We must overcome a deep and painful crisis. Organizations have to decide how and when to cut expenses and if necessary reduce personnel. Even in this difficult environment we can increase Project Management adoption if we understand exactly Top Management needs and create an indispensable tool for them. To win this challenge we must involve personnel with proven experience in Project Management and adopt maximum flexibility in order to present innovative proposals and to apply Project Management tools and methodologies in a highly effective way. Our target must be to cover critical Organizations needs in a very short period of time. Producing results quickly and with low cost, will help us create the basis from where to start and step-by-step, with consecutive successes, increase the Organization’s Project Management orientation. We must pay attention not to abandon Project Management standards application, but apply them in a way to fulfill customer’s immediate needs.

 

Global economic crisis and it’s relation with PMBOK

We are in the middle of a deep, painful and difficult to understand Economic Crisis. We must reflect, as Project Managers, on how to use our professionalism, our discipline and our experience, prepare innovative “weapons” and act in order to help our Organizations move to the correct direction. Let’s start relating PMBOK with Economic Crisis.

 

Project Management Knowledge Areas and their presence in the World Wide Web, related to the wording “economic crisis” and “financial crisis”!

Utilizing Google to search the internet about PM articles referring to Financial Crisis and Economic Crisis, we can elaborate numbers regarding internet pages relative to PMBOK Knowledge Areas (PMBOK, 2008) and reach interesting results. Let’s start with a table relative to Financial Crisis (Exhibit 1) continue with one relative to Economic Crisis (Exhibit 2).

Exhibit 1

 

Exhibit 2

Pages regarding Financial or Economic Crisis have been increased between December 2008 and June 2009 of about 50% and 45% respectively. From these pages only a small percentage contains the words defining each PMBOK Knowledge Area. The only exception regards the word Time. About 54% of the pages regarding Financial Crisis were containing the word Time in December 2008, while in June 2009 they reached 72%! Similarly the pages regarding Economic Crisis were containing the word Time 59% and 68% respectively. Unfortunately the word management accompanies the above Knowledge Area words in only about 1% of the relative pages, exception made for Human Resource Management and Risk Management.

 

Other key words related with Project as well with Organization’s Management

Repeating the same process we have reached the following results:

  1. in the pages regarding Financial Crisis the word Information is mentioned in about 88% of the pages on December 2008 and in the 96% of the pages in June 2009! Respectively we found the words Control in 13% and 14%, Governance in 4,5% and 4,5%, Sustainability in 2,5% and 3% and Coordination in only 2% and 2% of the pages;
  2. in the pages regarding Economic Crisis the word Information is mentioned in only 9% of the pages on December 2008 and in the 23% of the pages in June 2009! Respectively we found the words Control in 7% and 18%, Governance in 2% and 2%, Sustainability in 1,5% and 1,5% and Coordination in less than 1% and 1% of the pages!

In conclusion, let’s keep in mind that the most mentioned words are Time and Information and the less mentioned Coordination and the word Management accompanying the words with which they define PMBOK® Guide Knowledge Areas (e.g. Integration Management, Scope Management).

 

Acquiring investments for PM in an environment with lack of resources

News is not good at all! Organizations are reducing their personnel and cutting drastically their expenses or even important investments in IT, for new products, customer services, etc. In this environment we must seek to increase investments in Project Management. To achieve this goal we have to fight to promote the value of Project Management while being conscious about the power of our standards, methodologies and tools and also ready to apply them in an clear and effective way. This will help our Organizations improve their execution of strategy and operational performance. We have to adopt a Top-Down Strategy and follow a Step-by-Step approach.

 

Capture and satisfy critical Top Management needs

Our first step is to establish a direct contact with Top Management. Even if our position in the Organization is not adequate, we must find an alternative way utilizing an internal catalyst (e.g. a Division Manager) or an external one (e.g. Consultant, PMI chapter).

At the same time we must have clear ideas on what we are going to propose and how propose it. Top Management, in almost all cases, is not interested to know how we are going to follow in detail a Project/Program or even how a Portfolio is managed and its Projects prioritized! The reasons are simple: a) because Top Management knows almost nothing about PM standards and b) because for our Organizations, found in the middle of a storm a project, a program or a portfolio has less importance than e.g. a detailed/innovative way to prepare, follow up and update the Annual Budget, in an efficient and effective way. After all, Annual Budget is a “temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique result” (PMBOK, 2008, p 5) and as in any other project we have to manage Scope, Quality, Schedule, Budget, Resources and Risk (PMBOK, 2008, p 6)!

From the data presented previously, it results clearly that the most important factor is time! Let’s reflect for a moment, trying to answer to the following questions. Which discipline gives consistency to time planning and follow-up? Which discipline relates time consumption with cost and quality? Which discipline gives the opportunity to prepare what-if scenarios in order to react promptly if some conditions change? How an Organization can apply activity based management or activity based cost, taking into consideration time and interrelationships between activities? How is possible to ensure & control correct application of quality or six sigma procedures, without having control over time and interrelationships? And least, but not last, how is it possible to make a serious Risk Analysis or Resource Management without relating them with < ;em>TIME!

We have encompassed many necessary processes into our standards; we have enriched our professionalism, but during this hard period it is important to stay tuned to the basic principles. Let’s remember our famous triangle, representing Time, Cost and Quality relationship! An Organization willing to manage Cost or Quality has the opportunity to choose between various disciplines and utilize their relative tools and methodologies. But if is willing to manage effectively Cost, Quality and TIME has to choose Project Management!

 

First results to be achieved the earliest possible

In such a difficult period, it will be impossible to convince Top Management to take into consideration a proposal that will produce results after one year! Since we are trying to satisfy critical needs, a three to four months period will be acceptable, depending on the subject, Organization’s size, etc. But also this is not enough. We must try to produce each month specific outputs, according to the relative milestones foreseen in our Project’s Plan.

 

Minimum utilization of resources

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Our motto will be “max result, min cost”! In fact we have to utilize resources that will create the minimum cost or no additional cost to our Organization. Forget about hiring personnel or to ask the creation of a new office. Even in the case where you have Top Management’s approval to create a Project Management Office (PMO), evaluate to start with an “informal” solution, building in parallel your structured procedures (Of course for the Organizations in which a PMO has been established every thing becomes easier!). We are not going to ask for furniture, computers, software, etc. This will help us gain Top Management’s approval but also will keep the focus on our Project and its short deadlines. Just one exception is permitted: if PM software is not available we have to procure one. This software will be utilized as a basis for the development of our “Strategic Project Management System” (SPMS).

 

Step-by-Step approach

The SPMS to cover Top Management needs cannot be working perfectly in one to three months time! In addition, we foresee to exceed their expectations preparing and proposing additional tools/services/reports, with the scope to become indispensable and open the road for increasing adoption of PM tools and Methodologies. Having the challenge to reach difficult goals in a short period of time we must follow a Step-by-Step approach.

Especially in regard of data collection and elaboration, which is crucial for the success of our Project, we can follow a S.MA.R.T. approach:

  • Step 1 – Static: Trial data collection from each source, in any format and according to availability.
  • Step 2 – MAnual: Specific data, in fixed format collected periodically from each source and centrally inserted to the “Strategic PM System”.
  • Step 3 – Remote: Each Sector/Division/Department collects and inserts its data to the System.
  • Step 4 – Timeless: Each source has online access to the System.

 

Necessary conditions for sustainable success

 

Strategic Project Management Team creation

Invest a leader with prestige and respect. Proven experience in Project Management is a must

We state the obvious but in reality is not always as simple as this. Replying to the following questions can address us to take the right decision:

  • Inside our Organization there is availability of a leader with sound experience in Project Management?
  • The Projects under his/her leadership have been successfully completed or successfully abandoned because of his/her early advice?
  • He/she has gained the respect of the members of the teams he/she was leading?
  • Is seen inside the Organization as a promise but, in the same time, not as a threat for the Management?
  • His/her integrity and confidentiality are bullet proof?

Unfortunately we are seeking someone with all the above characteristics! If we can’t find someone with these characteristics inside our Organization, we must consider as a first option to request the support of an external consultant only for the points a) and b) or as a second option to utilize the consultant as a Project Leader. His contracts will be signed for short periods of time with fixed, well defined and measurable objectives. If the external consultant has worked before with us, knows the Organization and fulfills the characteristics b) to d), will be easy to take a decision. In any other case, we have to examine carefully his CV and verify that a series of projects similar to what Top Management is requesting have been successfully conducted, preferably in Organizations similar to our own. Of course if we are going to utilize an external consultant as Team Leader we must create a “dream team” to support him. This team will include the employee who will become in a later stage the Team Leader.

Create a small team of employees, with “access” to Organization’s key positions and data and in which company is relying and investing

All the characteristics we have mentioned about Team Leader are valid also for our Strategic PM Team members. A few more considerations can also be listed. Since our Team will be small but highly effective, the employees we want to be involved must be preferably the right hand of Sector/Division Managers. Only this type of employees has access to Organization’s key positions and data. But since their principals are relying and investing in them, they are indispensable and with limited or not at all time availability.

How it will be possible to utilize them in our team? This is very simple! Helping them to reduce the amount of time needed to collect and elaborate the data needed for their Sector/Division Head. If we succeed and their reports become more precise, clear and effective, we will win the battle and gain the support of their superior to our effort! We have to satisfy Top Management needs, but also the needs of who is going to support us in the collection and elaboration of data. Sector/Division Managers have to participate actively in our effort in order to be the first to know how their Sector/Division is going to “appear” to Top Management. Trust is the cornerstone in order to succeed in such type of engagements.

Position the team directly under CEO, supporting Board of Directors

There is no other solution! At the top or nothing! The principal cause for PMOs failure is position (Bolles, Hubbard, 2007, p.19)! PMO has to collect and elaborate data transversally, has to support equally all Organization’s Sectors/Divisions/Departments, has to become Organization’s Central Nervous System. And a Central nervous system has to be connected directly to the Brain (Top Management), helping arms, legs and body (Sectors/Divisions/Departments) to move in the desired direction in a coordinated and efficient way.


Don’t be afraid to answer yes at the question: can we apply Project Management tools and methodologies for internal processes, Production Management, Marketing, etc.?

As Organizations are forced to change faster and more radically than ever, so are we. We have to go back to the basics, free our mind from stereotypes and apply PM Tools and Methodologies to solve time, cost and quality matters to internal processes, production management, marketing, etc. For example let’s discuss Production. We think that production is a repetitive process, but we have to reflect on the fact that there are existing production plans. Production plans are prepared aggregating lots of same/similar types of products, according to various orders clients are forwarding.

Each lot of products and a sequence of different lots will require the use of different type of machines, particular personnel involvement, relative transportation and warehouse availability, idle time to shift from one production to another, etc. It becomes clear that the cost of the same product will be reduced, if we optimize our production plan. For this particular reason, for each type of production we can find in the market specific software vendors which incorporate, in their high costly software, years of experience in the same industry sector. In most of the cases this software is taking into account only production optimization and not all the other factors mentioned previously. And this software has to be updated/modified by its vendor, each time we are going to change something in the production (new product, modifications to products, new equipment, etc.). A “heavy” PM tool can support this decision making process in an excellent way.

And what about preparing our next Marketing Campaigns utilizing PM Tools and Methodologies?

 

Involve as much as possible company’s sectors, especially Accounting and Budgeting sector

Our Strategic PM Team will evolve gradually to a PMO. Having to succeed in addressing Top Management needs, while in parallel cover Sector/Division/Department Managers needs, PMO must become Organization’s central nervous system, trough which information is circulating in a proper and timely manner. At this point it is obvious that the information needed must come from any vital part of the Organization, especially the Accounting and Budgeting sector who normally has no communication with the rest of the Organization.

Unify the various worlds inside the Organization

In the management literature you can find a lot of books, articles, researches about each Organization’s part (Marketing, Sales, Accounting, Production, Projects, etc.) but only a few about how to put them in contact and “translate” to each other how to operate in order to achieve Organization’s Strategic Goals. E.g. if Top Management’s order is maximize cost savings, someone has to collect all available data, create a detailed simulation plan utilizing our PM software and treat the equipment we have to buy as a resource.

The result that will come out will demonstrate to procurement department why production department is asking to choose the more expensive equipment. Equipment’s cost for the procurement department is an instant cost, instead for production it is evolving over time. If we succeed to unify the worlds inside our Organization, not only horizontal communication will gain but we succeed to translate correctly in each language the Strategic Goals.

Demonstrate the positive economic impact of investing in Project Management

Who collects and elaborates data from different sectors is going to discover where each sector is diverging from the Organization’s Strategic Goals and where inefficiencies are increasing costs and time consumption. Top management, utilizing PM Tools and Methodologies, in the beginning will start controlling directly how Organization’s Strategy has been translated and executed, then will become familiar in preparing detailed Strategy’s execution plans and finally will be in the position to simulate the impact of proposed changes in Strategy!

With an external environment in continuous evolution an Organization must be prepared to detect the earliest possible internal and external signals and react efficiently and rapidly.

 

Always focus on the next steps

From the beginning we have to trace a road map with precise time and scope milestones. We must propose this plan to the Top management, satisfying one major need or group of needs at each milestone. We have to treat our effort as a Project, considering that there will be no possibility to fail. Each of the proposed milestones must be a success, exceeding Management expectations and forcing them to request more services. Selling more services means that resource availability will increase for our Project. In order to succeed, we must work not only for what is foreseen as deliverable for the next milestone, but also we have to create the bases for the future ones. We must possess both capacity and responsibility to understand where the thinks are going and address our efforts accordingly.

 

Not just words. Support your argumentation with specific case studies

In order to convince Top Management accept our proposal we have to utilize the most powerful weapon man’s mind has created: examples, or in other words, case studies. We will examine here some interesting case studies but we must always dedicate enough time to find and propose the most appropriate case study for our Organization.

 

Intrakom Telecom, Elliniki Technodomiki Constr. Contractor, Asprofos Eng., Hellenic Power Company, Hellenic Petroleum Company

Intracom Telecom is Greece's largest multinational provider of telecommunications products, solutions and services. They had an established PMO and they wanted to create a PM system in order to satisfy Portfolio, Program and Project Management needs across the whole company, including their Financial Planning and Accounting Division. Planning and follow up of external projects, internal projects and operations has been foreseen. In this way became possible to prepare complete resource allocation plans. In the same system Budget preparation and follow up have also foreseen, giving the possibility to the Top Management to drill down and discover group of projects, activities or resources that are creating budget deviations.

Ellaktor (ex-Elliniki Technodomiki) is largest construction company in Greece. They had the need to create a system in order to prepare and follow-up the annual IT Budget while utilize the same system to coordinate the IT projects and personnel. A virtual PMO has been established in a three months period.

Asprofos Engineering, the major Greek engineering company, decided to create a PMO. The PMO was created successfully and was providing support to all Divisions. Unfortunately it was positioned under Projects Division Manager and when company decided to change its CEO, the PMO has become weaker and its role to support Divisions coordination went lost.

Hellenic Power Company is the major player in the Greek electricity market. The Thermoelectric Plants Division needed to create a system in order to prepare and follow its Five Year Plan, the Annual Budget and the ongoing projects. We have decided to adopt a Top-Down Strategy and follow a Step-by-Step approach. In the first phase, utilizing proprietary PM software, we have created the system in a way to treat data at a Strategic level. The results were excellent and were achieved in a two months period. Actually we are ready to proceed creating a formal PMO.

Hellenic Petroleum Company is the largest oil refining company in Greece. The Small Projects Department of Aspropyrgos Refinery had the need to create a system for projects estimation, planning and follow up. A virtual PMO has been established involving all employees.

 

Athens Municipality and three more Attica Region Municipalities

Municipalities represent a particular type of Organization. At the beginning we have started to utilize PM Tools and Methodologies for their construction projects, supporting the Technical Division. Very soon became clear that only a holistic approach could represent a real solution for them. A virtual PMO and a Strategic PM System have been created. Adopting a top down Strategy and following a Step-by-Step approach we have prepared the system, foreseen on our first scope of work the preparation and follow up of the five years Strategic Plan and the Annual Budget. As a result the above Municipalities have completely changed the way to prepare and follow-up their Annual Budget, passing from a reactive to a pro-active way. The next step was to increase in detail planning and follow up of projects and procurement, involving Divisions in collecting and directly inserting data to the system.

 

Strategic PMO at Greek Council of Ministers level, supporting Prime Minister’s Office

Between 1996 and 2004 Greece faced four major challenges with firm deadlines: realign its economy according to European Union standards in order to adopt Euro; optimize ministries coordination in order to complete all projects financed by EU; organize the Greek Presidency of the Council of the European Union; organize the Olympic Games! The magnitude of each one of the above challenges could create serious organizational and financial problems even to a bigger nation with a well organized bureaucracy.

As often happens, an Organization facing a complex and critical situation is open to experiment new and not well-established practices. In this context PM methodologies and tools had been adopted and a “Strategic” PMO had been established at Council of Ministers level, supporting Prime Minister’s Office (Agrapidis, 2008, p.2). Data of approx. 54.000 Public Contracts had been collected from 7.500 public offices (Simitis, 2005, p.254). Credible and timely reports, based on reliable data had been produced for the Prime Minister, the Council of Ministers as well for almost the totality of Public Organizations. Transparency and efficiency in planning and execution of public contracts had been increased (Simitis, 2005, p.465). The whole effort succeeded because of the personal commitment of the Prime Minister and the positioning of SPMO under his direct supervision.

 

Conclusion

Any Organization, especially during this difficult period, perceives the necessity to produce changes in its processes. To address change, Organization must set Strategic Goals and prepare detailed Strategic application plans, which must be based on sound data, taking into account Time. Then Strategy must turn into practice. This means continuous data collection and elaboration, in other words correct and reliable and up-to-date Information.

PMO can become the Central Nervous System of the Organization and fulfill what has been described previously. To succeed the PMO must be positioned directly under Top Management. A Top-Down Strategy must be adopted and a Step-by-Step approach must be followed. As result the Organization will take advantage of a more effective Management and a better Coordination and will be able to respond quickly and effectively to internal and external change drivers. As Jerry Ragovoy’s song says: “Time is on my (our) side”!

 

References

[1] Agrapidis, P. (2008, November). Projects & Programme Management applied at Council of Ministers level, supporting Prime Minister’s Office. 22nd IPMA World Congress 2008, Europe, Roma, Italy.
[2] Bolles, D. &Hubbard, D. (2007). Power of Enterprise-wide Project Management. New York, NY: AMACOM
[3] Project Management Institute. (2008) A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)-Fourth Edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
[4] Simitis, K. (2005). Politics for a Creative Greece. Athens, Greece: Polis.

 

Author

Panayotis Agrapidis, Civil Engineer, Senior PM Consultant.

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