(1) Project Management
The Project Management Office (Video)
Project management is all about success. Successful projects deliver value on time and under budget. Value is anything that benefits the company-or the person-that receives it. The problem is that many projects do not succeed. Some fail altogether, costing time and money and delivering, well, absolutely nothing. Others come in very late or way over budget. Others solve the wrong problem, delivering a lot less value than expected. Project management is the application of all the tools, techniques, and methods people have come up with to try to deliver success on unique, one-time efforts. These skills include managing time, money, and teams of people to deliver successful results, and a whole lot more.
Some of these techniques are over 100 years old, some are less than five. But they are all tried and true. They work. We save time by learning from the best. When we learn PM we learn processes that work. This focus on process is why I say that PM is an unusual way of looking at the world. When we are in school we learn lots of things, but do we ever have a course that focuses on how to learn? Did you ever see a syllabus with topics like how to understand, how to think, how to write a paper? In the same way, in the world of business we are asked to succeed in many things.
Many people think that project management is a matter of creating schedules and budgets. Actually, that is the smallest part of the job. The biggest job is to bring people together to solve problems and take advantage of new opportunities. Yes, we manage information about value, quality, time, and cost. But we do that with a purpose. We do that so that we-and everyone on the project team, and also the Customer-can make good decisions. Then we write down those decisions, build an action plan, and help everyone follow the plan to success. And we change the plan when we need to. Project management is not pushing papers. It is an exciting blend of working with people, clarifying ideas, and taking responsibility for actual results. And those results improve people’s lives and build better companies.
Are you good at getting things done? Are you good at leading a team of people to get big things done well, on time, and under budget? On a scale of 1 to 5 how would you rate yourself at that? Whatever your rating, that is how good a project manager you are today.
This may sound strange, but projects are all around us. We are doing projects all the time. As you will see, even reading this book might be a project. The PMI defines a project as a temporary endeavor undertaken to achieve a unique product, service, or result. A project is temporary because it has a definite start date, or project launch date, and a definite date of completion. The planned date of completion is when we think we will finish and deliver the results. The actual date of the end of the project is when we do deliver-or when we give up and call it quits. The other key element of a project is that it is unique. The result is not the same as anything else we will ever create. The work we do is not exactly the same as the work we do on other projects. Uniqueness is what distinguishes projects from routine, production work.
Work ranges from routine production activities at one extreme to varied, unique products at the other extreme. ‘‘Is this a project?’’ is not a yes/no question. Rather, the more unique the work is, the more project management thinking and tools are useful to help get the job done right.
Routine, repetitive work where deadlines are not crucial is production work, or operations. If you want to manage operations well, get steady people who like having a routine and develop written standard operating procedures. In production work, the goal is to produce the same results day after day. Management offers value by ensuring consistent results and increasing efficiency, that is, getting more work done at lower cost. Bookkeeping is a good example of operations work. If the work is cyclical, but each cycle has crucial deadlines and has some different work, then project tools become more useful. For example, I recommend that publishers and editors use project planning tools for magazine production, at least for the first several issues. Each issue of the magazine has unique content and the deadlines are crucial. As a result, project management tools are quite useful.
Some jobs, such as building a custom house, are done just once. Project management is really useful here; in fact, project management methods have been used in the construction industry since the Empire State Building was built in less than a year, being finished in 1931. When girders arrived in New York City to be welded together to build the frame of the Empire State Building they were still warm from the steel forges in Pittsburgh where they had been forged, over 300 miles away. Why? Because fast production reduces cost. How? By using milestone charts.
What projects demand the greatest project management skill and best tools?
Those that use fast-changing technology like aerospace engineering and computer systems. In these fields, project managers often have to design their own tools, or change to new tools or newer computers in the middle of a project. Working in a constantly changing field demands the best project management methods, and many of these methods were developed by NASA during the Gemini and Apollo projects that got us into space and onto the moon. People who like this kind of work like change and new challenges, rather than steady routines.
Coming back to Earth, we find projects around us all the time. At home, preparing for a special event such as a birthday party can be a project. In fact, a number of people have come up to me in my project management classes and said, ‘‘I’m getting married this year, and now I know how to get everything ready for the wedding.’’ Every wedding is unique, and so every wedding is a project. Staying married, on the other hand, is production work. In school, preparing for a big exam or presentation is a project. So are bigger academic jobs, such as preparing for comprehensive exams or writing a PhD dissertation. At work, we can use project management for anything on a deadline, and for anything we have not done before.
Take a moment and write down all the projects in your life right now: at home, at school, in leisure or service activities, and at work. Just make a list of everything unique, everything with a deadline.
Many projects fail. In information technology-computer installation and software development-about half the projects fail, and over 80% run late or over budget. The failure of a large project can sink a small company. And the weight of many failed projects can drag down profits to the point where a big company is susceptible to acquisition by a competitor, losing its independence. If we add the human cost-the frustration and burnout-we see the situation is far worse. It is hard to stay with a company when a project you are on fails. And high staff turnover rates create out-of-control cost spirals that are one of the biggest problems in American business today. On the other hand, people want to stay with a company that is making progress, where they are on a creative team, working with a good manager, and succeeding.
These experiences bring personal satisfaction and also a great deal of loyalty. People who are on successful project teams often say that they would not change jobs, even for considerably more money. And we can make projects succeed. Outside NASA, it is not rocket science. Almost all projects fail because companies are not using even the most basic tools of project management well.
W. Edwards Deming, the inventor of Total Quality Management, developed a process called root cause analysis. It is a way of finding out why things go wrong. It gets to the bottom-the root cause-of errors. Deming measured work in all kinds of environments, and found out that 94% of the time errors are due to people not following the right procedure for the job. It is not that people make mistakes, or make bad decisions. No, mistakes happen almost entirely because companies do not organize and plan work well. As managers, we need to put the right processes in place and show people how to do them. That would eliminate 94% of all the mistakes we make. And that is the difference between failure and success.
Production - Regular, routine work that leads to the creation of products, services, or results.
Operations - Another term for production work.
Effective - The delivery of useful results. The more effective a process is, the more useful the results are.
Efficient - Results achieved in less time and at a lower cost. The more efficient a process is, the less time and money it takes to deliver the desired result.
Routine - Ongoing and unchanging.
Cyclical - Repeating in a similar pattern over time.
Unique - Occurring just once, not routine or repeating.