Exploding the Myth of PM Best Practices

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff; ProjectExperts CEO.
What are the Best Practices in the world of project and program management (PPM)? Are there a few immutable truths that are transferable across nations, organizations, industries, cultures, and project teams? I often see assertions promoting PM Best Practices—despite my belief that the phrase is an oxymoron—that our discipline is not yet mature enough to have universal best practices. This article is a recap of many discussions on best practices over my years as a PM practitioner, then as a consultant.

best_practiceMy opinions about PM Best Practices go back to the early 1980s, when, as a PPM consultant, I frequently encountered executives, line managers, project managers, and other consultants, who expected to hear my handful of easy-to-implement “PM Best Practices.” In that era, I often made recommendations for improved effectiveness, but I called them “Competitive Practices.” And I usually sought, uncovered, and identified them from within their own organizations. I understood over thirty years ago that one organization’s best practices could be a scourge for others. Here’s why…

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Overcome the Double-Whammy of Executive Grief Over IT and PM

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff, ProjectExperts CEO.
An intriguing article in the 1st Quarter, 2010 CIO Insight magazine summarized the results of some (in our opinion) major research by Valuedance and Harvard Business Review. The article, Not So IT Smart, was filled with (appropriate for the magazine) insights, including a significant perception gap about performance on a range of key factors, as perceived by Business and IT Leaders. We urge you to read that well-researched and well-written article—after, of course, reading this posting.

The Executive’s Grief over IT
I recall the challenges of 30-35 years ago, when it appeared that Executive Managers just didn’t get it, about the proper use of what we then called DP (Data Processing). Then we changed the name of the practice to Management Information Systems (MIS), perhaps thinking that relabeling the same behaviors would change things. Of course, there were, even then, stellar examples of savvy Executives who knew how to make DP the centerpiece of competitive advantage; but those appeared to be in the minority.

Most of us either assumed or hoped that those Execs who refused to even use a keyboard would soon retire, and their successor would eventually become the visionary strategic leader, who would bring us out of our wilderness. But for most, it never happened. In fact, the criteria listed as differing perceptions in the above-referenced article are much the same as they were over 30 years ago.

Which could lead one to a conclusion that it is not those Executives at all, but a young and immature practice, that still focuses too much on the latest technologies and the detailed part of the life cycle.

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Is Project Management Strategic?

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff, ProjectExperts CEO.
On the surface, this is one of those questions with an obvious answer: Of Course It Is! However, the question goes much deeper than that, and deserves more exploration. The topic came up in a discussion with a friend and associate, Alex Jalalian (hailing from Iran and Canada) at last Fall’s IPMA Council of Delegates meeting. Alex is studying for a Doctorate in Strategic Project Management. While I encouraged him in his pursuit, the question came up: What books, research, and indeed, published practices support such a discipline?

One source that came to mind was the Cleland/Ireland book, Project Management, Strategic Design and Implementation (Fifth Edition). One reason we like this book is its span of the topic, from high-level strategic positioning down to the details of steps and relationships of successful projects. But perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Are Project Managers Strategic?
That is a different question than the one above. While strategic vision and thinking must occur in the project environment for project performance to be maximized, that thinking may not necessarily come from the Project Manager (PM). Sometimes it is best if it does not, such as in cases of massive organizational transformation. In that case, the Strategic Vision, and drive for change should be managed by a Sponsoring group, who will reinforce the vision and sustain the change, once the PM goes off to another series of projects.

Some Project Managers are strategic, and some are not. This depends to some extent on their preferred style, the size of projects, the nature of the projects, whether others in the organization take on the role, the training of the individual, the rewards received for demonstrating needed traits, and whether the PM is even capable of doing so. We believe the answer to this question is that some are, some are not. Perhaps a more important question is, can your Project Manager be strategic, when needed?

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A More PROfessional Way to Assess and Maximize PM Performance, part 1

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff, ProjectExperts CEO.
The December 2009 publishing of the Exposure Draft, together with the Press Release for PRO, Performance Rated Organization, is a key event for IPMA-USA, for the USA, and for improved PM Performance. You can see the background, the link to the Exposure Draft, and the audiences for this tool at the PRO section of the IPMA-USA website. The purpose of this posting is to share a bit more perspective about PRO, the factors that drove us to develop and introduce it, and to acknowledge the members of the PRO team.

Many organizational assessments for project management already exist. We studied the strengths and weaknesses of many of them as part of our initial research. We found many that were very useful, some that could be useful, but were far too difficult to apply, and some that could produce great insights, but required too much effort, distracting key staff from their priorities. Most were proprietary, few were based on any accepted standard, and some that appeared to be merely a way for consultants to find work in your organization.

Many of the Organizational PM Assessments are based on a Maturity Model approach, similar to the Capability Maturity Model pioneered by the US Defense Department and Carnegie Mellon University. This approach is useful because it can offer a logical sequence of improvements. Otherwise, an assessed organization could be forced to choose from dozens of expensive initiatives, with no clear way to decide which offered the greatest value.

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