We're going to begin looking at strategic planning success factors in the organization in regards to project management practices how they align with missions and goals of the organization as a whole.

Critical success factors for strategic planning for project management include those activities that must be performed if the organization is to achieve its long-term objectives. Most businesses have only a handful of critical success factors.

However, if even one of them is not executed successfully, the business's competitive position may be threatened.

The critical success factors in achieving project management excellence apply equally to all types of organizations, even those that have not fully implemented their project management systems. Though most organizations are sincere in their efforts to fully implement their systems, stumbling blocks are inevitable and must be overcome. Here's a list of common complaints from project teams:

  • There's scope creep in every project and no way to avoid it. Managing it closely even with powerful tools like Seavus Project Viewer won't necessarily make scope creep unavoidable.
  • Completion dates are set before project scope and requirements have been agreed upon.
  • Detailed project plans identifying all of the project's activities, tasks, and subtasks are not available.
  • Projects emphasize deadlines. We should emphasize milestones and quality and not time.
  • Senior managers don't always allow us to use pure project management techniques. Too many of them are still date driven instead of requirements driven. Original target dates should be used only for broad planning.
  • Project management techniques from the 1960s are still being used on most projects. We need to learn how to manage from a plan and how to use shared resources.
  • Sometimes we are pressured to cut estimates low to win a contract, but then we have to worry about how we'll accomplish the project's objectives.
  • There are times when line personnel not involved in a project change the project budget to maintain their own chargeability. Management does the same.
  • Hidden agendas come into play. Instead of concentrating on the project, some people are out to set precedents or score political points.
  • We can't run a laboratory without equipment, and equipment maintenance is a problem because there's no funding to pay for the materials and labor.
  • Budgets and schedules are not coordinated. Sometimes we have spent money according to the schedule but are left with only a small percentage of the project activities complete.
  • Juggling schedules on multiple projects is sometimes almost impossible.
  • Sometimes we filter information from reports to management because we fear sending them negative messages.
  • There's a lot of caving in on budgets and schedules. Trying to be a good guy all the time is a trap.

With these comments in mind, let's look at the three critical success factors in achieving project management excellence: qualitative, organizational, and quantitative factors.

If excellence in project management means a continuous stream of successfully completed projects, then our first step should be to define success. Success in projects has traditionally been defined as achieving the project's objectives within the following constraints:

  • Allocated time
  • Budget cost
  • Desired performance at technical or specification level
  • Quality standards as defined by customers or users

In experienced organizations, the four preceding parameters have been extended to include the following:

  • With minimal or mutually agreed upon scope changes
  • Without disturbing the organization's corporate culture or values
  • Without disturbing the organization's usual work flow

These last three parameters deserve further comment.

Organizations that eventually achieve excellence are committed to quality and up-front planning so that minimal scope changes are required as the project progresses. Those scope changes that are needed must be approved jointly by both the customer and the contractor. They must also be incorporated into the master project schedule with a tool like Seavus Project Viewer. A well-thought-out process for handling scope changes is in place in such organizations. Even in large profit making, project-driven industries, such as aerospace, defense, and large construction, tremendous customer pressure can be expected to curtail any 'profitable” scope changes introduced by the contractor.

Most organizations have well-established corporate cultures that have taken years to build. On the other hand, project managers may need to develop their own subcultures for their projects, particularly when the projects will require years to finish. Such temporary project cultures must be developed within the limitations of the larger corporate culture. The project manager should not expect senior officers of the company to allow the project manager free rein.

The same limitations affect organizational workflow. Most project managers working in organizations that are only partially project-driven realize that line managers in their organizations are committed to providing continuous support to the company's regular functional work. Satisfying the needs of time-limited projects may only be secondary. Project managers are expected to keep the welfare of their whole companies in mind when they make project decisions.

Executives can support project managers by reminding them of this two-part responsibility by:

  • Encouraging project managers to take on non-project responsibilities, such as administrative activities
  • Providing project managers with information on the company's operations and not just information pertaining to their assigned projects
  • Supporting meaningful dialogue among project managers
  • Asking whether decisions made by project managers are in the best interest of the company as a whole

Coordination of organizational behavior in project management is a delicate balancing act, something like sitting on a barstool. Bar stools usually come with three legs to keep them standing. So does project management: one is the project manager, one is the line manager, and one is the project sponsor. If one of the legs is lost or unusable, the stool will be very difficult to balance.

Although line managers are the key to successful project management, they will have a lot of trouble performing their functions without effective interplay with the project's manager and corporate sponsor. In unsuccessful projects, the project manager has often been vested with power (authority) over the line managers involved. In successful projects, project and line managers are more likely to have shared authority. The project manager will have negotiated the line managers' commitment to the project and worked through them, not around them. The project manager probably provided recommendations regarding employee performance. And leadership was centered around the whole project team, not just the project manager.

In successful project management systems, the following equation always holds true:

Accountability = Responsibility + Authority

When project and line managers view each other as equals, they share equally in the management of the project, and thus they share equally the authority, responsibility, and accountability for the project's success. Obviously the sharing of authority makes shared decision-making easier. The project management methodology must account for shared accountability. A few suggestions for executive project sponsors follow:

Do not increase the authority of the project manager at the expense of the line managers. Allow line managers to provide technical direction to their people, if at all possible.

In organizations that have created effective project management systems, the role of the executive manager has changed along with project management. Early in the implementation of project management, executives were actively involved in the everyday project management process. But as project management has come into its own and as general economic conditions have changed, executive involvement has become more passive, and project sponsors now usually concentrate on long-term and strategic planning. They have learned to trust project managers to make the day-to-day decisions and they have come to view project management as a central factor in their company's success.

Project sponsors provide visible, ongoing support. Their role is to act as a bodyguard for the project and the project manager. Unlike other executives on the senior management team, individual project sponsors may play a more active role in projects, depending on how far along the project is. Early in the project's functioning, for example, the project sponsor might help the project manager define the project's requirements. Once that is done, the sponsor resumes a less active role and receives project information only as needed.

In successful project management systems that carry a high volume of on-going project work, an executive sponsor may not be assigned to low-dollar-value or low-priority projects. Middle managers may fill the sponsorship role in some cases. But no matter what the size or value of the project, project sponsors today are responsible for the welfare of all members of their project teams, not just that of the project manager.

The existence of a project sponsor implies visible, ongoing executive support for project management. And executive support motivates project personnel to excel. Executive project sponsorship also supports the development of an organizational culture that fosters confidence in the organization's project management systems.

Recommendations for obtaining maturity include:

  • Educate the executives as to the benefits of project management.
  • Convince the executives of the necessity for ongoing, visible support in the capacity of a project sponsor.
  • Convince executives that they need not know all the details. Provide them with the least information that tells the most.
  • Encourage line managers to provide realistic time and resource estimates, and then work with the line managers to make sure they keep their promises.
  • Above all, keep the line managers fully informed.