Project management in a pygmy world!!
Abstract Certainly a bizarre title! Yes, we have read enough
about the successful project management methodologies in
the large-large organizations. Piles of knowledge are available
methodologies are often
in structured organizational knowledge repositories with
perceived as being
hundreds of highly skilled project managers decorated with
practiced in big
latest credentials and qualifications. We all know that it is a
organizations alone. Small
world of dynamism, glamour and richness. Highly respected
brands and people, to whom project management means
negated the need to have
bringing success in every minute and in every business.
management or were But is there another world around? Yes, certainly- the so
totally ignorant on the called space of SMBs (Small Medium Business) or even a
benefits it could reap. This space in those puny organizations, which does not even
paper tries to explain, that qualify as SMBs, but who are ambitious, filled with
building a project enthusiasm and energy. Many of them are not just more than a
management approach in dream- a big dream of touching the sky sooner or later!!!
small organizations shall Does the project management make any sense to these
be much easier and hassle- pygmies? Where things are being driven ad-hoc and often end
free than in a ‘biggie’. up in disarray. Where people slog day in and out in
Though the article is not an uncertainty but keep coming back to their dream every
implementation guideline, morning...
it sheds light on the
A big YES. Project management does make sense to them,
challenges one may
probably more than their goliath counterparts. This paper tries
to put an approach on building a tailored project management
model to small organizations. The article does not focus on
the detailed implementation but abstracts on how a project
management culture and underlining methodology can be
No need to mention that anyone who wanted to implement project management
methodology in small organization will face numerous challenges and road blocks. One of the
very first challenges will be to overcome the perception of the senior management - that project
management is just another jargon for the big organizations. Senior executives tend to think that
having activities driven through a process will add delay and thus waste time and money. It
requires reasonable awareness that the project management in some way or other helps to
increase the return of investment (ROI), profitability and customer satisfaction indexes.
Interestingly one of the Gartner research found that a methodology applied loosely could
improve productivity by 30%. It should be a help to the organization’s growth strategy, not a
hindrance. Senior management may also feel that the organization is too small to think about
project management methodologies or does not have enough skill set to educate the employees
or build structured knowledge around the process. Another challenge shall be to draw a line
between a project management methodology and other methodologies and frameworks. There
may be one or two methodologies being already used in the organization like ITIL or variants of
SDLC. It is essential to convince the management that other methodologies serve diverse
purposes but when used together with project management can unleash great synergy.
The bottom line question answered by a project management methodology is that ‘are we
doing things aptly and will it be done within the stipulated time frame, cost and quality?’The two
most appealing factors which distinguish the project management methodology from others are
its ability to deal with numbers (cost, benefit and schedule) and its ability to apply broadly to
solve multitude of organizational challenges. The success of project management
implementation in a small organization originates with the realization that project management is
nothing but application of structured, organized commonsense.
Resistance to Change
Once you are successful in influencing the senior management in a positive way, then the
real game starts. In technology organizations where most of the employees are ‘techies’
including people managers, any thing about project management or processes will be perceived
as useless documentations and series of meetings. They think that issues can be solved by
applying technology and knowledge alone. Senior staff members may feel that project
management shall bring an additional layer of control that will kill the fun in doing things.
The only way to overcome this is to propel a well defined Change Acceleration Program
(CAP) which would weed out the apprehensions and root cause of the resistance. This is possible
only if there is a continuous organizational communication and awareness plan highlighting the
benefits of the project management. The awareness sessions must demonstrate how each
individual will be benefited by driving activities as controlled projects.
Moreover the seniority, influence and acceptability of the individual(s) driving the whole
effort will be a Critical Success Factor as otherwise it would be difficult to get an employee buy-
in. In my opinion, inculcating the culture of project management should happen as a ‘change
mandate’ as otherwise the significance of the methodology may be sacrificed in the altars of
business priorities and associated timelines. As the change management will have a natural slow
progression; without having strong thought leadership and ability to pull through the finishing
line, shall significantly impact the end objective. The pigmy organizations are play grounds of
recurrent strategy alterations, status quo challenges and people attritions which add to the risk of
losing the direction. The major difference in a small organization compared to a ‘biggie’, is that,
one should require plentiful commitment, leadership and optimism to steer through. The
sponsors of the whole program should be great change leaders and skillful motivators. More over
they should have a clear insight on the benefits and value addition, the methodology would bring
Carpenter’s rule: cut to fit; beat into place
The next challenge shall be to choose a right sized project management methodology for
your organization. Now that you have decided to use one, which one will be the best fit? There
are countless choices, like PMI’s PMBOK, OGC’s PRINCE2, Agile, Extreme programming etc.
There are many consulting firms created ‘home grown’ methodologies based on their experience
and business demands. Some of these methodologies have been digitized and available as off-
the-shelf products. There can be two major considerations before you make any selection.
Conduct a due-diligence in your organization to see if there is any available expertise in any of
the well known methodologies, if so it would be a wise idea to reuse the same. Secondly try to
see what methodology is most popular in your geography. Example - PRINCE2 is more familiar
in UK and European work places while PMBOK is mostly practiced in North America and Asia.
Since everyone in the organization will be impacted, it is advisable to outline a task
group involving representations from various departments to propose a right sized methodology.
When selecting any methodology there is often a debate that ensues among the multiple
stakeholders. Each party tends to highlight the emotional or cosmetic problems rather than
whether the methodologies under evaluation will improve project performance of the
organization. One should stay focused on the fundamental project management elements to be
able to drive the selection past the debating points. Please be cautious not to get in to the tools
and template traps as there is a general perception that project management is nothing but filling
templates and creating activity lists in a tool.
There is no thumb rule that one must adopt any well-known project management
methodology. Based on your business demands and organizational skill level it may be possible
to define a framework which can contain tailored practices from multiple methodologies. A ‘one
size fits all’ or a universal project management methodology is not available to solve all jigsaw
puzzles from day one. So being a small organization, it is essential to identify the scope and
objective of the methodology implementation and what are all the immediate business challenges
that will be addressed with it. The project management approach is not a silver bullet as it is
perceived to be. The risk of setting unrealistic expectations is elevated in a small organization
due to lack of organizational maturity, people capability and experience.
Roll the dice...
Now that you have achieved management approval, created organization wide awareness
and finalized a methodology, the next phase will be the deciding factor to win or lose. This is the
phase where you get to apply multiple knowledge areas of a project management methodology.
My recommendation would be to start rolling the dice with the formation of a small project
management office (PMO) and project governing committee; often referred as steering
committee or project board. Use your best judgment to include people with adequate seniority
and positive attitude in the committee. This will greatly enhance the probability of success since
willing senior management can influence their department or teams. You should also require
couple of volunteers to act as part time or full time project leaders and PMO members. It can be
any one in the middle management who is ready to cooperate and have a requirement to drive his
/ her team’s activities as projects.
During the initial days of the PMO, you should define a detailed Project Life Cycle
including all the activities from project initiation to closure. After the life cycle definition, the
PMO members have to strengthen the Project Life Cycle by creating templates and standard
operating procedures (SOPs). The core responsibilities of the PMO are improving organizational
knowledge around structured project management and achieve better predictability and success
rate in the projects. While the organization is baby stepping to project management world, the
PMO will have more areas to focus like improving project management communication across
the organization, creating an organizational project management dictionary and coaching
prospective project managers.
Most importantly a project tracking and control mechanism should be instituted along
with the regular sitting of the steering committee. It is a good practice to start advertising the
project metrics in a common dashboard to upper management. These metrics should act as a
steering wheel to control the momentum and to identify the areas of improvement. As I
mentioned above, the risk in a small organization is the ever changing priorities due to the
exponential growth and if not steered properly the whole effort will be pushed to a back seat. In a
sense, the metrics will help you to reinforce the management that investment in the project
management approach will deliver continued benefits and it will fuel the growth plans.
The renowned car racer Bobby Rahal once said “In racing, I wanted to be a winner and to
be a winner; you have to be willing to roll the dice.” In today’s feverishly competitive market
environment, success means the ability to take calculated risks. Though investing in formal
project management methodologies or practices may sound riskier to small organizations, it is
surely a dice which you throw to win.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a single room organization with no cabins or partition
walls or a multimillion conglomerate. Success means nothing but the small day-to-day progress
that enables you to carry on. Being in a pigmy world with puny work force enhances small
organization’s ability to adapt changes. In that way it would make sense to invest in structured
project management methodology while you are small because it would ‘bleed’ less. All that is
needed a little bit of passion, commitment and a determined workforce. And it would prove that
being small is not a curb if you think bigger!