Agility: Rx for Project Success

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How do we change our behavior to make sure our projects, while using scarce dollars, deliver maximum value? One essential answer is to become more agile and flexible.

Samuel Johnson, the inventor of the English dictionary, once quipped, “The prospect of hanging concentrates the mind wonderfully.” Today’s economic woes and competitive pressures can cause CIOs, project management officers (PMOs) and project managers (PMs) to feel similarly motivated to wring success from every possible IT project.

Using traditional project methodologies will get you to the finish line on time and within budget most of the time. But what really drives the highest success rates for IT projects? How do we change our behavior to make sure our projects, while using scarce dollars, deliver maximum value?

One essential answer is to become more agile and flexible. Here are some steps you can take to boost your project success rate:

• Grow your own project management methodology. This doesn’t mean that you throw out your project management body of knowledge, but it does mean that you tweak your methodology to fit your organization. Use terms that fit the corporate culture and resonate with management and employees.

• Learn from history. Look at a cross-section of projects that have been completed in your firm in the past couple of years. What worked well? What practices caused problems? Then look at current projects and apply the lessons learned. The agile firm constantly adjusts and evolves based on both new ideas and lessons from the past.

• Create a methodology that burns rubber. Sometimes the business can’t wait. If the trade-off is poor long-term quality versus making a multimillion dollar sale, dollars usually win. So, don’t fight city hall. Create a fast-track process to accommodate your business reality. With an agile thought process in place, you can adapt your project management style to the culture and urgency of the project.

Following are two examples of fast-track modifications to the typical full-project methodology:

1. Modify scope statements. You can create charters, scope statements, resource matrix and communication plans as initial deliverables. These multiple-page materials can be shortened to a one- or two-page executive summary for a short-duration project. Generally, the entire buy-in documentation— including scope clarification, team structure and funding—consists of no more than four pages.

2. Keep it online. Many organizations use SharePoint for document storage, but you may go one step beyond that and use it to automate processes, such as sign-offs.

• Beware of false gods. Exotic processes, elegant forms and clever terminology may win the local PMO Association’s “Project Manager of the Year” award, but that may not be what your organization needs. Complex documents, excessive numbers of check points, and other nice-to-have functions could slow down the project. If you could wear your methodology on your wrist, it should look like a Timex, not a $5K Breitling Navitimer.

• Give away your project management knowledge. Inevitably there will be projects run by individuals outside the PMO’s organization. These “shadow PMs” are often highly motivated and interested in your professional insights. An agile PMO will capitalize on this interest and offer help, such as:

1. Training courses. Provide lunch-and-learn sessions or adopt an employee-sharing program that lets those who are interested work part-time within your project management team’s structure.

2. Template sharing. Package your most basic templates and share them with those who are interested.

3. Help those who stumble. Helping business-side team members recover from their mistakes creates goodwill and shows the power of good project management.

• Listen. Agility means that the PMO follows the cycle of listen, act, listen again—and so on. By listening, learning and adjusting the process as you go, your project management efforts will become customized, efficient and effective.

Project management is about getting things done. With a culture of adaptation and agility, you can streamline your project execution, cut your long-term costs and give the business what it needs.

Chris Chambliss is vice president of the Program Management Office (PMO) of NCI Building Systems. He has more than 15 years of experience in consulting, leading project teams and implementing business solutions.

William A. Yarberry Jr. is president of ICCM Consulting LLC. His practice is focused on IT governance, Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, security consulting and business analytics. He was previously a senior manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

This article was originally published on 2010-10-15
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