Go Small or Go Home?

Go Small or Go Home?

Professor cook provided several Project Management (PM) articles and I’d like to get your thoughts about, “The Value of Project Management,” by the Project Management Institute, 2010. The title peaked my interest and a few questions crossed my mind as I read the article.
• Is Project Management valued? What’s the big deal? Is it critical for success?
• How does Project Management affect or get affected by how a company goes to market? Or is it affected at all?

In the article, it states McKinsey & Co. surveyed senior executives and found over half of them considered “a strong Project Management discipline is a top-three priority for the company as they look to the future.” (p1) Wow. This impressed me. PM made the top three important corporate disciplines! A couple of ideas came to my mind:
1. That PM would rank so high in importance!
2. That the value a firm places on PM is linked to their future.

How about you? Are you surprised PM was ranked among the top three priority disciplines? Does your company value PM this much?

The article continues and recognizes that PM provides a way for a company to control costs, allocate resources, save time and improve project results. These benefits are especially important during a recession when streamlining operations, and minimizing costs is paramount for survival. Another finding from the Economist Intelligence Unit survey found another eye-opening statistic about PM: that 90% of global executives consider PM as “either critical or somewhat important” for their projects’ success and for the company to stay competitive. That’s 90%! Again, another impressive statistic. Between the McKinsey & Co. survey and the Economist’s survey, it seems likely that PM is very highly valued and important to an organization.

How does PM affect a company’s Go-to-Market strategies or get affected by them? To me, this relates to three things: buy-in, speed (delivery dates, deadlines), and scope.

PMs need buy-in to get the job done especially with cross-functional teams, shared resources, tight timeframes, or restricted budgets. The more top management supports the project, the more buy-in across the organization is expected. The PM can deliver results and meet Go-to-Market objectives more easily with buy-in. Speed-to-market also affects the PMs role. For example, the article tells us about Intel, an IT company in Santa Clara, CA where speed-to-market is critical. To address the need for speed, Intel will intentionally reduce scope to gain speed. This gives them a faster turnaround, a competitive advantage, provides them with more flexibility, and most of all, smaller scope provides them with a learning mechanism for quick customer feedback to make product modifications to get it right or as customer needs change. Intentionally reducing scope also, “…encourages project teams to hone in on key deliverables that can be achieved in a shorter amount of time…” p4. By choosing to “go small”, Intel goes fast, learns fast, and adapts fast. Customers get incremental value with every product revision.

Isn’t this a clever approach to PM? Would “going small” work well in your industry? Or is this approach impossible because your projects require long project life cycles?

Problems, problems, problems!

Recently, our class participated in an exercise that required teamwork, planning, creativity, quick decision-making, and cost control. We had time constraints and a clear mission to build a sturdy, tall tower with spaghetti and marshmallows that could hold 75 papers for one minute, without falling down. There were different teams, each with the same goal and each with access to the same materials. Results were analyzed, tallied, and discussed. It was interesting to see the variance in approaches by different teams and how skill sets of team members impacted results. Each team was given the same instructions, access to the same materials, and had the same time constraints, yet different approaches and results were evident.

This made me wonder about the general process of Project Management (PM). Assuming you have similar projects and work conditions, are challenges in Project Management also similar? If challenges are common and we master them, then could we become “black belt” Project Managers? Are there common challenges? I did some research and surprisingly, it depends on who you ask! In your experience, are the PM problems listed below common at your company? Would you rank them in the same way?

Top ranking PM issues vary, possibly depending on the industry or function. For example, in the IT/IS field, Jennifer Lonoff Schiff listed her Top 12 common Project Management mistakes in the CIO journal from 9/26/2012. Her top Project Management mistake is not appointing the right person to be PM. Too often the company selects the PM who is available, not necessarily best suited for that project. Schiff cites the next top mistake as failing to get member support. To avoid this mistake, PMs should make member roles clear, describe personal benefit of the project’s success, and how much each person’s contributions will be evaluated. Not getting Executive buy-in is the third most common PM mistake and she found having too many projects put into production at the same time, and a lack of regular communications or meetings as the fourth and fifth most common. Other remaining PM problems from her research are: scope is vague; timelines are overly optimistic; not being flexible; no system to approve and track changes; micromanaging; software expectations are too high; and no metric to define success.

The Harvard Business Review Guide to Project Management, on page 22, (Harvard Business Press, 2013) describes the four biggest problems facing PM as:
1. Time slippage – falling behind schedule
2. Scope creep
3. Quality
4. People problems – recognized as often the most difficult – suggested to avoid or handle early and with frequent communication with each team member.

Similarly, Villanova University summarized challenges in Top 10 Project Management Challenges by University Alliance. I’ve listed them below and you’ll find there are some redundancies and some unique ones.
1. Undefined goals
2. Scope changes
3. Inadequate skills (handle this challenge with training, outsourcing, or by hiring additional staff)
4. Lack of accountability (each team member is responsible and accountable; the PM shines when the team is one unit)
5. Dealing with risk
6. Ambiguous contingency plans ( to avoid this problem, pre-define “what if” scenarios)
7. Poor communication
8. Impossible deadlines
9. Resource deprivation
10. Lack of stakeholder engagement

Is there a common PM problem in your company or industry that wasn’t listed? How would you rank common PM problems?