Managers, executives and probably even some CLOs have long viewed project management as a tactical, operational endeavor, with which they have had mixed success. But a quiet revolution has been taking place over the past decade that has propelled project management to the top of many CEO’s agendas. The reason is simple: Strategic objectives are realized through projects. If we can’t do projects well, we won’t meet our goals.
This is why many organizations have pushed the project management envelope to adapt new ways of executing projects. One such cutting-edge business practice is adaptive project management, a term that describes a number of alternative management techniques specifically aimed at helping project teams deliver intended results on time. These techniques include agile project management, integrated project teams and heavyweight project management.
These relatively new practices alter the makeup and roles of traditional project teams in an attempt to improve efficiency and deliver results quicker and more cost-effectively. Although each of these techniques has the ability to deliver impressive results, they also present a challenge to CLOs who must identify and develop programs to provide project managers, team members and the executives who guide them with the requisite skills needed to maximize their use.
Agile Project Management
The fundamental difference between traditional and agile project management is found in the way change is handled. Traditional project management looks to eliminate change by finalizing requirements early in the project lifecycle or development process. The fewer the changes, the lower the development costs. However, in most projects, especially those that use technology, the likelihood that the requirements will change during the lifecycle is high—near 100 percent.
Agile project management techniques accept that requirement changes will occur at some point within the project’s lifecycle and strive to reduce the costs associated with those changes by recognizing them as early as possible. Project economics and plain common sense tell us that the earlier a change is identified and made, the less costly it will be. Agile project management teams ferret out these latent changes through such quality-control techniques as frequent meetings with customers, iterative reviews and project walkthroughs.
Another difference involves the team’s central focus. In the case of agile project management, the main focus goes beyond following defined processes to emphasize a link between people and project success. The agile technique attempts to capitalize on the skills and abilities each individual brings to the project team. Thus, the success of the project has less to do with its defined processes than with the team’s ingenuity and resourcefulness.
A third difference lies in the emphasis of roles and responsibilities of project stakeholders. In traditional project management, project managers guide the team. In agile project management, the project team organizes and manages its own work, making many of the decisions project managers used to make. Rather than concerning themselves with the project’s technical aspects, project managers now turn their attention to the project’s business-related issues. Given this change, there is a need for project managers to learn and hone new skills, including business acumen and interpersonal communications.
Studies have confirmed that successful project managers typically have good communication and people skills, in addition to technical skills. However, in the case of agile project management, a greater emphasis is placed on the latter. Such required skills include:
- Focusing stakeholders on the project’s business vision.
- Promoting and encouraging teamwork and collaboration.
- Encouraging information sharing.
- Hiring and integrating new team members with as little impact on the workload as possible.
- Moving people off the team when the situation dictates.
- Managing requirements and schedule risk.
- Handling communication between the team and outsiders.
In addition, the business analyst also has a new, more active role in the agile model: becoming an advocate for the end user. Business analysts must take on a consultative role that allows customers to be directly involved in the development of the product. As a result, customers have direct discussions with the product developers to define the scope of the project.
Advocates suggest that this approach works best on development-type projects where requirements are not fully known. When requirements are vague, project risk is a concern. This risk is addressed in the agile techniques because the development team focuses on small units of work at a time. To compensate for the challenge of open requirements, the project manager, business analyst, developers and other stakeholders interact more frequently.
Clearly, roles have been altered slightly when utilizing agile project management. Project managers still need to do the things all successful project managers must do—coaching and encouraging team members, making sure they have the resources they need, removing obstacles and influencing key stakeholders external to the team. That said, in agile project management, there is a definite shift that requires a level of adaptability and flexibility in all team members—especially in executives who are asked to relinquish more control by pushing decisions downward. This can be difficult for executives who are used to “calling the shots” and being asked for their approval at regular intervals.
The application of agile project management is increasing, especially in product development and IT projects, and project managers generally welcome the change. For example, organizations such as Hewlett-Packard Services and Novartis, a pharmaceutical company, are providing broad-based business skills training to their project managers so they can become the “CEO” of their projects.
Integrated Project Teams
The use of integrated project teams is an approach that, at the outset of a project, brings together team members from all the different core competencies that may be necessary to complete a project—such as engineering, contracting, manufacturing, purchasing, finance and marketing. The concept is to create a single organization that has the authority to make decisions about any aspect of the project without seeking outside approval at every turn. This requires a team of senior, respected individuals who know the content of the project and who, together, can make the key decisions required to keep the project moving forward.
Traditionally, as companies developed products, project teams were organized around departments and divisions that represented areas of expertise, moving the project from one functional area to the next. In this approach, knowledge and authority were separated by function, making for a slow, inefficient process. In some organizations, the project manager was replaced when the project advanced to another functional area, a practice long discredited as wasteful and inefficient. The essence of the integrated project team approach is to concentrate the different areas of expertise needed to complete the project and bring them together to plan the project’s direction from the outset. By doing so, every member of the team, regardless of when their involvement with the project is required, knows when they are needed and what they are to contribute.
According to an April 2001 General Accounting Office report, “Best Practices: Department of Defense Teaming Practices Not Achieving Potential Results,” integrated project teams in commercial endeavors “have developed and delivered superior products within predicted time frames and budgets.” Officials at Hewlett-Packard, for example, stated in the report that an integrated project team simultaneously developed three computer workstations over three fiscal quarters—half the time normally required. In addition, the new workstations provided four times the performance of the existing models. And, according to the GAO report, after switching to integrated project teams, DaimlerChrysler reduced the time it takes to develop a new product by as much as 50 percent while yielding a more sophisticated, higher-quality product.
Simply calling a project team “integrated” does not make it one. The key is the authority to make decisions. Executives must relinquish authority to the team to fully exploit what this method has to offer. The challenge to the CLO is to work with managers and executives to help them relinquish authority while recognizing the underlying fear that managers have when they do so. Additionally, integrated project team members themselves need more sophisticated interpersonal communications and decision-making tools to work collaboratively in such an environment.
Heavyweight Project Management
Heavyweight project management got its start in the automobile industry as a more effective way to organize and lead development projects than traditional project management. Simply put, it was taking much too long to bring a new car from design through production to the dealer’s showroom, and American manufacturers were losing market share to more flexible foreign automakers. Prior to the implementation of heavyweight project management, it took approximately five years to produce a new car model. With the heavyweight approach, and other project management and process improvements, that time was to cut to 18 months.
In heavyweight project management, teams are created, and often collocated, to include all the necessary and foreseeable capabilities the project may require. Heavyweight project management combines executive-level knowledge, expertise and authority into one project management team, which makes for faster decision-making, provides clear responsibility and accountability for the project’s success, offers a focus for cross-functional problem-solving and ensures that there are no battles over resources to slow the project down.
Although this concept was initially implemented in the automotive industry, it is now being utilized in other industries as well. Novartis has instituted this model on key global drug development projects. For every day that a potential blockbuster drug is not on the market, a pharmaceutical company stands to lose $3 million or more in revenue. With heavyweight project management, Novartis plans to ensure it gets safe drugs to market in as timely a manner as possible.
Central to the effectiveness of this approach is the appointment of a heavyweight project manager. These are senior managers who are at the same level or above the functional managers and have significant experience, expertise and organizational clout. In addition, heavyweight project managers have primary influence over the people on the team, and supervise their work directly through key functional people on the core teams, although only on a temporary basis. The long-term career development of core team members still resides with their functional managers.
Heavyweight project leaders manage, lead and evaluate other members of the core team. They also are the people the core team reports to throughout the project’s lifecycle. Heavyweight project managers are the concept champions and play a central role in ensuring the integrity of the final product. These individuals must be able to:
- Understand the business case that initiated the project, constantly checking the market and their competitors to ensure the project will deliver the results envisioned.
- Understand and interpret the points-of-view of the developers, management, marketers, salespeople and end users to ensure the product is consistently developed.
- Understand technical issues in order to orchestrate, direct and coordinate various technical sub-functions.
- Be the “CEO” of the project.
There are few individuals within an organization who can adequately wear all these hats. However, where such individuals are identified, the heavyweight project management method has been undeniably effective in accelerating project completion at the lowest possible costs.
There are issues that CLOs should be aware of in order to properly prepare employees and team members. Since heavyweight teams are separated and elevated from the rest of the functional areas, there is potential for conflict between the team and the rest of the organization. How are resources assigned? Who has responsibility for team members? CLOs must take these considerations into account and ensure that heavyweight team members—and the rest of the organization—are adequately prepared.
Agile project management, integrated project teams and heavyweight project management are just some of the ways leading organizations are improving the efficiency and success of their projects, thereby gaining a competitive edge in their industry. The CLO can play a prominent role in advancing the organization’s strategic objectives through alternative project approaches.
J. LeRoy Ward is ESI’s senior vice president, responsible for its worldwide training programs, international activities and product development. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.