by Jeff Fields

The Assembly Line of Project Management

May 01, 20013 mins
Project Management Tools

You just got two very important projects approved, and they both have to be completed around the same time. Both are key customer projects and both are complicated, requiring specialized skills that only a few people in your organization have. How do you get them both done?

This is a problem that we ran into recently at National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) in Boca Raton, Fla., where I am CIO. Three important CRM projects were approved simultaneously. All of them had to be completed in time for an upcoming trade show, and all of them required the particular skills of the same project management team.

How did we do it? We borrowed an idea that Henry Ford thought of years ago: the assembly line. Much the way Ford put the assembly line to work building cars, we used it to get the three projects done simultaneously by focusing the efforts of project members on the pieces of the project that they could do best.

Here’s how it worked. The projects involved were designed to improve customer service and extend that service to the Web for external customers. The technical project manager and business project manager with the most knowledge and experience for these projects were currently working full-time to deliver another CRM project already under way. Because the new projects were also overlapping in start and delivery dates, there was clearly a clash for project resources.

In such situations, most organizations opt to either stagger the projects and wait for the resources to free up, or they turn to consultants. But NCCI took a different approach.

Specifically, we had the two key business and technical project managers start all the projects, one at a time, using their expertise to get a handle on the projects’ scope, develop final business requirements and take them through the design stage. Once each project got final sign-off on design, it was then handed off to another, less-specialized project manager for completion. Meanwhile, the specialized project managers moved on to the next one.

This approach not only allowed the projects to be completed concurrently, it also allowed our less-experienced project managers to learn from their specialized counterparts in a transfer of ownership and skills. After each project, these project managers were able to help take over the next one using skills they gained while working on the last one. This approach also helped the more-experienced project managers budget their time more effectively.

Some of the lessons we learned along the way were that it helps if the experienced project managers can revisit the project after it gets handed off and that they should be able to handle the extensive multitasking and transitioning that is critical throughout the process. We also learned to spend more time on the hand-off phase than we originally did, and to make sure that everyone involved understands the project commitments, goals and deadlines.

The assembly line idea has provided a very effective way to manage project management resources and provide training opportunities at NCCI. So the next time you get two or more projects approved that must happen simultaneously, think of Henry Ford. Your customers will be glad you did.