Project Management Support Factors
The second-most critical success factor for project success is for the organizational culture to support project management processes. Every organization conducts “projects,” but the most successful ones embrace a formal project management process.
How does the organizational culture need to support project management? Think about the organizations you have worked in. Was there a formal charter, written by the sponsor, to initiate projects? What about a formal process for selecting projects in the first place? Was there a prescribed method for going through the phases of a project? Did you have reusable templates for doing planning, estimating, tracking, reporting and closing projects? (For that matter, does your organization even do these activities?) Were clear project roles and responsibilities defined and communicated? All of these items are good indications of organizational support.
As mentioned last month, studies show that executive support of projects is critical for project success. Executive support for project management in general is crucial to overall organizational performance as well. Here is a checklist of what that support might look like:
- Engaged sponsors, project managers, team.
- Executives available for help with project management deliverables (Charter, Scope Statements, Status Reports, etc.).
- Formal training, mentoring and coaching occur to develop project managers’ skills.
- Project success is defined at the organizational level.
- Rewards exist for successfully managed projects.
- Communication of risks and risk strategies are encouraged.
- Yellow and red project status are not discouraged.
Engaged Sponsors, Project Managers, Team
So, how do sponsors become engaged and committed to project management in the first place? Convincing dubious sponsors is not easy and requires making a good business case.
Tom Mochal in his 2003 TechRepublic article “A Closer Look at Making a Business Case for Project Management,” wrote, “Ultimately, you aren’t going to be able to sell project management using hard metrics. Implementing project management is a culture-change initiative, and, for the most part, all initiatives of this type are going to have to rely on some soft numbers.”
He maintains that a “grass roots” approach may work best by focusing and publicizing project efforts on where the organization’s project weaknesses lie. By emphasizing how formal project management can improve an organization’s performance, Mochal contends, it should be easier to engage executive sponsors and other stakeholders. That in turn will lead to more improvements and so on.
Executives Available for Help With Project Management Deliverables
As started in last month’s article in this series, user involvement and executive support are the top two factors behind project success. A major part of this involvement and support is participating in projects.
- For sponsors, this means they will either contribute to or ideally write project charters. An entire article could be devoted to this issue, but sponsors must own their projects and that starts with formally sanctioning them.
- End users will participate in projects, particularly to help uncover their “product” requirements when the project scope is being defined.
- Likewise, stakeholders will review project deliverables on a timely basis. Approving project outcomes needs to be formal and is an essential part of properly closing out projects.
Project Success Is Defined at the Organizational Level
Another aspect of a supportive environment for project management is the extent to which success on projects is identified at the organizational level. First, having clear, objective criteria for successful projects fosters better planning and clearer business objectives. Vague measures of success often lead to subjective assessments of whether it is achieved, which in turn can be influenced by power, politics and other non-productive variables. Outcomes assessments are yet another tool to formally define and measure project success.
We usually call projects successful only if they go to completion and produce what was expected. But, success can also apply to projects, for example, that were cancelled after the concept phase because the proposed product was too complicated or expensive to produce. Here again, organization-wide success standards can include projects terminated early.
Formal Training, Mentoring and Coaching Occur
Two keys to project success have to do with the project manager and project team’s skills. According to a recent Standish Group report, an experienced project manager and skilled staff are No. 3 and No. 10, respectively, in the factors contributing to successful projects. Experience and skills can be developed the old-fashioned way—through on-the-job learning, trial-and-error and costly mistakes. Formal training for project managers and team members helps improve the odds and speeds the process.
Training programs are a great way to jump-start the skills process. They promote teamwork among participants, foster a common vocabulary and, when done right, can provide opportunities to practice new skills immediately in the classroom. However, training is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for adopting new skills. People need experienced mentors or coaches on the job to obtain advice and guidance. A formal mentoring program is often one of the missions of a project management office (PMO), if it exists. Whether done through a PMO or other means, formal mentoring to develop skills is another ingredient for success.
Rewards Exist for Successfully Managed Projects
Project managers and team members must be motivated to finish a project successfully. Motivation comes in many forms, and one of them is to provide monetary or other rewards for successful projects.
“The project team must have a sense of urgency to bring the product to market and be personably held accountable for any shortfalls,” according to MindNetworks.com. “Basing a portion of a person’s annual bonus on the overall success of a project is a method we like to encourage accountability.” MindNetworks.com lists team accountability among the top five factors contributing to project success.
Communication of Risks and Risk Strategies Is Encouraged
Risk identification and management are key contributors to a successful project. Risks can be project-related, product-related or otherwise. Project managers need to spend time doing risk planning and project tasks will need to include steps for risk mitigation and response. Sponsors need to acknowledge the time needed for managing risk and to approve funding for it in their projects.
Yellow and Red Project Status Are Not Discouraged
A common complaint heard from executive project sponsors is, “All I ever hear on project status reports is that is that everything is fine. Then, when projects get in trouble they seem to do it overnight. I wish project managers would honestly report the status of their projects.”
A related complaint can be heard from project managers: “All my sponsor wants to hear is that the project is going well. If I ever report otherwise, they either give me bored looks or yell at me. I wish sponsors would handle bad news better and help me when my project gets in trouble.”
The truth is that both perspectives exist and both speak to a need to honestly report project status accurately and to receive the news objectively. Yellow and red status indicators (i.e., warning and danger signs) are simply a reflection of a project’s current state, and not an indication of poor performance.
Even without these visible signs of support, you can still manage a successful project. But, your odds are improved when the organizati