When Project Management Takes on a Life of its Own

Any organization looking to make major changes, or add new products or systems, has found tremendous benefit in project management. Over the past decade, organizations have directed substantial resources to the project management discipline. The process and skill-set has matured and improved dramatically and has been so successful that project management has taken on a life of its own.

Through powerful Project Management Offices (PMO’s), the discipline has grown as an increasingly stand-alone entity disjointed from strategy, innovation, and resource allocation. Many of today’s PMO’s lack the organizational context to add additional value to their organization and its goals.

 

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As project management becomes increasingly disjointed from both strategy and operations, many organizations have experienced painful side effects. With project managers and PMO’s pushing for greater autonomy to practice their craft, internal clients treat them more like a supplier than an internal partner. This more distant relationship, coupled with ever increasing expectations to deliver more for less, has led to a growing phenomenon of game playing between internal clients and project managers.

There are a multitude of scenarios, this is just one:

  • An internal client or user group defines a need to execute a project
  • The client and PMO define a reasonable set of business requirements necessary to achieve the objectives of the project
  • The Project Manager uses available information and due diligence to provide a reasonable estimate of dollars and time to deliver the project as defined by the agreed upon business requirements
  • The internal client pushes back on everything but the deliverables, with the general threat that if the project can’t deliver all the scope in a shorter time and for less money, then there won’t be a project
  • The PMO capitulates, and the project proceeds
  • The project goes off the rails, and the deliverables are cut to keep the project within budget and on time
  • The PMO presses the issue of the original estimate, the internal client pushes back again, and the PMO capitulates again
  • The project continues to fall off the rails and functionality continues to be pared down to keep the project on schedule
  • The project is delivered on time and on budget with a fraction of the required functionality, and Phase Two is born

 

This scenario may be familiar if you have experience with large organizations. The other common side effect is when an organization can execute projects well, but those projects aren’t necessarily aligned to the strategy. This is at the heart of the planning/execution gap that we talked about in a previous blog; and a portion of the blame is often traced back to a project management process that is disjointed from the greater operational context.

Next we’ll take a look at how to maintain the benefits of project management and avoid the problems.

 

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