Low Cost

Here are five steps to establishing a robust project management culture on a limited budget.

by / April 3, 2007
In a time when budgets are tight -- and smaller agencies are required to report project metrics in the same way as their larger counterparts -- organizations need project management (PM) more than ever.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requires qualified program managers to direct major IT investments. Even organizations that aren't subject to OMB requirements must still find ways to be more efficient. Technology changes rapidly, and the ability to adapt to change, manage risks and assign critical resources is needed across IT organizations. Using sound PM practices to inform that efficiency is a proven plan for success.

But how do you get that plan going? What is the best way to instill a PM culture throughout your organization? Organizations that successfully practice PM find that the efficiency gains save money for the enterprise.

Every year, IT projects cost billions of dollars more than expected -- whether from cancellations or costly rework. The only way for IT organizations to improve a project's likelihood for success is to take project management to the next level and work on the institutionalization piece.

How do you take IT professionals and turn them into project managers? The quickest and most efficient way is to set up a PM training program. IT professionals today are faced with more responsibility to manage projects -- yet their past professional training typically has not covered PM. Like IT skills, PM skills require combining education with practical experience.

The key for smaller organizations is to ensure they are focusing on results. Rather than simply trying to create a PM culture, organizations should focus on creating a results culture that uses PM practices to ensure and measure the journey toward success.

Equipping the IT work force with the skills needed to practice PM requires the processes and methodologies to carry out the new discipline, and the tools and metrics to track and measure success.

The following is a high-level road map for determining the right PM training program for your organization -- and your budget.

1. Determine your project's organizational structure and key stakeholders.

When working with an organization interested in PM training, I usually begin with one functional area first -- typically IT.

When I ask about the results the IT area wants to achieve -- which groups it supports and the projects it manages -- the answer I often receive is that the entire organization is affected by the PM function, and the PM training program will eventually service the entire organization. If you want to establish a project management office (PMO) in your organization, ensure that employees understand and are committed to its structure and governance. Leadership buy-in is key to its success.

The Gartner Research report, How to Determine Where and How Many PMs Your Organization Needs, validated a PM rule of thumb: For an IT project, approximately 5 percent to 15 percent of the budget should be dedicated to PM functions required to carry it out.

CIOs considering developing a PM training program can use this percentage range to get an idea of how much a project will cost. The number of projects, their dollar values and their levels of visibility in the organization can help the CIO determine the best way to manage them. Don't be afraid to ask other functional areas within the organization to pitch in. When organizations share in the financial commitment of PM training, their commitment to a PM culture that produces results is much more likely to happen.

In my PM training experience, I've found that when students come from across organizational functions in an agency, the training program becomes more than just about improving PM skills -- it is about improving collaboration and communication within the agency.

2. Understand if certification is important to your organization.

An organization must determine if an industry-recognized certification is the required or desired outcome of its training programs. It is important to decide this up front as there are several additional costs that come with industry certification.

Approximately $500 per employee taking the Project Management Institute's Project Management Professional exam should be factored into the total cost of a certification training program. Another cost to consider is if your organization will give monetary rewards to employees who receive certifications.

3. Create a training plan that touches all levels of your organization.

The most effective training programs focus on behavioral change. The "check the box" mentality will neither produce results in your organization nor help you establish a PM culture. Behavioral change occurs when all levels of the organization are familiar with and accept project management as critical for success. Training programs should not simply be geared for assigned project managers, but also for the executive sponsorship, functional managers and team members required to support or be supported by the PM function.

This does not mean t everyone in the organization needs to be trained, however. If you're working with a limited budget, start by training key staff at each level of the organization whose projects show the best and quickest results, and who can help "evangelize" the importance of continued support for the training program. Consider a mentoring model where the students are educated on the PM methodology and learn how to apply that new knowledge to their daily duties. Starting a focused, smaller training program lets organizations take small steps while producing significant results. This approach proves the concept, attracts support through improved performance and will lead to continued investment in training.

4. Determine appropriate metrics to measure the success of the training program and its impact on organizational results.

The value of a training program is shown through establishing metrics that measure not only its effectiveness, but more importantly, the improved performance resulting from the change in behavior.

For example, it's a good idea to measure the variance in cost and schedule of projects whose project managers have received PM training. Did the projects' managers improve their results? If so, it's fair to say the investment in training directly impacted the behavior that resulted in the improvements. Keeping track of those improvements is a meaningful way to justify continued investment in the training program. Many organizations find that by changing behavior to one focused on results through PM, the money saved on smarter project management can fund the training programs without having to request additional dollars.

5. Plan to institutionalize PM into your culture.

One of the best ways to ensure PM cultural "stickiness" in your organization is to have a plan to institutionalize it. Don't let PM just be about a training class that, once over, is forgotten.

Develop a plan to communicate PM results, best practices and project information continually across your organization until it becomes second nature. If you don't already have a formal PMO, consider establishing one. A PMO doesn't need to be a large, complex office. The key to a successful PMO is to have dedicated resources the organization can use as mentors and project leaders. As its first task, the PMO should be charged with providing the governance, processes and education necessary to help institutionalize the PM culture.

The pressure on IT organizations to do more with less is not going away. Public CIOs are required to produce more results and report additional information with each passing year. If CIOs actively incorporate PM into their organizations, the reporting burden becomes a natural output of a committed PM culture, instead of constant firefighting. You can make the most of limited training dollars by establishing a focused training program that produces results, and gives your project managers the skills and environment they need to be successful.
Jennifer Stanford Contributing Writer