Project management in the real world

Who would have thought that project management (PM) would make it to primetime television? While the art of getting things done has hit the big time in "The Apprentice" and made it into mainstream media, it has been watered down for the masses. Project management is not just a skill set — it's a powerful business tool that you can use throughout your organization to boost personal and col...

By Michelle LaBrosse, PMP, CEO, Cheetah Learning November 10, 2004

Who would have thought that project management (PM) would make it to primetime television? While the art of getting things done has hit the big time in “The Apprentice” and made it into mainstream media, it has been watered down for the masses. Project management is not just a skill set — it’s a powerful business tool that you can use throughout your organization to boost personal and collaborative productivity, and ultimately boost your bottom line.

PM: The value builder in your organization

On “The Apprentice,” it looks like PM is a group of people running around trying to figure out how to solve a problem. In reality, PM is the science of getting things done. It’s what every organization and individual needs to do to succeed. The problem in most companies is that there is no set process for PM. According to a February 2003 study by The Center for Business Practices (CBP), the largest PM challenge facing companies is implementing a consistent process.

What happens when there is no common process for getting things done in an organization? From lost time to inconsistency, no process means poor performance.

Project, process, and performance

On the job, you need to focus on all three Ps: Project, process, and performance. A project is any activity in an organization that has a distinct deliverable and a clear beginning and end. When your projects follow a process, then you achieve greater performance.

According to the Standish Group’s CHAOS Report that reviewed more than 40,000 projects in the last 10 years, when there is not a consistent process for doing PM in a company, companies waste up to 20% of all project dollars spent. Beyond dollars, poor PM processes result in schedule delays and lost customers. It can cost organizations a competitive advantage when they are late to market.

The power of PM is a competitive tool for your organization that is easy to learn and can be applied with simple web-based and office automation tools. The performance benefits of a uniform, repeatable approach to PM are not just for the Global 2000. It’s a realistic achievement for companies of all sizes.

Five ways that PM transforms organizations

Develop exponential effectiveness. In most organizations, people work on cross-functional teams to complete projects. For example, a company working to automate their bookkeeping system will have a project team consisting of computer programmers, and specialists in finance, accounting, and computer hardware. When people from different departments know and understand a common PM process to get their work done, they can start to work together without having to design how they are going to do it. They can have fewer time delays and conflicts because there is a common understanding of how the work will progress, how their work together is interdependent, and how they will measure their success.

Empower individuals and team leaders with the skills to succeed. People inherently want to do the right thing and work effectively with others. When there is a common, simple approach for PM and the correct tools are available throughout the enterprise, people are empowered to effectively reach their goals, together and individually.

Create institutional memory. How smart is your company? Industry standard PM practices require a critical project closeout phase that collects lessons learned and gives your organization powerful historical knowledge from across the enterprise. A company that can learn and grow, rather than continually repeat mistakes, will move faster.

Realize return on innovation. An easy-to-use PM methodology gives organizations a way to truly put innovation in motion and make implementation a reality. It’s easy for a good idea to get derailed when people struggle to implement the details of the work required to bring the idea to fruition. A framework makes it achievable for people to move from vision to action with a comprehensive project plan that supports their objectives.

Turn information into insight. When easy-to-use PM principles are applied throughout your organization, you have a competitive advantage by turning information into insight. You capture best practices and know what is and isn’t working in your organization. You can also get new products to market faster and use the best information out there — information based on your customer’s insights.

Benefits from improving PM capability

Some parts of the organization are better than others at doing PM. When you look at areas of your organization that seem to have a higher innate ability to do PM, you’ll see these commonalities:

People with more technical skill sets are attracted to the work required. People attracted to more technical fields (such as engineering, IT, finance) are more inclined to prefer the management rigor required by PM. Creative people attracted to new product development and marketing typically prefer less process and work flow structure.

More projects often equal better ways of working. People who are continually assigned to projects naturally create more streamlined and effective ways of working.

Seeing success breeds more success. People who have readily available examples of how other people in their industries are successful with PM are more inclined to use techniques that others found to be successful. The IT technical field in all disciplines has ample amounts of PM practitioners and material published. Specific industries — such as the pharmaceutical, automotive, and aerospace industries — have a more mature adoption of PM, while the advertising industry has a very low adoption of PM.

Critical success factors for using PM to build your business

Projects break down when there is no one accountable. These success factors demonstrate the importance of accountability, as well as the training and tools needed for success.

ROI: PM’s impact on the bottom line

Surveys, studies, and statistics point to two things: PM impacts the bottom line, and return on investment is quantifiable. In their CHAOS Report , the Standish Group conservatively estimates that 20% of money spent on projects is wasted due to a company not having a consistent approach to PM. Research by the Center for Business Practices shows that PM improvement initiatives improve project performance by up to 50% for the first project and can continue for each new project if the enterprise offers ongoing support with PM tools. What other business investments can pay off in one year and increase exponentially?

Your checklist for power PM in your organization

PM is a secret weapon for your organization. It is the science of getting things done, a process that can create competitive advantage for your organization, and ultimately impact your bottom line with real return on investment. Here is your checklist to unlock the power of PM in your organization.

  • Know the business drivers and return on investment for adopting an enterprise-wide approach to PM. Make sure your investment in PM process improvements, training, and tools makes sense for your operation.

  • Use a simple and proven approach to align the efforts of project teams.

  • Have people at every level of the organization learn the skills needed to effectively use PM to improve their value to the organization. Have people get the right training for their unique needs.

  • Share best practice PM processes throughout enterprise.

  • Get big wins early on by leading with parts of the organization that have the least skills in PM and the most to gain by using a simple PM approach.

  • Provide a simple and effective project scheduling and tracking tool.

  • Measure the effectiveness of your project managers throughout the project using web-based tools.

    • Critical success factors for using PM

      Critical success factor Accountable parties
      Choose projects aligned with strategic objectives Senior executives
      Select the right projects that will enable you to achieve your strategic objectives.
      Focus on magic numbers: Three and seven Project sponsors and managers
      Keep projects under three months with project teams of no more than seven people.
      Embrace a PM process All project team participants
      Empower your project teams with an easy-to-use PM method that enables them to quickly produce consistent results.
      Measure and quantify Project managers
      Measure project performance and project manager performance.
      Author Information
      Michelle LaBrosse created a simple and highly effective project management process that is outlined in her book Cheetah Project Management. Michelle has been focused on pioneering techniques in learning and project management. She holds a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering and an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering, and has done extensive post-graduate work with the MIT Center for Advanced Educational Studies. Recently, she was invited to attend the prestigious Harvard Business School Owner’s and President’s program for fast growing, highly successful companies. She can be reached at 888-659-201 or .