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Practical Guide to Project Planning
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The Complete Project Management Office Handbook, Second Edition

When Do I Turn on Project Management?

by Pierre Monacelli

The problem with project management and IT is that all too often, project management is an afterthought on a project. It is often perceived as "project control" or an administrative function that tracks issues and schedule dates based on best guesses. We are lured to "just get it done" and leap into development without adequate planning. With this approach, project management is seen as providing little or no value, which is understandable because it is inherently reactive when applied this way. Inevitably, projects will exceed prescribed time and budget parameters. To be effective, an organization needs to invest in project management at the very beginning of the project life cycle. Yes, it does take time to plan and identify requirements-but the choice is to spend the time upfront at a much lower investment and with a smaller team-or spend a lot of time and money doing rework at the end at a much greater cost and with a much larger team.

Consider this scenario: The ABC Company has decided to implement an enterprise-wide technology that will improve and integrate all of its business applications and processes. After lengthy negotiations, the initiative is approved. ABC appoints a program manager and the technology partners arrive to begin the implementation. The program manager inherits a few key target dates, set by senior leadership during the previous negotiations. At first, the program manager is optimistic. But as that program manager begins to ask questions, it is evident that the devil is definitely in the details. As time goes on, cost and schedule overruns inevitably occur and consequently, performance expectations are dashed. So what went wrong? ABC had a program management culture, augmented by a seasoned program manager and a PMO. How could failure be possible given this ideal state of affairs?

And yet, project failure seems to happen all the time. Here are some of the driving behaviors that get us into these situations:

  • The implementation of a new product or technology promises to address and resolve a lot of urgent business issues-so it needs to be up and running ASAP.
  • Technical experts involved in upfront negotiations focus on the product and coding solution instead of taking a holistic program management and business approach.
  • Integrators make overly optimistic evaluations of how long integrations will take to complete and become accepted throughout the enterprise.
  • Upfront planning is avoided or streamlined because it takes too much time.
  • A "just get it done" mindset rules the day.

Using this type of "cart before the horse" approach would be the same as a construction crew arriving at the job site with all their equipment and resources-but no blueprints. These approaches undermine what program management sets out to accomplish. An organization facing any of these situations will have an uphill battle that will include the following symptoms:

  • Re-engineering the upfront planning work that should have occurred
  • Resetting expectations with senior leadership
  • Rebuilding credibility with the user community
  • Managing the endless volume of change requests and rework
  • Explaining early indicators forecasting cost/schedule overruns.

These characteristics (as well as many others) all contribute to the cost/schedule overruns and burgeoning requirements.

So how can you mitigate these problems? The program management function needs to be introduced and activated before negotiations to begin capturing key upfront information. Before a tool is unwrapped or even selected, your program manager should know the answers to these questions:

  • What business problems are we trying to address with this product/technology?
  • What is our expected ROI?
  • Who are our stakeholders?
  • What are the stakeholder requirements?
  • What is our existing business support architecture (processes and enabling technologies)?
  • How will our existing business support architecture be impacted (reused, adjusted, augmented, removed)?
  • What is our change management approach that will enable us to integrate the new technology into the organization?

Not only will this information get the organization off to a good start in terms of program managing the effort and setting realistic expectations at all levels, it will also enable the organization to:

  • Make an informed make-or-buy decision
  • Help ensure the selection of the right products/technologies
  • Analyze alternatives and maximize re-use
  • Provide a baseline to ensure that the investment (once implemented) is paying off as expected.

After this information is collected and analyzed, the program management function can begin to translate it into the accepted and necessary planning tools (work breakdown structures, control accounts, master schedules, and other PM101 processes) that will support the control and analysis of the program.

Because we do not live in an ideal world, sometimes organizations may not have the luxury of introducing the program management function in the upfront activities mentioned here. Some challenges include changes in leadership, strategic direction, mission, priorities, and so on, which may have contributed to an organization's inheritance of an ill-planned technology investment. If faced with that situation and clear symptoms of a poorly managed program, the organization will have to conduct an honest, unbiased assessment to ultimately support a "go/no-go" decision. This is a situation where an independent perspective is paramount. A no-go decision can be very difficult for an organization, especially if a lot of time and resources have already been committed to the program. That said, once the decision is made to terminate a program, the program management function will be focused on closeout processes and realigning resources. If the organization decides to continue with the program, it will have most likely have benefited from investing in a program "time-out." The organization can then refocus the program management function to collect the critical upfront information before proceeding further.

Introducing program management before an IT implementation can be a time-consuming activity. It takes a lot of hard work involving many stakeholders. But wouldn't your organization prefer to have this information at hand before the technology is unwrapped and the meter starts running on the hours of effort your employees, vendors, and subcontractors put into costly rework? In either case, there is no free ride. But the upfront ride involving careful planning is ultimately cheaper, smoother and less painful than jolting ride involving brutal back-end rework and cost and schedule overruns.

About the Author

Pierre Monacelli, Senior Vice President, Products and Services, Robbins-Gioia, is responsible for R-G's practice areas as well as research and development. Since joining Robbins-Gioia in 1986, Pierre has successfully launched Canadian operations, served as account executive for the automotive business unit, and led various training initiatives. Pierre has more than 18 years of experience delivering program and project management services to government and commercial organizations. A graduate of the Defense Systems Management College (DSMC) program manager course, he is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®) from the Project Management Institute. Pierre can be reached at

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