Project Management in the XXI Century
The increasing technological, regulatory and financial complexities that surround us, make the management of projects in any organization more difficult and challenging every day.
We can observe some clear trends in projects everywhere: the greater the complexity we are dealing with, the more important is the knowledge and the skill-set of our people and a key success factor is the ability to organize resources in the most efficient and effective way. Increasing number of stakeholders, both internal and external, are interrelated and need to collaborate to complete any project, while transparency and the ability to control processes are becoming crucial. And yet, resources with the appropriate skill-set to manage these issues are very difficult to find.
Consider several examples in various industries
- In the oil industry, there is large demand and little supply of professionals with experience and knowledge in the development of exploration projects and installation of offshore platforms.
- In the academic sector, it is very difficult to find people with the skills to coordinate interdisciplinary research projects.
- In the banking sector, complex technology projects require people with the ability to orchestrate many separate functional teams to achieve results, often in an environment with complicated regulatory hurdles.
- Strategic investments groups (for instance Private Equity), increasingly large and operating in different sectors and geographical locations, have trouble finding people with the ability to coordinate and control their investment projects in a systematic way.
Systematic issues impacting projects
In addition to the difficulty of finding people with the right skills and competencies required, all organizations suffer from several systematic issues impacting all their projects, regardless of the sector where they work.
- Dependency on some key people / project managers that, based on knowledge and experience, are almost impossible to replace
- The syndrome of reinventing the wheel, so that every project always starts from a blank slate
- Significant deviations in time, cost and quality of projects, are the norm rather than the exception
- Project results have very low predictability and almost no repeatability
- Experience of a specific project type is concentrated in a few individuals and is not easily transferred to others
- Coordination of activities with third parties is cumbersome and difficult to control
- Information about problems experienced during a project is often late and imprecise, causing delay in decisions and cascading issues
- Cultural resistance to change and the tyranny of the “business-as-usual” philosophy
Despite the trends and problems mentioned above, project management tools have hardly evolved in the last 10 years. Project Management is considered a fairly mature field with little space for innovation. And yet, given the critical importance of the subject, there is a clear need to take another look at how we can possibly achieve much better results.
What would innovation in project management tools look like?
The answer is deceptively simple: a convergence of project management functionality with other disciplines, as is happening in other areas of knowledge.
Organizations currently develop and follow processes, manage projects and try to record and archive their know-how, but all these things are mostly done separately, often in silos barely communicating with each other. A real innovation would be to integrate project management with these other functions in a single co-ordinate system of work.
In practical terms, how could one platform support an intelligent management of projects, incorporating processes and knowledge to improve efficiency? And how would this platform bring benefits to any organization, regardless of sector and size?.
As a start, an ideal solution should incorporate typical elements of project management, like WBS, Gantt, time and resources management. Additionally, it should offer the management of project-related documents and of processes that normally form part of any project (for instance bug fixing or change management), to ensure greater repeatability and predictability in the results. Then it should also offer the ability to leverage international project standards, enabling the introduction of documented improvement processes (for instance CMMI).
Despite this already quite extensive list of requirements, we are still missing two key ingredients:
- First of all the management of knowledge that lives within the organization, moving it easily among all the resources and using it to improve processes and methodologies consistently. The platform should track real-time deviations from the agreed procedures, and facilitate decisions on the relevance of problems and their solution. Then, use the lessons learned and incorporate them immediately into the body of knowledge for use in future projects.
- Second, we mentioned that governance and transparency are key requirements for the management of any organization. What would happen if we had a platform allowing real-time access for internal or external customers, to see how the different projects are progressing? What impact would this have on relations between different actors in a project?
All these requirements need to be packaged in a platform that is easy to use and offers tangible benefits to all levels of users. This is crucial to minimising the resistance to change and the friction that any new software encounters within an organization.
A solution incorporating these qualities would enable organizations to
- Manage all projects more efficiently
- Introduce systematic improvement processes to ensure that learning happens at the organizational level, minimising reliance on key people
- Have tighter control of all running projects
- Coordinate resources and activities across geographies and even with partners and customers
All of the above translates into higher and predictable quality, increased chances of project success and a new form of collaborative innovation gained by pooling learnings coming from each project implementation.
Finally, it is worth leaving a last question on the table
What happens if nothing is done to address these challenges? An organization that has a low level of maturity* in project management, faces an 80% chance of having problems at some stage during the management of any project. While an organization with a high maturity level, can reduce this probability down to 5%. Clearly, inaction is not really an option conducive to long-term success.
If your organization runs projects that require significant resources, the potential gains in profitability and in competitiveness should be a sufficient incentive to act quickly to improve your project efficiency and maturity. Results will rapidly be reflected directly in your profitability.
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* for instance as defined in the CMMI for Services maturity model
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