Project management has moved from building sites to offices to deliver results on time and to budget. Lauren Thomsen-Moore reports.
Dr Elizabeth Shannon, of the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services, knew that the team had a big job ahead.
They had to transfer an entire dual campus hospital which services a region of approximately 108,000 people from private hands to public management.
As well as the major restructure, the implementation of the North West Tasmania Regional Services Plan involved the purchase of new ambulances, a new ambulance station based at the Mersey Campus, the conversion of a volunteer ambulance station to a fully salaried station, and a new volunteer ambulance unit in a third regional centre.
One of the big challenges faced by the Transition Project team led by the CEO of the North West Regional Hospital, Ken Campbell was to reassure the local community, as well as the employees of the hospital, that the government had heard their concerns and was moving to stabilise the hospital.
Using project management skills, the Mersey Community Hospital was established as part of the dual-campus North West Regional Hospital four months ahead of schedule.
While in the past, project management tended to be restricted to the heavy construction and engineering industries, these days it is more technology focused, with the banking and finance and telecommunications sectors taking a lead role.
The cornerstone of the discipline remains to be the delivery of a single project, on time, to budget and meeting the specified quality and scope criteria.
According to the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM), its members’ career backgrounds have evolved markedly, from the 70 per cent just two years ago who were involved in heavy construction and engineering and the fair few with technology expertise, to far more diversity than ever before.
AIPM Corporate Service Manager, Markus Meier-Lindner says the Institute has more than 5200 members in Australia and overseas across all management levels and a variety of industries.
According to AIPM, the number of positions that specify project management skills as a prerequisite or desirable have doubled in the past 18 months.
Peter Shears, chief executive of AIPM, says more and more organisations are realising that the proper management of projects is vital. Shears says the types of companies hiring professionals and using project management software and systems is continuing to evolve.
With an ever-increasing need for corporate efficiency and accountability, training and recognising staff as professional project managers is becoming ‘Business 101’.
Corporations are now viewing it as an essential business skill; if you don’t have it, your future will be limited in terms of both time and opportunities, he said.
Phil Nash, Senior Project Manager at financial services company AXA Australia, was involved in the AXA Campaign Automation Project, named project of the year in the 2004 AIPM National Project Management Achievement Awards.
Nash agrees that organisations are now realising that the proper management of projects is integral to the achievement of business outcomes, which is evidenced in the increasing number of job advertisements seeking staff with project management qualifications such as RegPM (Registered Project Manager) or MPD (Master Project Director).
There is also a growing number of organisations seeking external accreditation as Project Managed Organisations (PMO), as this sends a signal to both customers and potential staff that they see effective project management providing a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
According to Nash, the AXA Campaign Automation project was a major CRM project in 2003/2004. The project involved the delivery of execution capability, in the form of a campaign management system (CMS), to enable the business to design, build and execute marketing campaigns in an automated fashion.
Nash and the AXA project team had to deal with various obstacles during the project, including senior executive scrutiny, poor industry success with CRM projects, and AXA’s complex IT infrastructure.
The project was considered a major risk because it was potentially too early, complex, high profile, and expensive given AXA Australia’s experience with complex CRM projects, Nash says.
Reflecting on the success of the project, Nash outlines lessons learned from the post-implementation review: MBWA (Management By Walking About) is very powerful ‘plus’ feedback. When project teams are spread across floors, buildings and sites, it is important to be seen, even if it is just to say ‘good morning’.
Nash says looking for opportunities to say thank you’ has proven to him time and again that recognition does not need to be in money or dinners. He said a simple ‘thank you’ significantly boosts team morale and cohesion.
Regular risk and issue sessions with key business, stakeholder, and IT representatives have also proven to be a powerful method of understanding the true status of a project, which Nash calls project pulse sessions.
He says there is a concerted education and continuous improvement program within the internal project management family at AXA, which includes IT project managers and business project managers.
Sandra Foggiato, Senior Consultant at the Australian Institute of Management – Victoria & Tasmania, agrees that supreme stakeholder management is the key to a successful project, as well as a robust project management plan, excellent communication and change management skills, and clear achievable goals and deliverables.
Foggiato believes it is crucial that managers and senior business leaders have core project management skills so they can make informed decisions about the delegation of project management roles and responsibilities to their team members.
Their roles may be in the capacity of either project sponsor or project review team member, which will require, as a minimum, that they have a fundamental understanding of overall project management methodology, Foggiato says.
Meanwhile, according to John Flynn, Managing Partner of project management and IT consulting firm Makuta Partners and co-owner of Project Managers Network, many managers are reluctant to delegate to project managers authority commensurate with their accountability.
He says while they may see the connection between project success and the success of the project team, they take a ‘stick’, rather than a ‘carrot’, approach to their project managers, failing to see them as essential a component of their business as any other business unit manager.
Project management is simply another management skill. It has particular application in some industries but, at the end of the day, it is a skill we all require, since projects are part of everyday life.
According to Flynn, there is a tendency in some industries to see the project management role as a technical team leader role, not as a managerial one.
Flynn says that while many industries, including engineering and IT, have a significant technical content, the evidence is that project failure is a result of inaccurate requirement gathering, scope creep, and poor communications between the technical team and the business.
Since there is no such thing as a ‘technical’ project, just business projects with a business outcome that may use technical resources, project managers or project management competency is vital to ultimate business success. The weakest link in the chain is the failure of management to comprehend that you can only remove middle management if you have self-managed project teams at the lower levels, Flynn says.
David Hartigan, NSW Manager of Project Management at Davis Langdon, which consults to engineering, mining and construction related industries, and currently employs about 150 staff including quantity surveyors, project managers, engineers, building surveyors and auditors says project management as a profession has a long way to go. Almost anyone can call themselves a project manager, without any formal training or qualifications.
Hartigan says the approach to teaching and recruiting project managers needs to gradually shift away from its current experience approach, and move towards a methodology approach.
Can you currently imagine taking a good project manager off a building site, and asking them to head up a research team to develop a new vaccine? Or taking a software developer and asking them to build a regional shopping mall?
Bill Leropoulos, Managing Director of Ajilon Consulting a professional services firm which has managed and delivered over 750 projects to more than 250 organisations in Australia since 1993 says project management is now recognised as a critical success factor rather than an overhead. He says project management is now seen as more of a profession than in the past, and accreditation, for example PRINCE2, PMI, and an industry-based body of knowledge are considered important.
He says project delivery should be based on realisation of business benefits. For example, a project may be delivered on time and to budget but does not generate the savings and/or revenues that justified the investment. This is not a success.
John Leijon, a presenter of AIM Victoria & Tasmania’s public short courses on project management and project management fundamentals, says some of the more salient lessons learnt contain a rather sobering message when it comes to project management.
Firstly, the iceberg effect: the further we proceed with a project before discovering a flaw and rectifying it, the greater will be the recovery cost.
For example, in a software project, an issue that might cost $X to correct early in the project could cost $10X dollars by the time it reaches phase two or $100X by the time it reaches phase three and so on.
Leijon, who is a project management consultant and trainer to the private and public sectors points to a Harvard Business Review article that suggests that it may also be important to know when to abandon a project. The type of project requiring extra vigilance is characterised by a champion continuing to champion the almost dead project. HBR suggested a new project role, that is, someone with the authority to call a project halt. An interesting thought and one that may certainly be appropriate on occasion in the Australian project world.
Meanwhile, according to Dr Shannon, the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services’ Coordination Project Manager (North-West Hospitals), project management skills complement, but do not replace, substantial business knowledge.
While managers/senior business leaders often already intuitively understand the basic concepts of project management, it is, however, a good idea to have a common language that can make those implicit assumptions explicit, and to remember that failure is a possibility at every step along the way.
Defining the task
According to the Tasmanian State Government, project management is a formalised and structured method of managing change in a rigorous manner.
It focuses on achieving specifically defined outputs that are to be achieved by a certain time, to a defined quality and with a given level of resources so that planned outcomes are achieved.
Projects are about delivering a new product, an improved system, or success in a competition or event. Project Management is about the delivery of a single project; on time, on budget and meeting the specified quality and scope criteria.
The following key elements need to be considered regardless of the size or complexity of a project:
- Project approval
- Planning and scoping
- Governance and sponsorship
- Organisational change management
- Stakeholder management
- Risk management
- Issues management
- Resource and people management
- Quality management
- Status reporting
- Evaluation and learning
- Closure and assessment
Here are some common problems faced by projects. If they are not managed effectively, they may be responsible for the failure of your project.
- Unreasonable expectations
- Unclear deliverables
- Unmotivated team members
- Lack of sponsorship/support
- Lack of management support
- Loss of momentum
- Shifting goal posts (requirements)
- Long, drawn-out timelines
- Lack of IT support
- Conflict between project team and the impacted business units
- Lack of stakeholder management
- Lack of direction
Source: Sandra Foggiato, Senior Consultant, AIM Victoria & Tasmania