How the Executive Management Should Get Involved in Project Management

Why is it difficult for organizations to move ahead towards implementation of professional project management processes? For some of the following reasons:

  • Project management appears to involve the shifting of the poles of power, taking power from functional managers and giving power to the Project Manager (this is only partially true, since functional managers will actually be the first to benefit from Project Management);
  • Project management involves horizontal control with regards to the financial implications and on how each team member carries out his work on the project. Success of the project is the responsibility of Project Manager, and therefore lack of performance can not go unnoticed;
  • Project management involves what may be perceived as an overhead devoted to planning, reporting, financial accounting, etc. This effort cannot be done by the Project Manager alone, but only together with the team. This leads to frustrations that Project Management is actually an increase in overhead and bureaucratization. 
Therefore, executive management involvement in the above levels of maturity is required in order to achieve the acceptance of the organization for the objectives and processes for Project Management.

Executive management must visibly support actions to establish concepts of Project Management in the organization, or the other employees will think the higher management is not convinced of the necessity of this action, the functional managers will be reluctant to give support to the project managers and the entire process will be hindered. Often, perception is formed even in the executive managers‘ eyes that the Project Management "does not fit with our organization" and the whole process may eventually be abandoned.

But why is it important for executive managers to implement project management processes? In organizations where the concept of Project Management function effectively, the role of Executive Manager change. Initially, the executive managers were involved in carrying out everyday projects, especially in terms of initiatives or strategic customers. But as project management matures, executives get a more passive role, allowing them to focus on what should really be their job: planning and long-term strategy. As they gain confidence in the Project managers, executive managers increasingly rely more on them for daily decisions and consider Project Management has a fundamental role in ensuring the success of their organization.

In conclusion, a mature organization in terms of Project Management is manifested by:

  • Understanding Project Management's benefits up to the Executive role;
  • Continuous and visible support from senior managers for Project Management;
  • A desire from senior managers not to get involved in the daily activity details and to rely on Project Managers to provide high-level information relevant to them.


Project Management Maturity

The model of Project Management Maturity consists of five levels, although it is often found that these levels overlap and there is no clear borderline between them. They are listed below and will be detailed in the next subchapters.

Levels of Project Management Maturity

1. Intuitive Project Management

In this organization, the Project Manager is not yet recognized as a distinct professional. The initiatives are run as projects in an intuitive fashion by the most enthusiastic team member. This team member has a strong desire to succeed and self-appoints as being the one responsible for the project (this is how a Project Manager is born). This leader will use some empirical planning techniques and sometimes bypass the planning all together because everyone is looking for seeing some “real work” done and some quick wins. It is unfortunately to find that of the initiatives run in this fashion will die out, especially when they are run for an internal client, or will have difficulties in reaching the completion point. This is due because nobody takes the time to initially define in a clear fashion which should be the end result.

However, there is an advantage to this approach. This type of Project running will not provoke resistance from the hierarchical organization, because the project team and its leader will be usually located inside of the same department. Working as a project team is natural and there is no need for an organizational culture shift in order for the project to be managed.

For the organization to jump at the next level, the top management needs to recognize the Project Manager as a stand-alone profession and prepare some training for the project teams that will facilitate understanding how the projects should be run. The most frequent reactions to this jump are coming from the team members and functional managers, and will most likely sound like this: “Formal Project Management does not apply to us” or “We are doing fine without it”. On the other hand, executive managers will know this organization favors silo-decision-making: decisions being at the department level, that are good for that department but are not optimal for the organization as a whole. This organization will make interdepartmental initiatives’ fail out of lack of authority and organizational change will be impossible.

2. Acknowledged Project Management

After a few failures of the strategic initiatives and seeing the inability of the isolated departmental teams to induce change on a organizational scale, the senior management will look for a virtual team that comprises members from all departments that are targeted by the project. They will also look for a single point of contact, responsibility and information. The Project Manager title will naturally emerge, very often as an extra-hat next to the functional title. Team members will now report to multiple bosses, which will cause the first reactions of resistance, like some sort of indiscipline for the work related to the project. This makes communicating of the first successes very important: they can be about cost reduction, shorter implementation timeframe for the same quality and scope, or an increase of customer satisfaction. This is the point when senior managers should ensure there is a continuous flow of projects and look for best practices and lessons learnt being applied in the next projects running.

As costs distribution on projects becomes necessary, the accounting system needs changes to accommodate this requirement. It becomes visible where money is spent without justification, and pressure is put that not only should projects be successful and in time, but that they should be cost effective too. A lot of company cannot jump above this level because of the inner resistance to controlling costs in projects (horizontal accounting).

3. Project Management Methodology

Acknowledging Project Management as a stand-alone profession is a huge step, but projects will be run in a more or less successful fashion until some crisis strikes that requires the superior management’s attention. This is the point when top management should require documentation on how should ideally a project be run. This documentation should comprise of a standard activity list, best practices and Project Management deliverables that will make the success of the project less dependent on the Project Manager’s experience. They will also require a procedure for escalating risks and issues to the upper management levels if this is the case, which will enable corrective actions in a timely fashion. This is how a Project Management Methodology is born. The methodology can be adopted, adapted or unique, as the organization requires.

This phase comprises the greatest risk for the Maturity in Project Management pathway. It means a major shift in organizational culture and the resistance can be huge, varying from skepticism to nearly sabotage. Top management must show constant support for the Project Management concept during these times. Once this resistance is overcome, the two levels that come will be more natural and less risky. The problems that might be encountered during this phase are typical for any organizational change:

ü  Conflicts caused by changes in power and authority balance – that is, the Project Manager is seen as getting too much influence and stealing power from functional managers;
ü  Working horizontally and reporting to multiple bosses is not accepted by team members;
ü  People might hind behind current procedures and politics in order to justify lack of initiative and extra effort;
ü  Time is wasted in meetings for conflict resolution, aligning conflictual objectives and point of views and useless reporting to managers who would feel comfortable to delegate authority;
ü  People might use e-mails and other forms of documentation to hide and pass on responsibility;
ü  People might fight for resources;
ü  People might experience a low level of motivation.

In order to advance from this stage, the management must institute the culture that the methodology is not a rigid set of papers. In mature organizations, the methodology is supported by the entire organization and individual behavior is determined by the philosophy of the methodology adopted. The methodology is not used as an excuse and all members of the organization participate with extra effort if there are problems. Achieving this kind of thinking is especially difficult in fragmented organizations, with different subcultures, which are required to convert their local thinking into a unified and cooperative approach. Culture must be nurturing, based on communication and collaboration, and is therefore important to establish the correct relationship between the Project Manager and rest of the organization:

ü  Project managers and functional managers are equally responsible for the successful completion of the project. Functional managers need to keep their promises to project managers regarding resources, efforts and deadlines;
ü  The Project Manager title is a recognized as a stand-alone profession. The Project Manager is no longer the functional manager or the best of the technical people.
ü  Project managers negotiate with functional managers project deliverables, not people allocated. It is the functional manager’s ultimate decision to allocate the right people in the context of other business constraints;
ü  Functional managers trust Project managers enough to give them authority over the team and not to intervene in the way the team is run;
ü  If a functional manager can not achieve the objectives assumed, the Project Manager has the duty to persuade him to seek alternative solutions;
ü  The Project Manager has the authority to make decisions regarding the project he leads. Decision-making authority and power are decentralized;
ü  The Project Manager is required to inform the project sponsor and ask them for intervention if required. At the same time, the project sponsor will be permanently available to help, but it will not interfere in the management of the project and will not take decisions in project matters;
ü  The Project Manager (and other team members) are encouraged to submit recommendations, alternatives and ask for allocation of resources outside the team and even from the senior management team, if this is required to solve problems beyond its authority and in the best interest of the project. These recommendations and requests should be included in an internal project progress report. What you need to include an internal report of progress has been explained in Chapter 13.3 Project progress reporting;
ü  There is a process of internal progress reporting that runs periodically (chapter 13.3 Project progress reporting).

The organization has reached the maturity needed to reach the next level when it recognizes the difference between project management and operational management, and that a different set of skills is required to act as Project Manager. The focus moves on:

ü  Motivate Project Managers to be more proficient;
ü  Recruitment / growth of Project Managers who excel;
ü  Increased productivity of the project team;
ü  Increased productivity of the organization as a whole;
ü  Establish project methodology as a current practice.

Achieving this level of maturity does not mean that running totally/only successful projects. It means that they will be run efficiently, thereby maximizing their chances to be successful. Indeed, by measuring number successful projects, top management should be able to see an upward trend. But project management, even at its peak performance, does not solve problems of unrealistic goals or unfavorable economic or organizational context.
This author empirically considers that this phase, from its initiation until the maturity necessary to move to the next level, might take two years.

4. Project Performance Benchmarking

The organization that reached this phase will put a lot of emphasis on measuring project performance and project portfolio performance. Besides the quality of the portfolio can be measured, other aspects can be measure, such as the accuracy of the initial planning, financial forecast accuracy, risk management accuracy, customer satisfaction, quality of deliverables, etc.

This is the best time to establish a Project Management Office (PMO), or a Community of Practice in Project Management. The difference between the two is mainly about the power of the new structure, the subordination of Project Managers and the list of responsibilities of each form of organization. With a Project Management Office, Project Managers report to the Director PMO, while the Community is a virtual structure having a professional leader, but the Project Managers remain subordinate hierarchical, to the functional manager.

The difference of functions within each structure is shown below. One can see how PMO’s responsibilities include excellence in Project Management that is provided by a Project Management Community and receives additional functional responsibilities of being the central point and health monitoring project costs (Portfolio Management, post to follow).

This is also the time when, in order to meet the need for measuring performance of project management activities, dedicated Project Management Information Systems (PMIS) are implemented in an organization.

Some resistance to change can occur in this phase. The measurements made ​​can be dismissed as erroneous, due to some conjectural factors, and even the original authors of the methodology can withstand measurement initiatives for fear that the results could be bad and can block improvement initiatives, using arguments such as "Measurement is not relevant to us" or "It does not apply to us."

5. Continuos improvement

Based on the understanding provided by performance measurement of the projects, the necessary corrective measures can be taken to improve the quality of project management processes. Another objective may be to simplify the methodology and minimize required documentation once the organizational culture was transformed. In this phase, the top management should encourage useful documentation project, clear and efficient communication, minimize emotional conflict, and document lessons learned and improvements to make them available for the next project.

This is when a personal development strategy is created for the Project Manager, with mapping between levels of seniority of Project Managers and relevant curriculum for them.

Also, the organization may become interested not only in comparing projects with their own objectives, but also with how other organizations are implementing Project Management, their cost structure and the improvements they make.

As Project Managers themselves become seniors, and the organization gains confidence that the processes of project management is functional, rigid policies and procedures are abandoned and replaced with guidelines, checklists and reusable artifacts. Both the organization and the Project Manager can enjoy more flexibility, an informal style based on collaboration and cooperation, rather than enforcement. Unfortunately, this goal can be achieved only at the fifth maturity level, because only then can the project management function effectively and without the rigid controls imposed by the policies and procedures. There is o shortcut: all large organizations go through the control phase before they can reach an informal style of Project Management. Even at this level, the senior management must question periodically whether by undertaking informal Project Management, the company does not return to lower levels of maturity, and to balance the need to control with the informal style in order for the Project Management to remain effective.

Guerilla Project Management for Executive Managers

Why is Project Management important for Executive Managers? Our daily activities and jobs include Project Management activities, even if they are hidden under different names. This blog is partly about how to run projects, and partly (and puts a great emphasis) on how to benefit from a Project oriented approach, no matter which step of your career you are to.

Implementing Project Management, meaning implementing a Project Management methodology, opening Project Manager jobs or creating the Project Management Office, is usually an initiative of the top management of a company, because they are in perpetual search of new ways to develop competitive advantages. That is the rationale for this blog being partly addressed to executives: one must know what to expect and ask from Project Management and where is her organization on the path of Project Management Maturity. You will find what is common and what is not in the problems you might experience during this journey, all with the purpose of being successful in implementing Project Management as a competitive advantage.

Although based on the PMBok methodology, this blog is not destined for studying for the PMP certification. There are far more thorough materials available for this purpose. The best practices (in my opinion) that are described here are exclusively based on real practice and can differ from the theoretical concepts the PMBok describes. They are presented somehow different for ensuring a practical, down-to-earth understanding for people that are not specialized in Project Management.

Here is how to benefit on Project Management no matter where you are:

• If you are an executive manager: use Project-oriented organization in order to achieve you business/strategic objectives;

• If you are a senior manager and work in a company that could benefit from project-oriented approach, use the rationale presented by this blog to see how it can apply to your company and to convince upper management to use a Project Management approach;

• If you are the Project Sponsor, that is, you pay for the project from your own budget, use this blog to find out how to act as a Project Sponsor in order to maximize the benefits for the money you are paying;

• If you are a Project manager that has an internal client (that is, from your own organization), find out how to relate with the rest of the organization in order to secure the resources that are needed for the project;

• If you are a Project manager that has an external client (that is, from outside of your organization), find out what is specific for these projects and how to involve the client for their being successful;

• If you find your self being a de-facto Project Manager (although your title might differ), use this blog to formalize your knowledge in Project Management; it is my belief that each and everyone of us is a Project Manager, either at work or at home. 

This blog uses the following concepts as its core:

• Project-oriented organization and approach: its description and why is it considered sound business practice. How to ensure cross-functional and cross-departmental initiatives success by using virtual teams (Project Management Maturity);

• Understanding organizational culture needed to reach certain levels in Project Management Maturity, ensuring the context needed for successfully reaching business objectives using projects and nurturing a culture that facilitates quick decision-making and short communication paths within the organization. How to stimulate initiative, participation and group motivation at all organizational levels (post to follow);

• Understand project definition, the adequate project size and how to allocate a Project Manager that fits the job. Effective management by delegating authority and control to a good Project Manager (post to follow);

• What means a good Project Manager and how/where to recruit the needed Project Manager (post to follow);

• Understand what is a Project Management methodology and what advantages it brings if used consistently. Add a complex practice skillset in general planning and managing projects, and use them to create competitive advantages for your organization (post to follow);

• Understand the project lifecycle: Start-up, Planning, Executing, Controlling and Closing (post to follow);

• Define a program as an interrelated set of projects with common objectives and interdependencies; manage change within your organization that comes with implementing programs. Learn the level of necessary skills required for running big projects/programs and how can one advance from Project Manager to being a Program Manager (Program Management, Program Governance, Managing Change, Communicating BenefitsChoosing the Right Program Manager);

• Understand Portfolio Management concepts and how to analyze a Portfolio of Projects (post to follow);

• How to set up a Project Management Office (post to follow).