US project management – combining multiple methods for success

A group of project managers in a video conference

Projects in business are about change: introducing new products and capabilities and making improvements.

Digital transformation – something we hear frequently these days in the USA and elsewhere – is very much about applying digital IT solutions to change the way organizations operate. For transformation to be successful, there is a critical dependence on effective project execution.

Therefore, it’s vital to have best practice project principles defined to align and assign people, get consistency and ensure governance is in place.

But how well have projects in the US performed historically?

I think there’s been too much focus on project delivery execution activities – setting up a charter and ticking off a task list – versus delivery of the outcomes. While there tends to be a drive to accomplish projects on time, stakeholders expect projects to create business value and achieve their ultimate objectives.

US project managers typically want to report that everything is going well. A university course I teach in project management fundamentals gives groups an assignment which purposely omits important elements. While I’d like the student project managers to say the project status is unsatisfactory, most give it a “green” status for “no issues” rather than indicating a yellow or red status to highlight a warning or threat to the project. Great project managers need to be open and honest to warn stakeholders if there are issues, rather than going from a predicted on-time delivery to two years late.

Understanding stakeholder engagement

There’s been a growing recognition that projects have more than one stakeholder.

With the flattening of organization structures – for example, with Agile teams – US projects have become better at engaging with stakeholders more frequently.

But I still question whether US project managers are handling the variety of different stakeholders properly.

Projects in Europe and Australia, for example, seem more collaborative from a decision- making process and recognize that the executive sponsor, product users, resource managers and vendors are all stakeholders.

Best practice methods – PRINCE2

Using ITIL for service management has shown me how best practice instils discipline to create consistency, establish clear roles and responsibilities, have predictable, measurable performance, deliver value and identify areas for improvement.

For project management, PRINCE2 is a structured and straightforward method which is simple to understand and easy to apply. Similar to ITIL, it allows practitioners to focus on what’s necessary in their particular projects. The best practices can be applied specifically to how your organization manages projects, tailoring the themes to meet the needs of each type of project. So smaller projects that don’t require as much planning can be handled with reduced procedures, if you define your approach well.  In other words, tailoring the method without the need for a “big bang” approach that fits all projects.

Many organizations here in the US have been moving from linear project management methodologies to agile-based methods. However, one-size does not fit all and different projects require different strategies. For instance, software development projects, especially those for existing applications, work well in an agile environment. However, in other cases – especially rolling out a new process or product – a linear or hybrid approach may be better suited.

Organizations need to have a clear project management framework defined and then apply the appropriate disciplines to each project as needed. This is the advantage of using PRINCE2.

The method provides a framework for managing all projects and can be tailored specifically for your organization. The good news is that you don’t need to start from scratch on implementing it as you will probably have many of the fundamentals in place already.

However, the added formality of project management definitions and principles in your organization will ensure the successful delivery of projects.

Certifications

PRINCE2’s certification scheme enables project managers to certify at Foundation or Practitioner level. This is a great way for key project managers to learn the specifics of the method, become rooted in the best practice and help organizations successfully adopt these new principles and processes.

For individual project managers, having the certification is good for their professional development. It allows an individual to demonstrate knowledge of an internationally accepted approach to project management and differentiates them from others who do not have a background with a broad project management approach that can be applied in various different groups and organizations.

Building back with better projects

During the past six to seven months of pandemic, many projects have been put on hold.

Now organizations are beginning to recover and look at projects they have put on hold.  Reducing costs is a new priority in the current economy and many groups are starting to internalise where they can save money. This probably means launching projects focused more on cost reduction than developing new capabilities.

Furthermore, with more people working remotely, enterprises need to find better ways to facilitate a distributed workforce and will be driving projects to enhance collaboration capabilities and new management techniques.

Having the right project management disciplines in place ensures change initiatives are cost-effective and have a greater chance of success in delivering business return, stakeholder value and customer experience.

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