In our last Blog we talked about the challenges facing project management and performance improvement programs: projects running over-budget and behind schedule, projects that never reach completion, growing your group and maintaining high quality and high payback results. We also discussed that the most visible trend in project management is the move towards higher credentials. Not necessarily the worst trend, but definitely not the most effective move for most project management groups (see the last blog). Today, we’re going to talk about some alternatives.
In our last Blog I compared the management of a Project Management Office (PMO) to a gold mine. As you continue to take the gold out of a gold mine, the cost to extract every additional ounce of gold from the mine increases (or performance declines). The only way to turn this around is to change your own processes to increase productivity. In other words, the PMO must use project management and process improvement techniques to improve productivity. The best option to drive ever increasing performance is… surprise… technology! The two best technologies to drive higher performance are: project management software and social media sites.
The first, project management software, is pretty easy to understand. Even basic project management software can take over a lot of simple functions that take up a lot of time: storing the schedule, sending out notices when deliverables become due, reminding PM’s about upcoming events, maintaining mailing lists, etc. PM software is not only very good at performing these functions, but it can free up a lot of time for higher-level functions. Full-featured PM applications identify and analyze project interdependencies, which is increasingly on larger more complex projects, and with clusters of related projects. In my own experience as a PMO director and in speaking with my peers, managing interdependencies and interactions between projects is one of the most important aspects of PMO management. The bigger you get, the more interactions you need to manage, and the greater the chance of cascading project failure if interactions are not properly managed.
A good project management application will have many more features, and there are many applications to choose from. Take a look at what is constraining your projects, or is not working as well as possible and find application that will drive a higher level of success. Once you have the right PM software in place, now you want to start working with a good social media site. Some of you may be thinking, “How can Facebook help me with a global software upgrade, or the roll-out of new service centers to our branch offices?,” or any other project for that matter. Well, while some businesses have claimed great success with Facebook, MySpace or Twitter, I don’t think they have the right features for project management. Instead, I would turn to Linked-In and emerging networking sites like Op-Spark.
Let’s look at how Linked-In can help you. Just about every PM or improvement school (Six Sigma, Agile, Scrum, PMP, Prince2, SDLC, etc.) tells you to make use expert opinions at some point in the project life-cycle. In the past, we were limited in how much we could use expert opinions depending on who we knew or which experts we could afford to hire. Linked-In has vastly increased our ability to obtain expert opinions and decreased the cost. Linked-In has 150,000,000 users (and growing). If you put a little effort into building your network, you can reach out to a vast number of experts in just about any field, no matter how specific. Linked-In allows you to perform comprehensive searches on the skills, education and interests of other Linked-In users so that you can find the specific individual (or individuals) with the skills you need. You can find the professionals who already completed the very project you are working on now. If you can’t find the expert you need, you can ask questions in the “ANSWERS” section, or in a professional group to identify who has the experience you need.
Linked-In allows you to build huge, comprehensive, networks of experts with very specific skills and experience. If you build a big network you can ask that network questions like, “What is the average cost for a project like this?,” or “Do you have experience in deploying this product,” or “Tell me your experience in working with this vendor.” Or any other question that will help you to move a project forward or successfully close a project. You can ask about secrets of success, and you can ask why projects failed. You can even ask for opinions on consultants and vendors you plan on hiring.
Networking was around long before the Internet, but Internet based networking adds two incredible benefits. First, the numbers are so large (150,000,000 Linked-In users) that with just a little effort, you can find any skill you want. Second, everyone on these networks WANTS TO BE FOUND. Unlike finding experts in the phone book, or through a Google search, professionals you find on Linked-In… want you to talk to them! They are so keen on having conversations with people about their professions that they have taken the time to write their profiles and update you on their activities. This population truly wants you to contact them! If all you get out of Linked-In is the occasional conversation with an expert that can tell you what you shouldn’t do, and thereby remove projects from your portfolio that are doomed to fail or redesign projects so that they can succeed, you will significantly improve the effectiveness of your organization!
We need to remember that even though project management and process improvement provides us with phenomenal tools, most of these tools are old… very old. Six Sigma and the Project Management Institute (PMI) were founded in the 80s. The tools they use were developed between the turn of the last century and the 50s. Some techniques go back even further. Not just project managers use these tools, and many of the concepts of efficiency, measurement and improvement of processes, budgeting and scheduling, and management of communications are used in a variety of positions outside of the PMO. In order to drive greater efficiency, or even just maintain existing productivity, we NEED to use new techniques and new technology. Project management software and professional networks built from social network sites are our best bet to energize our PMO’s and increase the success of our projects. And that’s my Niccolls worth for today!