There's a school of thought among veterans of difficult change management projects that technology holds the key to success. The bigger the programme, the bigger the project management system you need, some would say.
But there are a number of reasons why these complex and costly systems can actually increase the risk of delay and budget over-runs, or in worst case, result in failure of an entire delivery.
First, some of the major project management systems are massively over-engineered. They include layers upon layers of esoteric functionality that is hardly ever used. If the system it too complex, there is a very real danger that they will end up serving as little more than glorified time recording systems, something that could be knocked-up in Excel in a few days.
Second, these big systems are old. They address change management and project management as if little or nothing had changed over the last 15 years. So many lessons have been learned and new techniques developed in recent times, but very little of this knowledge or new practice is evident in these dinosaur systems.
Third, big technology demands big resources. Complex systems require IT specialists - sometimes lots of them - to run and manage them. Not only does this create additional cost, it also creates an intellectual closed shop within a crucial component of the project management infrastructure. Given that openness, accuracy of data and transparency are the new watchwords of successful project management, this IT gatekeeper situation is completely counter-culture. Rather than managing risk, big systems create additional risk.
Fourth, big systems always end up costing far more than the vendors claim at the outset (which is a lot in the first place). Just ask anyone who has bought one!
Lastly, the complex technology employed by big systems gives a false comfort blanket to the sponsor and project team. Their sense of control and belief that the programme is on track exists only because the big complex project management system tells them so.
Change the only constant
It's important to recognise that at the heart of successful change management is risk management. That means managing risk at every level throughout the programme - i.e. from the bottom (such as the risk of key milestones being missed), right up to shareholder value at risk at any time during the course of the programme. This is crucial data which should be shared between the Project Sponsor and the CEO and ensures that the top people in the organisation are actively and fully engaged in the programme.
Furthermore many large corporates are by necessity in a constant state of change. They face pressures of regulation or governance changes, new technology that impacts on their market, changes forced on them from competitors, and many others. For this reason, change becomes a permanent characteristic of their business, which means that shareholder value is constantly at risk. And monitoring of this risk becomes essential.
Project risk management demands a toolset that can guarantee accuracy of data, openness, transparency and visibility at every level. It is therefore important that risks can be evaluated and escalated up the management tiers within a major change programme. Some risks can stay at a low level in a project as they will have limited impact if they ever do turn into issues. Conversely, some risks need to be elevated to more senior levels because if these risks become issues then they can have a major impact on the wider programme or even the organisation itself.
Big toolsets are not good at identifying and monitoring these risks. What is needed is a more nimble project management system that enables you to see the wood from the trees, allowing different risks to be assessed and reviewed by different people.
Shareholder value risks should be reviewed by the Board and the CEO, whereas risks that are limited to the project should be dealt with by the project team and the sponsor. To be able to do this you need to have quick and easy access to a programme's risk map at each and every level. In this iPad-dominated world, pages of printed risk tables simply do not cut it.
Big, traditional project management systems cannot be deployed in this way because they do not provide practical tools. And risk management - these days - is now the name of the game in project management.
A practical alternative
PM3 from Bestoutcome is a toolset that has been developed by practitioners who have years of big change experience. It is infused with the very latest thinking and is an extremely powerful project risk management system delivering dashboard-style risk data in a form that works just as well on a desktop as it does on a tablet. It is an elegant, user-focused toolset that is sophisticated but easy to learn and easy to use. In many ways, PM3 is the contemporary antithesis of old big system project management technology.