Project Management - When Failure Is Not an Option

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The framework also identifies the IT groups working on a project as well as the time each will devote to it monthly, which can improve communication and resource issues. For example, an effort to implement new customer-facing technology in all of A.G. Edwards’ branch offices fell behind schedule because overburdened project managers didn’t have time to loop in functional managers. As a result, they often demanded at the eleventh hour that functional managers drop everything and devote team members to the technology upgrade. Using the framework, Pilewski was able to get the project under control. The framework raised the project’s visibility inside IT and made it clear when managers needed to install infrastructure or test hardware and software.

The standard plan framework establishes the high-level activities that need to take place across all projects. To drill down, Pilewski and the project planners, managers and developers use software from Primavera that provides dashboards and progress reports for project tracking. They can compare original estimates with actual costs, see if milestones are met, list activities required for completion, or view all the projects that a functional group in IT is working on. Primavera also provides the data to the project management office, which uses it to identify when different IT functions should be brought into a project or when activities such as building test plans need to take place. All the company’s 126 projects follow Pilewski’s framework, so they’re measured the same way; the same activities are monitored across all projects using the software; and the data that project planners feed into the software is consistent and yields apples-to-apples comparisons across projects.

Notably, the standard plan framework does not specify how project and functional managers should perform each of those 25 steps, which distinguishes it from a traditional project methodology. By outlining what they need to keep track of instead of how they need to keep track, says Pilewski, the framework gives project managers the flexibility to break down their own work. In addition, they can use the framework in conjunction with any application development methodology, he says. That’s important because project managers can find standard project management methodologies too rigid and constraining.

"Companies are too big and too complicated to standardize on everything," says Patrick Boylan, CEO of Intellilink Solutions, a boutique consultancy specializing in project management. "They need to find a way to get some form of control over projects while also giving the IT department the flexibility it needs to respond to clients." A.G. Edwards has done exactly what Boylan suggests using its standard plan framework.

The Art of Persuasion

Although the standard plan framework is flexible, it was a tough sell inside the IT department. To win over the staff, Parker and Pilewski used various tactics. First, Parker appealed to his team’s sense of professionalism. He knew they weren’t happy that projects took years to complete. In one-on-one conversations, meetings with individual teams and formal town hall sessions, he told his workers that the framework would help them meet their milestones.

Pilewski then identified the project managers receptive to new ideas and hungering to improve their effectiveness. He asked them to get involved in pilot projects—a small product acquisition project and a large infrastructure application upgrade—where they used the standard plan framework for the first time. Pilewski then used those project managers as evangelists to get the rest of the team on board.

Pilewski and his project management office also provided planning services to all project managers so they wouldn’t feel overwhelmed by learning a new tool with new requirements. Specifically, the PMO built a project manager’s individual plans into the standard plan framework. All a manager had to do was specify the way she wanted to break down her work and whether she wanted the plan in Microsoft Word, Excel or on a whiteboard. Pilewski says providing those services prevented a groundswell of negative energy from forming around the framework.

Finally, Parker cajoled IT into embracing this new and more disciplined project management mentality by measuring project success rates and publicizing those metrics in quarterly reports delivered to A.G. Edwards’ top brass. He figured that if his staff knew he was briefing senior management on these metrics, they would take project management more seriously.

Redefine Success

In addition to implementing the standard plan framework, Parker redefined project success. Instead of defining it as completing a project on time and within budget, A.G. Edwards also weighs its business value, a key criteria to the project sponsors. So if a project is not completed on time but delivers the expected business value, the company still considers it a success.

Parker didn’t change the definition of success to lower the bar; he redefined victory so internal customers had the final say on project success and so it more closely aligned with their needs. For example, when IT was asked to create an application to recruit financial consultants, the project looked like a quick, low-cost development effort, according to Pilewski. In working with the sponsors on the functional requirements, the project team realized the competitive advantage of using this software to recruit the best and brightest brokers. They realized they’d have to devote more time to getting the application just right. The project took three times longer than planned and cost more than double its original estimates, but it’s still considered a success because it has enhanced the recruiting process.

"Project managers focus so much on cost and schedules," says Pilewski. "The real trick to project management, though, is making sure that project managers understand that their customers play a key role in the project, and that the customers define success."

He also restructured the PMO to foster joint accountability between project managers and functional managers within IT, whose agendas are often at odds. "People in IT infrastructure have day jobs," says GlassHouse’s Lawler. "They’re dealing with production outages and fighting fires, and those issues often take precedence over a project, so projects slip and slip."

Pilewski says that scenario was the reality at A.G. Edwards when he arrived. To fix it, he moved the project managers out of the PMO and into the functional areas to give them skin in the game. When the managers reported into the PMO, they didn’t have to live with the changes made to IT systems as a result of their projects. The new arrangement increases a project manager’s stake in a function because he is working with those systems every day.

This new reporting structure also eases the burden on functional managers, who sometimes coordinated with multiple project managers for each initiative their group worked on. Now they meet with one project manager, who is assigned to their functional group. Additionally, functional managers now have access to reports from Primavera that identify the projects their groups are responsible for so that they can plan workloads and effectively allocate their teams across projects.

Credibility Gain

IT’s stock within the brokerage house is on the rise these days due to its newfound ability to manage projects and help the business meet its goals. Project write-offs are a thing of the past. "We’re getting more for our money because we’re running projects more efficiently," says Parker.

And what of that $196 million mainframe migration that he was hired to steer? Parker says the first phase of the multiyear project, while taxing, went smoothly. The project team converted the old legacy system to the new one in May 2005 as originally planned. And although the budget grew 5.5 percent, Parker says it remained "well within established parameters." Impressed, A.G. Edwards funded the final phase of the project, which should be complete by 2008.

"We’ve made huge strides," says Parker. "If we had a 1,000 percent improvement we needed to make, we’ve probably made 700 percent of it. We still have 300 percent to go."

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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