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Monday, December 18, 2006

Project management: the missing discipline

Tom Mochal, writing for Tech Republic, has a good piece on why organizations fail at project management. His top reason? Organization don't know how to implement culture change. He writes:
Most organizations don't know how to manage culture change in general and project management in particular. You can't just train people and turn them loose. You can't just buy MS Project and turn people loose. You have to have a long-term, multi-faceted approach to managing culture change. It takes hard work and resources. Most organizations aren't committed to focus on the culture change long-term, and they don't want to spend any resources to do it. Is it any wonder then, that six months later, project management deployment ends up in the trash pile of culture change initiatives that have all failed in the past?
I would state Tom's reason more generally: project management and change management are not well-developed disciplines in many organizations. Through many years of experience, most managers are good at managing day-to-day operations. The most successful are good at budgeting, hiring, motivating subordinates, maintaining relationships, organizing the work, and managing performance--in other words, all the things it takes to keep a functional group operating effectively.

But what happens when an organization is undergoing change? The skills that are needed to manage ongoing operations are not the same as those needed to change those operations. For example, managers who only work with day-to-day operations probably do not have basic project management skills such as defining objectives, breaking down the project into discrete tasks and activities, planning and estimating costs and schedules, identifying the critical path, analyzing risks, and developing contingency plans.

Why ERP initiatives fail
This explains why many enterprise system projects such as ERP fail. Although selecting the wrong system is a sure fire path to disaster, ERP projects generally do not fail because of software problems. ERP initiatives fail because organizations think that ERP is a computer project. But ERP's use of computers does not make ERP a computer project. It is an organizational change initiative. If successful, it will change how many groups and individuals do their jobs.

After hearing war stories from other companies with ERP, executives may understand that ERP projects are difficult to manage. But many do not understand that project management, as Mochal points out, is more than just a set of tools such as MS Project. It is about dealing with the human and cultural issues surrounding change and getting people to accept and implement change. It also takes special skills in change management such as recognizing cultural and political impediments to change, identifying organizational incentives that encourage wrong behavior, team building, negotiating, and resolving conflicts--skills that many otherwise good managers do not have, because they do not have to lead the effort for change very often.

How can an organization be successful in project management? First, by recognizing that project management is not a core skill of most managers and appreciating the change management aspects of project management, as I've pointed out. Second, by treating project management as a formal discipline within the organization.

The project management office
Many companies elevate project management as a discipline by establishing a project management office (PMO). The PMO can function as a center-of-excellence: training, advising, and coaching line-of-business managers in project management. Or, it can function as a home for the project managers themselves, assigning project managers to projects in the business units as needed. Or, it can be a combination of the two.

Regardless of how the PMO is organized, the main point is that project management, including the cultural elements of change management, must be recognized and developed as a key discipline in the organization.

Related posts
Computer Economics: Staffing for Project Management and the PMO

by Frank Scavo, 12/18/2006 09:54:00 AM | permalink | e-mail this!

 Reader Comments:

We need to change the term project management to something that doesn't sound like anyone who can create a list can be a PM. It's not about tracking hours and updating charts, it's about getting results. And this is a people challenge.

Project management, properly executed is a high level, high value activity.

Maybe we should call it RESULTS MANAGEMENT!

Paul Sita
Innovative IT Consulting.
I couldn't agree more. As a Project Manager (certified too - PMP), I find many firms think a project manager is someone who uses MS Project. The "big three" - cost, schedule, resources - are administrative factors. There are many other dimensions necessary for success, such as leadership, organizational culture, and experience. I will be researching these parameters beginning in July 2007 for my dissertation, which will be oriented toward success factors in Projects.
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