effective project management and the costs associated with not managing projects well (or at all). A study by the Standish Group estimates that 52% of all projects finished at 189% of their initial project budgets. Think about it: THEY SPENT TWICE AS MUCH AS THEY PLANNED TO ON THE PROJECT. In a world of constraining budgets, how is this justifiable? And you know what? It doesn’t matter whether the project is a social media effort, the development of a training program or the construction of a new building. It doesn’t matter whether you are paying an outside resource to do the work or if the resource is a salaried employee. And, if the project has a budget it doesn’t matter what type of project it is. Time is money. If you spend more time on a project than you expect to, you lose money. The VALUE of the project deliverable goes down as your costs go up.

But, you know what? As someone that runs multiple projects around the country with billion dollar companies, I care about the quantitative cost of the projects, of course. But, at the end of the day, the headache associated with a poorly planned and executed project is what kills me. It makes me want to walk away.

Let me put it to you this way: I have this friend. . .

Whose organization submitted a project proposal to another area of his large organization in February. The project proposal was costed-out, resourced-out, and scheduled-out. All the elements were there. My friend followed up with his point of contact every three weeks expecting to get the go-ahead. “It looks good,” the contact said. “We’re a go, I just need the official word.” Then one day he was contacted by a contractor outside the organization who said something akin to ‘Yeah, we’re heading up this project for XYZ organization and we were told that you were to be involved…’

Involved? It was our project, not involved. And who, by the way, are you? (This was a situation akin to a plumber managing the construction of a house and the contractor not being informed that ground was just broken.)

Next thing you know, my friend (the head of the department of this large organization and a competent project manager) was being tasked with deadlines to complete. . .  tasks! Tasks for the plumber — an individual with little to no experience performing and successfully completing a project like this for this organization and who had no control or oversight over the group who was to be completing 99.99% of the work on this project this plumber thought he was managing!

Then it dawned on my friend. This wasn’t about the project plan. . .  that was fine because it was his. It was the fact that while the interest in the project was there, the players had changed. It was the fact that the project was initiated by someone else within the organization who was NOT his point of contact. And, it was the fact that that person who initiated the project had transferred responsibility and authority of the project to the plumber, while accountability still remained on my friend and his team. Kinda like asking a contractor team to build a house without nails.

There is a simple tool called a Responsibility Assignment Matrix that is used in the project world. It is one of the most simple tools out there but is one of the most unheralded. The Responsibility Assignment Matrix, or RAM, identifies who does what task on a project. The more advanced version of the RAM is the RACI which denotes each human resources level of involvement.

My bet is that my friend and the plumber would have had dramatically different ideas as to who was managing the project, but yet 96 out of 100 tasks on the RAM would have been done by people on my friends’ team. Four would have been done by the plumber. Then there’s the person who initiated the project within the organization who didn’t have enough insight or sense to call the contractor to build the house. . .  she went to the plumber.

The bottom line is that whether you are talking about employees in an organization, human resources on a project, or team members on a sports team, everyone has to have a clear picture as to what their role and responsibility is — where it begins and where it ends. They each need to know what they will be held accountable for doing, by when and to what standard.

Without it, the project will fail from a cost, schedule and technical perspective. But, that will be the least of your concerns. The bigger issue will be the headache of managing relationships and putting people in their right place along the way without engendering too much hate and discontent.

For Godsake’s people, the first step to project success is setting it up the right way, where “right” means talking to the correct people — in this case, the contractor not the plumber.

Time to pop an Advil.

- Stammer