Eric Verzuh’s book “The Portable MBA in Project Management” discusses a study that was performed on 26 companies of varying sizes to determine whether implementing specific project management practices produced any actual project performance improvement.
Results from the study showed that companies with the best practice attributes I’ll describe next consistently scored better than their counterparts in four categories:
- Actual cost of projects as a percentage of the budgeted cost was 6 percent better for best practice companies.
- Best practice companies had a 25 percent better rate of completing projects on budget.
- Best practice companies had a 29 percent better rate of completing projects on time.
- Actual hours as a percentage of budgeted hours was 15 percent lower for best practice companies.
The resulting data from the best practices study allows us to derive a profile of a mature project management organization. As we analyze the data, we find that the enablers and practices observed in the best practice companies can be isolated into a few core best practice attributes found in these companies.
1. Formal project management structure: Best practices companies have some type of project management structure, whether a program management office, project management office, project support office, or project knowledge center. Of the best practice companies surveyed, 50% had a program management office. What differentiates the program management office from other project management office structures is its responsibility for the delivery of programs, as opposed to strictly an administrative support role. In addition, the program management office is generally responsible to a vice president or director level with program managers directly assigned to this office. Data indicated that the program management office has a higher success rate than other project management structures in the percentage of projects completed on time and on budget.
2. Defined repeatable processes: Companies with defined repeatable project management processes had a higher rate of project success. Processes in these companies were aligned with the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK) process areas.
3. Executive involvement in project management: The best practices study found a high correlation between companies with a high degree of project success and those whose executives were actively involved in project management. The aspects of executive involvement with the greatest influence on project success consisted of:
- Alignment of projects to corporate strategy
- Visible executive management sponsorship
- Existence of an organizational structure that promotes and supports project management
- Executive management that prioritizes projects
The most commonly accepted vehicle that demonstrated executive involvement was the alignment of projects to corporate strategy. The companies studied had greater success with the percentage of projects completed on time and lower actual primary hours as a percentage of budgeted hours. It also demonstrates that best practices companies are using strategic planning methods to align projects to their day-to-day corporate functions, ensuring that work is being done on the highest priority initiatives.
Visible executive management sponsorship showed a higher success in the percentage of projects completed on time and for actual primary project hours as a percentage of budgeted hours. Executive management strongly indicates to personnel the importance of the project and that on-time and at-budget completion is a priority, which, therefore, contributes to a high degree of project success.
4. Project management information technology: As might be expected, best practice companies all used some form of information technology or project management tools to enable them to support their projects. The tools varied considerably among participant companies, and data indicated that the tools were closely integrated with the project management processes. The greatest area of consistency of tool use was in scheduling; 88 percent of respondents use some kind of scheduling tool, with more than 65 percent using Microsoft Project. Again, the survey data showed that companies using some sort of project management tools – such as Seavus’ Project Planner and Project Viewer or similar tools had a higher degree of success than those who did not.
5. Experienced project managers: Finally, hiring qualified people was found to be the single most important success factor in the companies studied.
The skills that were identified for project managers included:
- Experience in project management
- Ability to see the big picture
- Excellent communication skills (verbal and written)
- Willingness to do what it takes
- Valuing of team members
- Positive attitude
- Ability to work well with the customer
- Organizational skills
- Leadership ability
- Creation of a positive team/project environment
- Ability to solve problems
- Ability to collaborate and cooperate
Some of the best practices companies hired people with these skills, while others provided the mentoring and training necessary to develop the project manager’s skills and expertise. Overall, the ability of the project manager was the attribute among best practice companies that had the greatest impact on project success.