Organizations will grow or fail entirely based upon their success in managing projects. Project management will be the yardstick by which future organizational success is measured. To fail is easy: organizations must simply do nothing, and so will begin an inexorable slide to oblivion as new capabilities are ignored and new opportunities are missed. Success is a much more difficult journey, but simply launching projects is not in and of itself a sufficient guarantee.
There are three fundamental questions that any organization must address if it is to be successful in managing projects at an organizational level:
- Are we doing the right projects?
- Are we doing our projects the right way?
- Are we realizing the promised results from our projects?
For most organizations, even where there has been a concerted effort to implement a project management capability, these questions cannot be answered objectively. While there might be an intuitive sense of what the answer is, or a rationalization based upon a belief of what the answer should be, most companies do not have the processes or toolsets necessary for objectivity.
The biggest reason for this failing is the way that most organizations think about their projects, to the extent that there is an organizational focus at all: as discrete, isolated activities. The reality is that projects do not operate in a vacuum: they compete with each other for the company’s time, money, resources and attention. The project management practices of most organizations, however, ignore this reality.
Part of the problem with how organizations view their projects is that there are few advocates who are promoting a different perspective. The vast majority of project management courses address how to manage a single project, and the few that allow for an organizational context do so only in passing. Most software products in the marketplace take a single project view, and current repositories have limited reporting capabilities from an organizational perspective. PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge completely ignores the question of how organization’s approach their overall portfolio of projects.
To be successful in managing projects as an organization, it is necessary to look at the full scope of practice of the organization. Financial, budgetting and accounting practices must embrace the concept of projects. Strategic plans must drive the definition of projects. Projects must successfully manage the transition of the underlying operational processes they affect. And this integration must be managed from a holistic perspective that looks at all of the organization’s projects together.
No organization that I am aware of takes this approach today. Yes, some touch on aspects of each of these issues. But none take an objective, process-based approach to defining their projects, executing them, and ensuring that the promised business outcomes are in fact realized. And none can objectively, quantifiably answer the three questions identified above.
Project success in organizations will depend upon putting the practices, processes and toolsets in place that support delivering objective answers to the questions I have posed. Solutions exist, although they are far more easily defined than they are implemented. The companies that can break down the barriers to their use, however, stand to reap significant rewards as they outpace their competitors.
As a company, Interthink Consulting works with organizations facing these challenges today. This column has been launched to explore the barriers that prevent effective project management in organizations today, and the strategies that can be adopted to overcome them. In writing it, we have consciously taken an organizational perspective, for the organization is the arena in which many of the problems are created, and in which all of them must be resolved.