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TechCorner

TechCorner: Can You do More with Project Management?

Dennis Anderson, PhD

Even when times are good, CXOs care about the ROI on projects since these new projects represent the next generation of a company’s products and services.  The cost of delay or failure can be tremendous.  What about today when everything is about doing more with less?  Some CXOs have several hundred projects in their portfolio.  We all know that these projects get sorted according to priority and move up and down the priority list based on many internal and external factors, including budget change, strategy, sales, and politics.   The bottom line question is what is the ROI? 

Unfortunately, we all know that many projects will be under delivered, over budget, past the deadline.  Many of these delinquent projects will end up as failures which will cost the business dearly.  So what’s the cost of these failures?  The negative ROI is the quantified loss, but the reputational risk and other qualitative losses have a tremendous impact on the company’s overall well-being

There are many things CXOs can do to lessen the loss.  One of them is finding the right project manager (PM) who can deliver the projects and demonstrate the ROI for the enterprise.  Finding the qualified PM who understands the bottom line and reality is not always easy.  What makes a PM qualified to manage a complex project? Can good project managers be trained?  According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), the demand for project managers exceeds the availability.  Over the next decade, they are projecting an annual average of 1.2 million new jobs which will need this skill set.  A recent survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) asked senior managers to identify the job category most important to their current and future success. They identified project professionals as the single most important management job category.

Since projects are not specific to one industry, the impact from a lack of managers or qualified team members can be broadly felt.  In many industries, the need for project managers will grow faster than the average for all other occupations combined, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey.  The need is not just a U.S. concern.  The lack of skilled project management candidates has been noted by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Parliament.  

There is a clear shift in how businesses transform their strategy into operational reality.  The World Bank suggests that more than one-fifth of the world’s GDP is spent on project-based work. The paradigm has shifted from focusing on how we manage people to how we managing projects.  In fact, some business leaders consider project management to be the new business management. 

 Now that’s good news for qualified individuals, especially in this challenging economic time. 

What does qualified really mean?   It can be tricky to decipher the job descriptions for these types of positions and each company has their own standards for qualification.  Some companies will only hire PMP certified individuals as project managers while others look for specialized coursework and other education such as certificates or Masters level studies.   According to the “Pulse of the Profession”, a survey conducted by PMI,  32 percent of its survey respondents have academic degrees in project management, which is significantly up from 11 percent in 2006.  In addition to project management positions, there are project team roles which need to be filled by business analysts, project leaders or documentation specialists.  For individuals who are interested in gaining project management skills or enhancing their current experience with credentials or coursework, there are many choices available.   Project managers who have work experience, plus the required hours of training, may qualify to sit for the PMP exam.  Individuals who are interested in refining their skills can choose among various levels of academic certification courses or graduate level courses.  One element to consider when reviewing these options is the level of practical application that is used in the course.

The key difference in today’s training methodologies is the need for educators to provide hands-on experience and give students the tools they need to go from the classroom to the workplace and add direct value to the business. 

Many hiring managers have commented on the overwhelming amount of theory in the field of project management and feel that it has not been translated to real-world experience in many of the textbooks.  It is critical to find courses that position the material in a framework of practical use so that students can take what they learn directly from the classroom to the office.

Training is an investment that provides dividends long after the course has ended.   Firms that reinforce the fundamentals of project management ensure that their best practices become enterprise-level standards, and that new teams are well-versed in those techniques, thereby avoiding the expensive loss of time and resources that are typical of the trial-and-error learning method.  With an average project budget now hovering around $4.4 million, there is more reason than ever to commit to the relatively small upfront costs of training rather than take on the risk of a failed project.

 Practical project management skills training increases the knowledge base of the team, raises confidence levels and creates a culture of learning within the company.  The company benefits from the improved interaction between the team members and the efficiency that is the natural side effect of a refined process carried out by experienced project managers.

Behind every good project manager is a good project management tool.  Software such as Microsoft Project is critical to the monitoring and controlling phase of any project but it takes more than knowing how to fill in the tasks and create a Gantt Chart.  A good project manager takes advantage of the full functionality of software tools in order to manage the deliverables and schedule against the baseline and to report to the sponsor and other stakeholders.  While a good software tool can’t replace a good project manager, it can go a long way to helping a project manager make the best use of their time and resources.  With proper training, project managers can make use of the full functionality of the software and increase their ability to keep projects on schedule and on budget.

It’s time to rethink how we do project management.   The cost of failure is too high to fill the project manager’s position with just anyone.  Your business depends on it.

References:

ESI International, Top 10 Global Project Management Trends for 2011 , (ed) J.  LeRoy Ward

www.PMI.org

“Pulse of the Profession”, PMI Survey

Guest contributors: Barbara Edington, DPS, PMP;  and  Rogerio Panigassi,

About the writers:

Dennis Anderson, Ph.D. is Chairman and Professor of Management and Information Technology at St. Francis College, New York City. Prior to this appointment, he was a professor of information systems and associate dean at Pace University. He has also taught at NYU Courant Institute. He received his Ph.D. and M.Phil. from Columbia University and completed Harvard University's Institute for Management and Leadership in Education Program. He has served as an adviser to various organizations including CIO Magazine, Microsoft and United Nations. More information can be found at http://www.drdennisanderson.com.

Rogerio Panigassi is a program manager at Microsoft Server and Tools Online Division, working as the TechNet site manager responsible for the website’s learning content dedicated to develop IT professionals’ capabilities with Microsoft products. Having worked for ten years at the company, he experienced many different positions in services, marketing, evangelism, and engineering. He obtained his Masters in Electric Engineering title from the Polytechnic School of the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil in the field of Digital Systems, after getting an Electrical Engineering degree from Maua Engineering School. A university where he returned later and taught computer sciences for four years.

Barbara Edington, DPS, PMP is an associate professor and director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Project Management at St. Francis College.   Her doctoral research was on the contextual factors of project management and prior to her academic career she worked in the financial industry as a product/project manager for over 20 years.  The practical experience she gained while managing complex, global projects is an important element in her teaching and was the impetus behind the development of the graduate certificate program in practical project management at St. Francis College.  The certificate program is geared to get students to build on the theory and move them into the challenges of the workplace by providing the type of facilitated training that comes from instructors with real-world experience.    She earned her doctorate from Pace University, and her MBA from Temple University.