Building Management Support for Project Management

by Carl Pritchard, Pritchard Management Associates

One visitor to ProjectConnections.com sent an e-mail a few months back asking for help in building management support for project management after the PM practice's primary champion passed away. She asked how to get management to understand the need for project management. It's a question many of us ask.

I would suggest that we can never convince anyone of the need for project management if they don't convince themselves. Getting them to convince themselves, however, is a journey we can readily help them take. Think about the telemarketer that you actually spoke with in the past year. What did it take to get you to stop and listen to their presentation? They were offering something you needed. They were offering something that you could not resist.

That becomes our mission. We need to be able to offer services that they cannot resist. And while such services vary widely from organization to organization, here are four basic services that may start you on your way (or facilitate your efforts if the journey has already begun).
  • Communications liaison
  • Charter author
  • PM software clairvoyant
  • Master researcher
Communications Liaison
Most sales are actually done by providing evidence that the product or service being offered fills a need. One of the critical needs in any organization is the need for clear communication. This is normally a more dramatic need in projects than in conventional functional environments because of the nature of the difference between the two. In a conventional functional environment, the chain of command frequently becomes the model for all communications. Worker talks to supervisor, supervisor talks to manager, and manager talks to executive management. The lines of command are clear and simple. There's not a lot of room for confusion. Because of that simplicity, the project environment sometimes becomes a wild m�lange of information because of the nature of the environment. Since there's not the crystal-clear chain of command, the relationships among the parties become blurred. And since they're fuzzy, the communications become fuzzy.

Our role? We can become the arbiters of quality communication. We can create the structure that builds in a modicum of clarity where it did not exist before. How? Identify the communications needs of the key players and ensure there's someone to fill those needs. Become the project archivist (or appoint one). Create subdirectories where
most/all of the information for the project can be found. Create regular team updates via e-mail or other sources. Orchestrate/facilitate meetings (but only if you really know how to control a crowd).

The last one is definitely a place to either win hearts or to destroy your image. In organizations where meeting control is a major issue, the ability to control meetings is a major roadblock (or opportunity to excel). Some survival tactics? Put up the schedule and agenda and stick to it like glue. Emphasize that you'll be doing so from the start, and why. Stress that it's out of respect for the time and commitment of each and every person in the room. If you're afraid of losing control of the time, turn it back over to the participants by establishing a protocol for violating that schedule, and make sure that they have the final say on whether or not it's violated. Also, if there are individuals senior to you that have a propensity for dragging out discussion topics, invite them by proxy (sending a representative), don't invite them, or ask them, in advance, what it would take to control the discussion. Explain your reasons and your aims and make them your ally, rather than confronting them in the session. Control those individuals who often seem out of control, and you'll definitely win some hearts to project management.

Charter Author
The Project Management Institute suggests on the PMP® Certification Exam that the project charter is authored by senior management. In the ideal, that may be true. In most organizations, however, the project manager writes it, if it exists at all. By designating yourself as the charter author, you become the individual who determines how the project description is couched and what management will ultimately concur is the approach to be used. That's a major responsibility. It's also a major opportunity.

It becomes a more significant opportunity with a set of signatures. One of the defining moments of my career came when I hounded a boss to the very gates of unemployment asking for a signature. When he suggested my next request might be my last, I explained that he had fired the two project managers on the effort before me, and if he didn't sign, it would be a matter of simply postponing the inevitable for another six months. I got the signature. And that signature gave my project charter ten times the weight it would have had had I simply "run it by him." Granted, there's a level of risk associated with that type of behavior, but it creates enormous opportunity and makes the project manager the judge of what the project ultimately looks like.

How does this sell them on the notion of your value? You save them the time and effort of authorship. You save them the struggle to define what the project is. You're taking a load off their shoulders, and acknowledging their authority at the same time.

Project Management Software Clairvoyant
Still, most managers want the authority to make changes. They feel that's their role. They need to be adjusting and tweaking and improving. We should afford them that capability. And we can make them look good in doing it, if we can actually flex some of the muscle in the project management software.

A project baseline, properly loaded into the software, will have dependencies, resources, and a host of other information embedded about the project. Some project managers try to circumvent the onus of data entry by loading in a series of fixed dates (rather than dependencies) and identifying resources at the summary level (rather than in each individual work package or task, depending upon approach). Don't! There's power in those dependencies. There's a wealth of insight provided loading resources work package by work package. And it proves itself when we conduct those "what-if?" analyses.

The beauty of loading the baseline properly into the PM software package is that it becomes possible to highlight and illustrate what happens if a single resource is changed, or if an activity or sequence of activities is added. It provides a crystal ball into which we can peer and make predictions about project performance, delivery dates and potential conflicts among the functions. To do this well, it's important to either get the information from management in advance to present the insights and the alternatives, or to become the resident "whiz kid" on the project management software. That's a real challenge. As PM software becomes progressively more and more complex (and even the low-end tools are becoming just that), the learning curve on clairvoyance is climbing. But if management has a propensity for change, it may be worth the investment to serve as the strongest link in the chain in understanding the tools.

By becoming facile in the tools, we again provide management with a valuable service that they might not have believed was available or have understood they could flex.

Master Researcher
There are a lot of things that we don't know. There are a lot of things that our management doesn't know. There's a significant information gap, and we have the opportunity to fill some small part of it. Hot topics in project management? Communications. Critical Chain. "Good to Great." Extreme PM. Portfolio. Project Office. Risk. Each of these topics has its masters. Each has its latest writings and readings. Each has some new nuance or flavor to enhance the way we do business. As project managers, we can help our management shop the market of ideas.

The ProjectConnections.com web site has a lot of information in these areas. There are a lot of great texts out there to read and review. There's a wealth of insight and a mountain of opportunities to extract it. My commitment? Read 10 pages a day; ten pages of just about anything, but I must read ten pages a day. Why? I then commit myself to sharing what I've learned in my next presentation, meeting or discussion. And by channeling that information out, I become more valuable to those in the organizations I serve. It doesn't take much to find ten pages of content that you didn't know about before. Start here on this website and there are hundreds of pages of articles, templates, and other content. Check out the latest issues of Project Manager Today, PM Network® or just do a search on project management on Amazon.com. By becoming a voracious reader, you become a greater asset to your organization and to your management.

Going for the Close
Finally, affirm to management the value you're bringing them on a regular basis. It's not well-advised to simply take these actions and assume they'll acknowledge them. They may not. Instead, if we're going to take these actions, we need to ensure that we present them for what they are. They are value added and need to be valued as such. We need to trumpet them as accomplishments and as steps forward for the organization as a whole. And if we are able to make those accomplishments sufficiently visible, we will, with luck, leave management wanting for more and wondering what other information we may have at our disposal. Twisting the Edward Fitzgerald quote from The Rub�iy�t of Omar Khayy�m, "I wonder often what the [project managers] buy one half so precious as the stuff they sell." Let's leave our management with that sentiment!

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