Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Do We Have to Own Projects Start to Finish?

I know what I am about to suggest is controversial.  I will state up front that it is not the most ideal situation.  In my experience, over 90% of the companies that I work with have more projects than project managers.  This is a problem that plagues the industry.  Companies should recognize this as an issue and address it by either hiring or reducing the project load.  Instead, they give projects to other people who are not project managers, nor do they want to be.  In these environments, I have a new theory.  Do project managers have to own the project start to finish?

I know that is what we have been taught and what we believe.  However, if a company will not commit to the resources necessary, the answer can't be to wallow in self pity.  I recently worked with an organization on the maturity of their project management practice.  Using the capacity model that I explained in an earlier blog post, I found that the company needed 35 project managers and they had five on staff.  When we presented this to the CIO, he stated that he would just tap 30 of his resource managers to become project leads.  This is just as ludicrous as asking 30 people who finished high school math to help with the backlog in accounting.  It would never happen!  Yet it does on a daily basis in the industry of project management.  When we countered that the 30 people were not trained project managers, he stated that the 30 should be mentored by the existing project managers.  This would further reduce the time that the project managers had on their projects.

The decision was devastating.  We were all at a loss on how to proceed.  To further complicate the issue, the client was on Clarity.  This would mean the training of 30 people who are not project managers how to perform project management functions and try to protect the normalized data that was within Clarity.  It was definitely an uphill battle.  This is where the theory was born.  I held a meeting with the project managers.  Although we want to, the real question is do we have to own a project from start to finish?  We began to analyze the activities  that were required to run the project.  We came up with the average time it took to do the normal project management activities and the value that each activity played in the overall success of the project.  The high value activities were creating the WBS, project plan, risk analysis, and high level monitoring.  The lower value activities were scheduling meetings, writing meeting minutes, filling out the various reports.  There are some of you out there that may disagree with these value rankings, but this was the case at this company.

What we began to see is that if we split the duties on each project, there was a way to improve the quality of projects without the hiring of 30 more project managers.  What we decided was that all projects would be planned by project managers and they would be responsible for creating the initial schedule and loading that into Clarity.  They would also monitor the status logs, issues and risks, and monitor variances.  The project leads would schedule and conduct the status meetings, be responsible for the meeting minutes and status reports, and handle the day to day monitoring of the tasks.  This worked especially well since most of the project leads were resource managers and the tasks that they were monitoring came from staff that reported to them.  This approach allowed the project managers to focus on planning, risk, corrective, and preventative actions.  The project leads were responsible for day to day execution.  If projects were going well, then the project manager was free to monitor the other projects.  If the project wasn't going well, the project manager could re-engage and put the project back on track.

This model has been in place for over a year now and has been quite successful.  The overall quality if the projects rose because every project was being planned by a certified project manager.  Since then, the company has hired 5 more project managers to bring them up to 10.  They are beginning to realize the value that the certification brings and that there is a method to the madness. 

Again, I know this is not the ideal setup.  It is an effective one for a company that has a low maturity, questions the value of project management, and will not make the investments required to be successful.  This is a nice bridging technique that can be measured and prove the need for properly trained resources.  So I will answer my own question.  Do we need to own the project start to finish?  Ideally, yes.  However, with the current state of project management, it is time we start challenging some of the older principles and come up with innovative new ways to solve old problems.  So the answer is:  not always!

That is my story and I am sticking to it! 


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