From Traditional to Non-Traditional Projects
By Harold Kerzner, Ph.D. | Senior Executive Director for Project Management, IIL
For almost four decades, companies on a worldwide basis struggled with the creation of a singular methodology that could be used to manage all their projects. The singular methodology was a necessity for senior management that was reluctant to surrender their “command and control” posture over the project management community. The methodologies were designed so that senior management could retain some degree of standardization and control from the top down through the hierarchy and that project teams would not be allowed to make decisions that were reserved for the senior levels of management. Executives, marketing and sales personnel were fearful of what power and authority project managers might obtain.
Today’s project managers do not realize the degrees of mistrust that some of us had to endure as project managers years ago. At that time, if the choice were up to executives in the contractors’ organizations, project managers would not exist, and all projects would be managed by functional management, marketing or sales personnel. But the clients and stakeholders preferred to talk directly to the project managers (rather than communications with just sales and marketing personnel) and encouraged the contractors to recognize the need for creating project management positions.
The Growth of Nontraditional Projects:
Singular methodologies provided the executives with the command and control they desired but there were some risks. Executives tried to enforce the belief that the singular methodology was the solution to their project management concerns and that one-size-fits-all, which meant that every project in the company would be required to use the same, singular approach. Unfortunately, executive soon began to realize that not all projects can use the one-size-fits-all methodology. Operational or traditional projects may be able to follow a singular methodology, but strategic and other forms of nontraditional projects may have to be managed differently.
The approach that companies then undertook was to have strategic and nontraditional projects managed by functional managers that were then allowed a great deal of freedom in how they chose to manage the projects. Executives trusted functional managers more so than project managers and were not perceived as a threat to senior management.
By the turn of the century, the number of nontraditional projects was growing. More trust was being placed in the hands of the project managers and companies began recognizing that the one-size-fits-all approach needed to be modified or replaced with flexible methodologies or frameworks, such as agile or Scrum, which provided more freedom and authority to the project managers.
The Impact of the Growth in Nontraditional Projects:
In some companies, the number of nontraditional projects was perhaps 200% more than traditional projects as seen in the center of Exhibit 1 below. As the need for more flexibility in project management took hold, changes began to appear in the way that some of the traditional processes were being used.
Exhibit 1. Changes in Our View of Project Management Processes
The Hexagon of Excellence
The hexagon of excellence identifies some of the changes that companies made as they began to use project management on the nontraditional projects:
- Integrated processes: Project managers were now expected to make business-based decisions as well as the traditional technical or project-based decisions. As such, business processes were now integrated with project management processes in flexible project management approaches.
- Culture: Project management was now recognized as processes that can and will affect the entire company rather than just specific functional areas. As such, a project management culture that supports company-wide cooperation must be developed and enforced by senior management.
- Management Support: Management support is essential. Senior management must realize that they must actively function as project sponsors and serve on governance committees. They must also realize project governance is NOT the same as functional governance and must be willing to understand and accept new levels of authority, responsibility and decision making.
- Training and Education: Providing training to just the project managers no longer works. If a corporate-wide project management culture is to be created, then it is possible that the entire organization may need to undergo some training.
- Informal Project Management: Part of the training must promote informal project management practices that are predicated upon people working together and without being forced to rely upon the use of superior-subordinate relationships. Titles and levels of authority should not be critical when working on project teams.
- Behavioral Excellence: Human resource management courses will grow. Rather than emphasize the traditional behavioral theories, the focus will be on communication, cooperation, teamwork, and trust, with trust perhaps being the most important item.
Capturing Best Practices
For decades, we relied entirely upon capturing best practices, but just those related to project management. Today, we believe that, if you are managing a project, you are managing part of a business and are expected to make business decisions as well as project decisions. Therefore, we are now capturing best practices in all parts of the business rather than in just project management. What we discover as part of our findings are now part of an information warehouse rather than just a best practices library. As seen in Exhibit 1, we are now developing a structured process by which all forms of best practices can be discovered.
Project Management Maturity Models
Typical project management maturity models, as shown in Exhibit 1 still apply, but more models are entering the marketplace. In Exhibit 1, Level 3 may be replaced with flexible methodologies rather than a singular approach. Level 4 is expected to grow significantly as companies realize that benchmarking against companies that are world class leaders in project management may give better results than just benchmarking against companies in their own industry. In Level 5, companies are demonstrating a greater willingness to implement changes in the best interest of the company rather than worrying about their own power base and authority.
Companies have recognized the need for PMOs for more than three decades. However, there were significant power struggles for which executive would maintain control of the PMO. There was a belief that “information is power” and whichever executive would control the PMO would become more powerful than his/her contemporaries.
As nontraditional projects grew, there was an apparent need for multiple PMOs. The situation becomes more complex as companies began expanding globally and recognized the need for geographically dispersed PMOs. But some executive still felt threatened by the PMO concept and opted for the creation of “master” and “subordinate” PMOs. Today, this concept seems to have diminished as companies have recognized the importance of networking their PMOs as shown in Exhibit 1.
There is significantly more information we could have discussed related to each component in Exhibit 1 resulting from the growth of nontraditional projects. But what appears obvious is that change is happening and appears to be for the betterment of the project management community. Where project management will take us, we do not know. But what is certain is that there is a growth in the use of nontraditional projects and the accompanying project management processes.
Harold Kerzner (M.S., Ph.D., Engineering, and M.B.A) is IIL’s Senior Executive Director for Project Management. He is a globally recognized expert on project management and strategic planning, and the author of many best-selling textbooks including Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling and Project Management 2.0. Dr. Kerzner has previously taught project management and business administration at Baldwin-Wallace University, engineering at the University of Illinois and business administration at Utah State University. He obtained his industrial experience at Thiokol Corporation where he held both program management and project engineering responsibilities on a variety of NASA, Air Force, Army, Navy, and internal R&D programs.
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