Specials: How Today’s Executives are Taking Advantage of Project Management

For several decades, executives viewed project management as a necessary evil. First of all, there was no guarantee that project management would even work. Some executives even hoped that it wouldn’t work. Second, project managers would possibly be making decisions that should be made only at the executive levels. This could threaten the executive’s power base. Third, project managers might request a great deal of authority to get the job done, thus reducing some of the existing authority of senior management. And fourth, project managers could become very powerful, perhaps more so than some executives, because of the amount of information they possess.

The inherent fears that executives have had over the years have slowly subsided. The reason is simple: project management works, and works well. This has been adequately demonstrated during recessionary times where companies began using project management and were able to perform more work, in less time, with fewer resources, and without any sacrifice to quality. During unfavorable economic conditions, management is more willing to accept changes to the way work is being performed than during favorable times, during which nobody wants to “rock the boat.” Project management seems to flourish during recessions and unfavorable economic conditions.

Now that there seems to be consensus that project management works, senior management has begun the quest for identifying ways that they can maximize the benefits and usefulness of project management. Four such approaches are discussed below:

Good Project Management Leads to Strategic Business Partnerships

Companies have traditionally viewed each customer as a one-time opportunity, and after this customer’s needs were met, emphasis was placed upon finding other customers. This was acceptable as long as there was a potentially large customer base. Today, project-driven organizations, namely those that survive on the income from a continuous stream of customer-funded projects, are implementing the “engagement project management” approach. With engagement project management, each potential new customer is approached in a way that is similar to an engagement in marriage where the contractor is soliciting a long-term business relationship with the customer, rather than a one-time opportunity. With this approach, contractors are selling not only deliverables and complete solutions to the client’s business needs, but also a willingness to make changes to the way that they manage their projects in order to receive future contracts from this client and obtain strategic business partnerships.

Customers Want Highly Flexible Project Management Methodologies

If you want repeat business from a client and to be treated as a strategic partner, then you must be willing to adapt your project management methodology to the client’s business model. Telling the client how wonderful your methodology is and that you will use this “rigid” methodology on the client’s project sounds like a good idea, but it does not necessarily lead to a sustainable business partnership. For a sustainable business partnership to exist, the contractor must have a flexible methodology that can be fit to the way the client does business.

For this to work, we must give up the idea that methodologies must be based upon rather rigid policies and procedures. Instead, policies and procedures must be replaced with forms, guidelines, templates and checklists that can be adapted to the client’s needs. The project manager must have the authority, or perhaps freedom, to make changes to these documents as needed in order to align project management to the client’s business model.

Customers’ Satisfaction Requires Customer Input and Feedback

To maintain a high level of customer satisfaction and hopefully a long-term business relationship as stated previously, customers should be given the opportunity to provide input on how the contractor’s project management methodology can be better utilized in the future. Some companies have added into their methodology a life cycle phase entitled “Customer Satisfaction Management.” This life cycle phase takes place after administrative closure is completed. The phase involves a meeting between the client and the contractor, and in attendance are the project managers from each organization, the sponsors, selected team members and functional managers, and the sales force. The question that needs to be addressed by the contractor is, “What can we do better on the next project we perform for you?” “What changes can we make to our project management approach to better serve you on the next project?”

While this approach of adding in a life cycle phase for customer satisfaction management seems plausible, it can create severe problems. Customers may now expect to have a significant voice in the design of the contractor’s EPM methodology. One company decided to solicit input from one of their most important clients when developing their project management methodology. Although this created goodwill and customer satisfaction with one client, it created a severe problem with other clients that had different requirements and different views of project management. The result was a different project management methodology for each client. How many different project management approaches should be allowed must be based upon the company’s maturity level in project management. There are other issues that must be addressed as well. How much freedom should a client be given in making recommendations for changes to a contractor’s EPM system? How much say should a customer have in how a contractor manages projects? What happens if soliciting this input allows customers to begin telling contractors how to do their job? Obviously there are risks to be considered for this level of customer satisfaction.

Better Metrics Lead to Informed Decision-Making

Traditionally, the only metrics that were reported to a client or stakeholders were metrics related to time and cost. Today, project management is being converted into metrics management. Clients and stakeholders must be able to make critical decisions on projects. Therefore, designing and using the right project management metrics allows executives and stakeholders to make informed decisions rather than guesses based upon partial or inaccurate information.

The days of finding fault with project management seems to have disappeared. Senior management is now recognizing the true benefits of project management and we can expect to see further benefits appear in the future. Project management cannot guarantee that all of your projects will be successful but it can certainly improve the chances of success.

© 2011 allPM.com.  This post was originally written on October 12, 2011

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