It All Comes Down to Project Management

By Sue Bergamo

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Does your organization have a high success rate in delivering IT projects? If the answer to this question is "No", then it’s probably safe to assume that the project management maturity level within your organization is low.

As a former CIO I know project management is one area that many CIO’s tend to take for granted and assume that adequate training is being delivered throughout the IT organization. It’s not that CIO’s don’t believe that project management methodologies aren’t important, they do. It’s just that we have so many other pressing issues on our plate, many of us assume that the staff continues to be adequately trained and that projects are being run within a standard discipline.

As the project management maturity level increases, so does the success rate in delivering projects.

Methodologies come in many standard formats. There are industry standards for application development and infrastructure projects (CMMI, RUP, ITIL), and approaches to use these methodologies within an IT environment (Waterfall, Iterative, Agile), as well as adjunct methodologies to help deliver a project within a full lifecycle (TQM, Six Sigma). CIO’s need to ask their direct reports if they really understand the methodology that was implemented and if it is being used to its fullest extent.

If your organization is a victim of high failure rates in project delivery, then consider reviewing how the organization is being trained and how your resources are utilizing a standard project methodology. Most organizations hire skilled project managers and immediately give them high-visibility initiatives. This seems logical when someone comes into an organization with a much needed skill set. We then rely on luck and believe that these individuals will deliver on-time and on-budget. We’ve all been involved in this type of hiring scenario, either through our own HR department or through a vendor, but it does not guarantee success. Organizational and environment factors can make or break a project’s success.

Many IT organizations also make the mistake of not having a training program for their project managers, either new or existing ones. The reason this is important is that most companies modify a methodology for their use and circumstance. Organizations change and evolve and so should the project management lifecycle. Changes within an organization can lead to failed projects if the methodology isn’t reviewed or modified along with any other changes.

A classic example is when the business creates their own project management office (PMO) and now needs to co-exist with the IT PMO. This scenario also ponders the question if the business and IT are using the same methodology. Delivering a project is much easier, if both groups are utilizing the same project methodology.

Relying on existing project managers to train the other project managers is typically not adequate in relaying valuable information regarding the use of a methodology. But, having seasoned project managers serve as mentors to a new project manager is a great way to keep everyone on track. Good project managers are typically very busy running initiatives and may not have an adequate amount of time to train new or unskilled project managers.

Shadow PM

Have you also considered how many other resources in your organization may be functioning as a project manager, but not have the requisite skill set? In these instances, resources are expected to wear multiple hats and to perform the role of a project manager. In this scenario, developers, architects, engineers, quality technicians or business analysts are expected to deliver a portion of a project within a project’s lifecycle. CIO’s and their staff should not make the assumption that everyone across the organization has a full understanding of the project management methodology and how to use it within an initiative.

In this classic example, a big stumbling block arises in that these sub-project managers may not have had previous training in delivering a project or even have the desire to perform the role of a project manager. In fact, each of these resources is playing the role project manager within the overall project team. As resources are selected to serve in a particular role, management needs to determine the skill set of the individuals and determine if appropriate training or assistance is required.

Over the years, I’ve never met a project manager that truly understands the skill set of the entire team. We begin a project, have frequent status meetings and typically find out at the last minute that an area is not making their date. During the project initiation phase, management should take the time to level set with the entire project team, to gain an understanding of the initiative, the use of the methodology and to set expectations for team deliverables. Having everyone work in concert to deliver an initiative can only help to make the project successful.

As the initiative begins, it is the primary project manager’s responsibility to ensure that all project resources know the milestone dates and necessary documentation, including a communications plan, status meetings, designs, programs, test plans and sign off criteria. This is where the adjunct methodologies come into play, as the sub-groups branch out to deliver their pieces of the initiative.

One of the benefits of a project management methodology is the creation of project templates. These standard documents should be used within all initiatives and departments to continue to promote the use of the methodology, to capture project information and to ensure that as resources move across the organization; they will be skilled in how to deliver any type of project.

When creating a standard methodology, organizations should also consider an approach for various sized projects. Using a full lifecycle methodology for a small enhancement or upgrade may not be the best use of a project manager’s time. The goal is to create a discipline that aids in the success of a project, but not to create an enormous amount of bureaucracy. The key to having a fully functional project methodology is to have buy-in from key stakeholders, including both business customers and IT project managers. Making the methodology easy to use, creates a positive environment where projects are delivered on-time and where all participants will support the use of the discipline.

Show Me the Money

Projects that are delivered on-time are also typically delivered within budget. In the current economic climate, discretionary projects are being cut and having a reputation as a department that can deliver is paramount to long-term survival. CIO satisfaction ratings typically are measured on their ability to deliver projects and to preserve budget dollars. Having a standard and fully utilized project management methodology is one key factor in achieving this success.

Sue Bergamo is the former CIO at Aramark’s WearGuard & Galls companies. She can be reached at suebergamo@yahoo.com.