PM-Foundations – Why Manage a Project?

The other day I was at a client participating in a discussion on strengthening the portfolio management processes, when someone asked the question, “Do we understand what a project is?” This question made me smile. After all of this discussion, we don’t know what a project is, really? From my perspective it is best to keep the definition of a project very straightforward. A project is an effort to achieve a specific goal that has a definitive beginning and end.

 

When you break down this statement, the following are the important elements:

  • Effort – Projects require resources to complete. These resources generally include money and people. Therefore events that “just happen” are not considered projects (many refer to these as Acts of God).
  • Goal – The goal represents the desired outcome that the project is attempting to achieve. The goal is what defines the end of the project.
  • Beginning and End – The most important element of the definition of a project is that it is a temporary endeavor. Projects always have a beginning and an end (even if the end does not represent a successful outcome). The fact that a project is a temporary endeavor is what differentiates it from an operational process. Operational processes are repeated on a day to day basis to perform on-going business functions.

While most people can quickly agree upon the definition of a project, I think the more important question in the context of portfolio management is, “Which efforts should be purposefully and formally managed as projects?” Many project management enthusiasts would respond to this question with a passionate, “Everything, of course!” I would counter that projects can be managed as actions planned and executed within the context of operational processes. For example, I have seen many continuous improvement type initiatives successfully run “in-line” with the completion of operational work. From my perspective, the organization needs to define the efforts that should be separated from operational work, and managed as part of the project portfolio. This approach allows organizations to focus on achieving successful outcomes on the efforts that directly align with business strategies / priorities. Projects that do not fit in the project portfolio are either thrown out, or completed as part of performing normal business operations.

5 Guidelines for When to Manage an Effort as a Project

Below are my top 5 reasons to formalize an effort as a project, and manage it within the project portfolio.

1. Strategic Initiative – If an effort is tied directly to one of the organization’s key strategies or top priorities, it must be formalized as a project. These efforts need the visibility and rigor that a project provides to ensure the organization is demonstrating and communicating progress on its key strategies.

2. Requires Funding – Efforts that require additional funding / resources are difficult to run “under the radar”. The project initiation process facilitates the justification and approval of funds for these efforts. This process ensures that the organization is investing in the “right” initiatives.

3. Involves Opportunity Cost – An initiative may not require incremental funds, but involves a decision to reassign resources from another effort to initiate this effort. There is an opportunity cost related to stopping or slowing the other effort. Again, the project initiation process facilitates making decisions of this nature, and ensures that resources are working on the “right” initiatives.

4. Cross-Functional – Many efforts require facilitation of decisions and coordination of resources across different areas within the organization. Formalizing the effort as a project enables the level of coordination required to ensure its success.

5. Something New – When an effort is introducing something new to the organization (e.g., process, product, or technology) the effort needs a higher level of visibility to ensure the organization is prepared to accept and effectively leverage the new capability. Formalizing the effort as a project provides this increased level of visibility.

When do you need a project manager?

I feel obligated to discuss a related and somewhat controversial question within the project management community. When should a project manager be assigned to manage a project? From my perspective, all projects must have someone who performs the role of the project manager. I do not believe that projects will be consistently successful without someone that is formally responsible and accountable for what is delivered, when, and how much it costs. The question then becomes, when should the project manager assigned be a dedicated and fully qualified project manager, rather than a person that is performing the role as part of another role on the team (e.g., team lead)? Although I am of the belief that projects are generally more successful with a dedicated and fully qualified project manager performing the role, I do think there are projects and situations that can be successful without one. It is important to understand the project and situation when making the determination of who will perform the project manager role on the team. Here are some things to consider when selecting the project manager for your project.

  • Strategic – Is a key priority or strategy of the organization tied to the success of the project? If the answer to this question is “yes”, you should have a “real” project manager assigned to manage the project. It is common sense that a competent project manager will significantly reduce the risk of a challenged or failed project. Why put a key company priority at risk by cutting a corner on the project manager role?
  • Size & Complexity – As the number of deliverables and activities grows on an effort, so does the need for a qualified project manager on the project. The best indicator of complexity is the number and type of dependencies (both internal to the project, as well as dependencies on external activities or projects). An experienced project manager is going to do a much better job managing a large and complex project schedule, than someone who is performing the function as part of another role. In addition, an experienced project manager will more effectively manage the increased level of change that comes with larger and more complex projects.
  • Resources – Is the core team and stakeholder community cross-functional? Diversity on project teams helps drive better project outcomes, but also introduces challenges in terms of leading and controlling the project. An experienced project manager will more effectively establish and manage expectations on the cross functional core team and within the overall stakeholder community.
  • Cost – Is the cost of the project material to the organization (based upon impact on the investment portfolio or operating results)? Effectively managing a project budget is one of the most common areas that trips up an inexperienced project manager. Experienced project managers understand how to prepare a budget, forecast variances, and as required, implement corrective actions.

 

 

 

 

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Using SharePoint to Support the Project Office – Portfolio Management

My blogs about using SharePoint to improve project delivery have been focused on processes and collaboration at the project team level. At the project team level, SharePoint can be used to streamline processes, increase team collaboration, and more effectively measure project performance. This is where most clients start to drive improvements in project delivery performance.

There is also a great opportunity to use SharePoint to improve the effectiveness of your Project Office, with different areas of focus, and different resulting benefits. At the Project Office level, SharePoint can be used to improve visibility of your project portfolio, govern the way work gets done across the portfolio, and uplift the project management processes and tools utilized by project teams. These improvements drive stronger relationships with your key customers, better control of projects throughout the project life cycle, and consistent application of more effective and efficient project management practices.

Portfolio Reporting

Maintaining project profile and performance information at the project team level provides the ability to “roll-up” the project information to a project portfolio dashboard. Portfolio reporting is utilized to communicate to key customers the status of projects supporting their business unit strategies. SharePoint enables portfolio dashboard reporting without creating overhead or redundant processes within your Project Office. It also provides the ability for customers to consume more detail about individual projects by providing links to project sites and project status reports.

Below are a couple very simple examples of the portfolio dashboard, one sorted by project phase and the other by business unit. Key project information can be communicated on the dashboard (project name, business unit, project phase, project status, budget status, actual spend to-date, target date, % complete, project manager), as well as a link to the project status report and/or project site to obtain additional information. With some minor help from your SharePoint Development staff, the look and feel of your dashboard can be further enhanced to include things like stoplights for the project status.

Active Projects by Project Phase

Active Projects by Business Unit

Governance

Many of my colleagues hate the concept of governance. To them it represents overhead and “red tape” that slows down the process of getting actual work done. To me, governance represents an enabler that makes it easier for customers to initiate projects, as well as establish a process that ensures that projects delivered meet customer expectations. SharePoint can be utilized to implement workflow and reporting around the project intake process. The project intake process allows customer to submit projects ideas directly, increase the visibility of project requests, and reduce the cycle times associated with the project initiation phase of the project.

SharePoint also provides the capability to manage portfolio and milestone reviews with key customers. This can be accomplished by creating a Project Office level calendar, and leveraging meeting workspaces to collaborate on key deliverables and manage follow-up actions. Strong processes in this area helps ensure that your teams are working on the right projects (aligned well with business strategies), and that projects delivered are meeting the expectations of your customers. Below is an example of the Project Office calendar of events.

Project Office Processes & Tools

The SharePoint collaboration platform can be leverage to uplift the processes and tools utilized across the project portfolio. A very simple example of improving tools at the Project Office level is creating a list to manage project manager assignments. A contact list with metadata added to collect information about project manager assignments can be added to the Project Office site to improve the cycle time associated with assigning a project manager for a new project. Below is a summary view of the project manager assignments list.

Another example of leveraging SharePoint to upgrade Project Office processes and tools is creating a central repository (using document libraries) for maintaining project management processes, tools and reports. This central repository enables more consistent application of key practices across the project portfolio. Collaboration amongst project managers facilitates sharing of processes and tools “in-line” with completion of project work. Project Office resources leverage the information captured during the project managers’ collaboration to implement continuous improvements to the project management process and tools. Metadata added to the process library helps organize the documents by process area, document type, and status of the document. Below is an example view of the process and reporting libraries.

5 Ways SharePoint Improves the Effectiveness of the Project Office

  • Portfolio Dashboard – The project dashboard represents a “roll-up” of key project information maintained on project sites. Without introducing redundant processes, the Project Office can provide improved visibility of projects throughout the project life cycle to key customers.
  • Project Intake – Customers have the ability to easily submit project requests in SharePoint. Implementation of workflow associated with the project requests provides improved visibility of the requests, and reduces the cycle time associated with the project initiation phase.
  • Portfolio Governance – The Project Office calendar and meeting workspaces are utilized to effectively manage customer interactions associated with on-going portfolio reviews, as well as specific project milestone reviews.
  • Team Utilization – The Project Office site can be utilized to manage project manager assignments and utilization across the project portfolio.
  • Centralized Process & Tools Library – Document libraries can be utilized to establish a central repository for project management processes, tools and reports. The Project Office drives improvements to these processes and tools in parallel with completing project work.