Why Is There a Need to Standardize the Processes?

Introduction

The Project Management Office or PMO is that department of an organization that deals with project management and standardizing processes. Why is there a need to standardize the processes? Along with the many advantages that standardization brings to the organization, it is also becoming a governmental and private certification requirement.

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PMOs or standardizing existing project management processes has many benefits depending on the structure. But generally, it will allow IT (or any other) organizations to get ahead of the game. First of all, it provides consistency. Meaning, whenever there is a similar kind of problem, a similar kind of solution can be expected. “The PMO helps the management team to better execute the overall planning and performance. They will support a variety of delivery team efforts, and they can provide an organization with valuable knowledge management services.” (Kesner, 2003 pp.50).

Additionally, it benefits team members by ensuring them all their queries will be answered and that too, in a standardized way. Also, because the PMO is the central repository for projects, the data collected can be relatively easily organized for report generations and trend analysis. This helps to understand the problem better (Letavac, 2006). To gain these and many more benefits from the PMO, organizations adopt widely accepted, industry-standard methodologies such as Prince2. These companies either identify their own best practices or borrow them from others. In any case, implementation of such a methodology based on such best practices in the PMO will be beneficial for the organization.

Putting project management methodologies based on best practices and standards into operation and appointing skilled IT managers in the IT project management office (PMO) will improve the processes of the office. This will enable the PMO to provide better services and cater to customer wants more effectively. By implementing this strategy, they will be able to give more customer value and satisfaction to their most important and profitable customers. It will also give them a competitive edge over their competitors (Heizer & Render, 2006).

Discussion

A project management office (PMO) allows managers across different departments to share resources and to communicate effectively with each other concerning issues about the project. There are many subsets when deciding on projects management. These include the nature of the project, the type of employees and managers needed for the project to be successful, the budget that is needed for the project, and the cash flow of the company. If this cash flow is enough to sustain the budget requirements or will external financing be required.

All the data and information of the project needs to be submitted to someone, what level of top management should be going over the reports and who has access to all the information. All this information should be decided beforehand as it helps in reducing the costs of the project management office and the project manager gets a sense of direction.

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Project Management Methodologies Based On Best Practices

According to Perrin (2008), before we can say anything about actual project management methodologies, we must first eliminate any misconceptions that we have about project management. Project management cannot work without soft skills, project management is all about focusing on the most insignificant details, and project management has several processes just for the sake of assigning more processes for management.

Some organizations spend a lot on project management, they hire the best managers, train the workers extensively, and so on. However, they still fail to provide the best services to the customers and tailor their skills according to the IT organization’s needs (Schawalbe, 2008). Murch (2001) identifies the problems that IT project managers face. They can hardly manage software quality, meeting deadlines, staying within the budgets, retaining more projects, and much more. This is probably because they fail to develop project management methodologies according to their organizational requirements and to identify those that are based on the best practices. (Taylor, 2006).

Some of the different kinds of methodologies implemented by companies include PRINCE2 which was originally developed in 1996 for IT projects and has eight bigger processes divided into forty-five smaller ones (Schawalbe, 2008). Other methodologies identified by Schawalbe (2008) in her book are Rational Unified Process (RUP) framework and the Six Sigma methodology.

Project Management Offices need to note that before going into a project, they must first be able to recognize the methods (Lientz & Rea, 2002). These methods must be relevant to the organizational skills and must reflect the requirements of the project. Only then a new methodology will give the benefits of a streamlined process and better services of the PMO.

It would be chaotic for the project itself if the team jumped into the project before they recognized the need for a successful methodology, identify the methods, and then the tools. A defined methodology such as the Prince2 (Blokdijk, 2008) can be easily used as it provides managers with pre-defined processes. This helps them gain insight into the problems and the ability to effectively solve them. Also, project managers are usually vague about where to go, so they can use best practices as a vision. (Shelford & Remillard, 2002).

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A project management expert in his book says that ‘benchmarking for best practices forces the creation of centers for excellence in project management (Kerzner, 2006 pp. 50). Benchmarking is an effective tool to measure performance against others. So if measuring practices against the best practices will only lead to the betterment of the project management’s methodology, if any. If no methodology is already implemented, benchmarking will only make the manager see the importance of implementing methodologies based on best practices in their processes.

Moeller (2007) brings up another important point about project management methodologies. He says that using methodologies that are defined well will help the project management office work with business units at each step of the project management process from requirements analysis to post-implementation audits. This is because when there is a pre-defined methodology, the office knows exactly which units t involve in what process of the project. It integrates them and reduces problems of mismanagement and miscommunication. Also, it defines the importance and the relevance of each step in the project management to these business units.

Shearer (2005), on the other hand, thinks that it is important to identify the best practices and methodologies and then get every member of the project management team to use them. This is especially important for best practice methodologies to be effective. Communication is key to make the methodology work. All members of the project management team must know exactly how to follow the processes defined in the methodology because even if one of them fails to identify that, the whole team may have to suffer. For example, in the Prince2 methodology, all the relevant team members must know the methods in the planning process. Similarly, those responsible for the finishing of the project must all be familiar with the ‘closing’ process.

Some people believe that methodologies do not always work. Instead, they can fail miserably sometimes. The key to making a methodology work is to stay apprised of the practices involved in the methodology (Williams, 2002 pp. 185). A methodology will not be helpful or successful if it is just used without a thorough knowledge of the practices involved in the methodology itself. Therefore, it is of great significance that the practices that used be read out and understood by the people using them in the end.

Ferraro (2007) identifies that it is the project managers who are the driving forces behind making the project methodologies successful. Therefore, this suggests that the best project managers must be hired for the methodology to work for a project. If the people in charge have no expertise on best practices, it would be useless to implement the best practices methodology then. If the leaders have no understanding of how to follow the methodology, the chances that it will be a success are quite slim.

According to Frame (2002), it is simple to teach basic project management principles. It is these methodologies that need to be well-taught. If, however, they are not communicated well, as mentioned earlier, these methodologies will not be as effective as they should be for project management.

Toney (2001) talks about prioritizing best-practice methodologies. They should be prioritized in terms of the gains that they generate for the project. This point has more to do with a selection of the methodology. That methodology must be selected that will produce the most positive outcome. If this selection process is followed, there is a high chance that a methodology would be effective for an organization.

In IT Project Management Offices, it is especially important to have a smooth workflow (Ambler & Constantine, 2000). So for each phase of the project, be it design or construction, best practices or a methodology can be adopted. This will ensure that the workflow in each phase remains smooth. For example, in the construction phase, a methodology based on best practices such as pair programming can be adopted to enhance the workflow in the Construction phase (Ambler & Constantine, 2000). This point goes against the thesis that a single new methodology will be beneficial for the IT PMO. It suggests that many different methodologies must be adopted.

Murch (2001) describes in his book that in the beginning when best practices and methodologies were emphasized, critics believed that these tools were “short on methods, and long on ‘ologies”. This means that the methodologies have several processes even if they are not needed. However, they are added for the sake of making the methodology look fancy.

Processes in the IT Management Office

The processes that are needed are an important function of the whole organization. Each process should work towards achieving the business objectives. There should be some core processes that perform the main functions and within these core processes, we can have many sub-processes. (Becker et al, 2003).

Some basic processes that should be included in all organizations include planning, initiating, directing, controlling, managing product delivery, managing stage boundaries, and finally closing the project. These processes are not independent, rather they are interrelated, and when one process finishes then only can we move on to the next process. (Schwalbe, 2008) Within these processes, we can have many specific processes which would be according to the needs and resources of the IT Management Office.

Planning is one of the most extensive processes there is, it requires a detailed analysis of the business strategy so that it can align the strategy and objective of the project to the company’s overall strategy and objective. The project strategy should be SMART, i.e. it should be specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-related. An environmental analysis is required, in which both internal and external environment need to be assessed and measured. (Gray and Larson, 2002).

According to Gray (2002), a project has distinct steps and within these steps or processes, there are some requirements. The first step according to him is defining the project scope, in this, there are a few requirements such as project objectives, deliverables, milestones, technical requirements, limits, and exclusions, etc.

The next step should develop a decision priority matrix, this helps in making future decisions if any for the project. The third step is that the work which needs to be done should be broken down into parts and divided amongst the team members.

Skills of Technical Employees

The question we have with us is if by appointing technical employees we can improve the processes of the department and the services that the company provides. First of all, let’s discuss the skills that the employees will need to have. The project technical manager or project engineer needs to have more technical skills as compared to human skills while a project manager needs to have more human skills than technical skills. As the project engineer deals with the system specifications have to configure all the processes and have to provide technical support to his staff. He may perform some of the same duties as a project manager, which include cost control and schedule control but his main duties lie in the technical area. (Kerzner, 2006).

The employees need to be good decision-makers, as they might need to make instinctive decisions and thoughtful decisions at any time during their work. (Robert et al, 2008).

The technical employees at the IT Management Office need to be goal-directed; also they need to interact with people who are not directly related to their work environment. For this, they should be able to get along with other people well. The project management should be trained in this field and should have a degree in this field or should be educated in the specific field of project management. (Andersen, 2004).

Every project needs to have technical as well as human skills development. These developments help develop a base of expertise for the project which makes it successful in the future. It is important to have the right skills in a project, although there is a shortage of technical skills it should not lead to poor performance or abandonment of the project. But the right skills do have a huge part in the success of the project.

At the NAC, the employees were supposed to attend a development program where their skills would be scrutinized and developed over time. From the training program, the type of skills needed would be analyzed and deduced. (Campbell & Warner, 1992).

Some other skills that a project manager should have are: recruiting the right people and keeping them, effective project negotiation especially when it comes to budget requirements, a project manager also needs to effectively manage problems and the project itself, he needs to be able to make presentations and reports regarding the project. These presentations and reports should be such that they leave an impact on the person reading them. If any change occurs in the organization, the project manager should be able to manage it and change with it. The team that a project manager builds should have high-performance individuals who can grow along with the project. All these skills together combine and make an effective and good project manager. (Murch, 2001).

Appointments of Technical Project Managers

There are some things which need to be considered before we think of appointing the right people. These conditions can say to be necessary but not sufficient conditions for the project to be successful. It is very important to be working on the right project. If you’re working on the wrong project, it won’t matter if it is successful or not. It will not yield the desired results. (Heerkens, 2005).

Another thing is that if we employ a project manager with a lot of technical expertise it does not necessarily mean that he will be able to handle all other tasks related to project management competencies. When a project manager has more technical expertise there are more chances that he will not pay attention to the management issues. The team members will feel threatened as the project manager will become involved in the department’s processes. Another result of hiring a technical project manager may be that the project itself will be deprived of the expertise of that manager. (Frigenti & Comninos, 2002).

Stevens (2002) says in his book that a project manager needs to have both capabilities this means that he needs to have entrepreneurial and managerial capabilities. He needs to have leadership qualities and should always be thinking of the bigger picture, as well as think outside the box. For example; if there is a better way to achieve a goal instead of just going about the routine process. He needs to use his people skills and empower his subordinates and team members. Delegation helps a lot in increasing productivity and efficiency.

Conclusion

Despite a few criticisms of a methodology-based approach, literature illustrates that it is mainly successful in several situations. If used well, understood well, and communicated well, it could lead to several benefits for the information technology Project Management Office. These benefits are seen in the form of improved existing processes and the ability of the organization to give better services to its customers.

Also, from all the literature reviewed above, it can be said that employing technical project managers will not improve the department’s processes and the end services. A project manager needs to have technical expertise but he also needs to be good at bringing all other resources together. He needs to be better at the managerial part of his job, he does need some knowledge about the technical side of the process but the team members are there to counter technical problems. The project manager should focus on getting the team together and motivating them among other things. Hiring a technical project manager will not improve these conditions. It is a necessary condition to have some expertise but not a sufficient condition to achieve better services and an improvement in the department’s processes.

Bibliography

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Andersen, E. Grude, V. K. Haug, T. Katagiri, M. Turner, R. J. (2004) Goal Directed Project Management: Effective Techniques and Strategies, Published by Kogan Page Publishers.

Ambler, S. & Constantine, L. (2000) The Unified Construction Phase. Focal Press.

Baschab, J. & Piot, J. (2003) The Executive’s Guide to Information Technology. John Wiley and Sons.

Becker, J. Kugeler, M. Rosemann, M. (2003) Process Management: A Guide for the Design of Business Processes, published by Springer.

Blokdijk, G. (2008) Prince2 100 Success Secrets – The Missing Foundation and Practitioner.

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