Recently a project manager mentee asked; ‘What should you do to improve an organization’s level of project management maturity when you are engaged by a new client to manage a project?’
The first thing I said was demonstrate project management competency then address project management maturity. Most organizations that engage my services are at a low level of maturity regarding project management which includes portfolio project management (PPM) at the strategic level, the project management office (PMO) at the developmental level and project leadership at the tactical level
Briefly low level maturity at the strategic level indicates inadequate project evaluation, selection, prioritization and sequencing processes for strategic initiatives at the enterprise or divisional levels. Typically there is no process to allocate resources, no discipline to a rigorous oversight process to hold people accountable and generally there is poor visibility to the health status of strategic projects at the top of the house.
At the developmental level in most cases a PMO does not exist. If one does exist usually there is no standard methodology or processes for managing a project. Tools or templates to drive project manager efficiency and mentoring and training for project managers are generally non existent.
At the tactical level inexperienced and ‘accidental’ project managers are the norm. Few if any have had any formal training in project management and are not at a high enough level or have the seasoning and battle scars to challenge the status quo regarding project management in the organization.
With that as the backdrop when I’m engaged by a new client I concentrate on completing activities in my domain of responsibility. That focuses me to what I have been asked to do and what I should stay away or delay from doing regarding project management.
I insist on meeting with the project sponsor. What I am trying to find out here is the value to the organization for completing the project that I am being asked to lead and to whom it is important that it gets completed on a timely basis. I stay away from any discussion about the organization’s project management maturity at this point.
My next step is to meet with the project team, tell them what I heard from the project sponsor and begin development of a project plan outlining what needs to be accomplished, who will do the work and when will it get done.
Next you definitely want to have a weekly status meeting to monitor and report progress, slippage and risks to all stakeholders. You will be surprised that the transparency you bring via consistent updates to the project is the exception and not the rule in most organizations will differentiate you. Advise the team that the status meeting is to report status of their activities as being completed, on schedule or behind schedule. Set the expectation that any activity that is behind schedule requires a revised due date and the reason for slippage. What you want to know is why they haven’t met their commitment. Be sure to reset expectations with the team regarding any slippage and corrective actions that need to take place to avoid reoccurrence.
Remember we are talking about an organization with a low level of maturity when it comes to project management so you need to explain why you need to know the reason for slippage and what you intend to do with that information. Approximately 90% of the time the reason for slippage will be due to competing job demands resulting from team members having too much on their plate.
I’ll inform the team that I need to understand what other things they are working on so I can meet with the project sponsor and request work that is a lower priority be delayed or taken off their plate so they can hit their dates and keep the project on track or negotiate agreement to push out the end date of the project. This is the way to get to know how important the project really is. If the sponsor continually accepts project delays you’ll know the project is not a top priority. This sends me a message that the resources assigned to my project might better serve the organization by being assigned to a higher priority project which suggests both project prioritization and resource allocation issues that can help me address the maturity issue at a later date.
I stated to my mentee that the problems she encounters on her project will probably be commonplace throughout the organization and her effectiveness with resolving those issues will provide opportunity to initiate discussions about project management maturity.
It’s important as a project manager who has been asked to lead a project to understand the difference between what you have been asked to do versus attempting to fix or improve something else. Make sure your project is on track and moving in a positive direction or have documentation that states otherwise before turning some attention to discussing the project management maturity level within an organization.