What role do benchmarking metrics play in project management? In the broadest sense, benchmarking is what gives an organization the ability to test and evaluate PM processes and methodology, project outcomes, and the performance of individual project managers. Without this type of oversight, it’s still possible to recognize that projects are failing, going over budget, and running past schedule – you just won’t be able to figure out what to do about it.
Laurence Nicholson published a report on benchmarking in PM World Today back in 2006 that is still relevant and useful now. You can read it free online here. The focus is geared somewhat toward IT projects, but the same principles Nicholson discusses can easily be adapted to any industry. Here are some takeaway points:
- Not every organization can or should use the same metrics for project analysis. Failing to correctly match metrics with real life objectives simply leads to wasted resources with no added value to show for it.
- Using a balanced blend of subjective and objective metrics makes sense. Easily measurable factors like cost and time should be weighed alongside more subjective factors like customer satisfaction and team cohesion.
- Metrics may be used to determine whether processes are consistent or if there are areas where approved methods are not being used.
- Staffing levels and employee engagement are critical to the success of projects. PMs should understand HR metrics that impact project performance and collaborate with HR to increase the quality and availability of project team members.
- One of the most often overlooked aspects of project management benchmarking is its role in determining if projects are aligned with larger organizational goals.
Who Uses Project Benchmarking?
Large business enterprises and government agencies that have a well developed project or program management process are more likely to make effective use of benchmarking. Such organizations can be a great resource in providing examples of how benchmarking works. For example, the Department of Energy collaborated with the National Academy of Sciences to publish a report on its own project management processes for educational purposes. Here are some highlights:
- Many projects can be broken down into a series of critical decision points requiring approval: mission need, system requirements and alternatives, baseline, implementation, and transition to operations. Benchmarking done at each of these junctures can aid in appropriate decision making.
- Goals should be clearly defined, actionable, and measurable. They should have their origin at the organizational level and flow down to the PM level. To aid in goal alignment, similar performance metrics should be used to measure whether goals are being met at both an organizational and project management level.
- Data collection is most effective when centered on known sources of accurate, repeatable, and verifiable information (not discounting the fact that subjective data should also be collected and used in benchmarking).
- Feedback systems should be in place to promote continuous improvement of all aspects of project management from processes to results.
- Benchmarking should be cumulative so that multiple projects can be compared and evaluated to identify larger patterns of performance.
Does your company already have a project management process in place? Is that methodology inefficient, outdated, and unproductive? If you have been assigned the role of project manager, making improvements to the way things get done should be your first order of business. Being a change agent is an uphill battle at the best of times. However, there are some strategies you can use to overcome resistance from C-suite executives, managers, and other stakeholders. Here are some tips to get you started:
Talk the Talk
You are more likely to gain support from upper level management if you can speak their language. There are many aspects of project management knowledge that overlap with other disciplines. Communicating in a way that demonstrates your understanding of a peer’s area of expertise will help them trust that you know what you are doing in your sphere of specialization. So, when you speak to Accounting you might pepper your conversation with terms like short term ROI and amortization. Just be careful not to use jargon unless you really know what it means. If you don’t use terminology correctly and in context you will simply end up looking foolish.
Big Picture/Small Picture
Be aware that not everyone wants or needs to hear your grand vision for creating positive change through updated project management methodology. You should develop two spiels. One is for people who like a lot of context. Diagrams showing how project management is related to other business processes and how changes will affect the company over time are useful for these audiences.
Others want you to cut to the chase since they only care about how your suggested changes will affect them or their department directly. For these individuals, a short bullet list of what you need from them is the best tool you can use to gain support. It keeps things simple and shows that you understand the value of people’s time.
Besides communicating what you need from others, you also need to show specifically what you are going to do for them in return. For example, a discussion with the HR director needs to focus on human capital management. This is the time to make realistic predictions about how greater project management efficiency will translate to lower labor costs. You can also seek feedback regarding how your new way of handling projects may impact employee engagement.
For IT, you could talk about how using a particular version of project management software would relieve them of the burden of ongoing development and maintenance. When you are negotiating with stakeholders, be sure that what you are offering actually has value to them. If you aren’t sure what they want, ask. Then, you will know where you stand in negotiations.
If you use PM standards such as the PMBOK standard of the Project Management Institute (PMI), does this warrant that your project will be successful? Unfortunately, the answer is no. For me, the PMBOK is a toolbox, and depending on the requirements of the project, I use some tools, and some tools stay in the toolbox. It is comparable to the real toolbox that you might have in your house: You carry this toolbox with you if you have to repair the water tap and if you have to repair the car, but you will most probably not use the same tools out of the toolbox in both situations.
Now, using this picture, if someone does not possess the PMI toolbox, does it mean he does not have the tools to work on a project successfully? No. Actually, some of the PMI approaches are common ground with respect to other disciplines, even if they are labeled differently. Using a project log, for example, is not a PMI-exclusive approach, and it may be called differently in other domains. Managing stakeholders may also be the outcome of common sense. In other word, you can be successful in project management if you don’t have any knowledge of the standards. However, having the knowledge will not hurt you; in fact, your work might be easier if you are aware of best practices and available tools; if not, everything may look like a nail because you just know the hammer.
On the contrary, if you can be successful without the PM standards knowledge, this does not mean you will always be successful just by using PM standards. Just because you know that there is such a concept of managing stakeholders, this does not mean that you will do this successfully. Your communication strategy may be suboptimal, politically-based actions from others may ruin your project plan: There is more than just the PM standard that should be followed, and this is the non-reproducable part of project management success: The project manager and his soft skills that are not standardizable. Still, an untalented project manager may be more likely to be successful with a PM standard since he is using best practices, but it will not be a guaranty.
As a project manager you have probably encountered a few projects that you just don’t like working on. Perhaps it’s the nature of the impending project or it could be your mood or maybe even the time of year. When faced with a project you just don’t find interesting, it’s easy to put things off by making excuses, but procrastination is not the answer.
The more the tasks before us are delayed, the more difficult and daunting they become. In addition, these delays can create much more work in the long run. So the question is, how does a project manager get past this tendency to procrastinate?
One way is to set up a reward for yourself once the project is complete. Make a list of tasks that need to be accomplished then assign an appropriate reward for each one. Just be sure to actually reward yourself once the task has been finished.
It also helps to psyche yourself up to start working. Avoid postponing tasks and take action immediately when a new job arises. There may not be a right time to do it, so you sometimes have to create that right time in your own mind.
Once a task has been completed it’s important to quickly move on to the next one. Small breaks help with refocusing but they can also be a distraction. If you are easily distracted, it might pay to move on to the next job quickly.
In project management it is easy to over-commit yourself, compounding the problem. It’s not an easy thing to do, but sometimes you just have to say “no”. It is much easier to disappoint someone by not committing than to disappoint them by not delivering.
So if you find yourself putting off work that needs to be done, try some of these techniques and the next project you manage is sure to be more productive.
The old saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself,” does not always ring true when it comes to project management. It is important to know that you can’t do everything yourself and delegation is an essential part of being an effective project manager.
As a project manager it can be difficult to delegate because you may feel a loss of control and power. After all it is your responsibility to make sure the goals of the project are met. Remember, however, that power must be used appropriately and poor delegation can lead to resistance or even resentment from project members. Maintaining a balance between delegation and control can be very tricky.
First of all, you should use the least amount of power needed to reach the desired outcome. Start out with a small use of power and increase that amount if you feel it isn’t working. It’s also important that you don’t abuse the power you have. Never use power for personal gain especially if you have no authorization to do so.
When delegating duties and power, try giving people a choice but make sure the choices are ones you can live with. For example you could give these two choices: “Would it be possible to do this by tomorrow or do you need until the end of the week?” Don’t however ask: “Do you want to do this?” The answer to that question might not be what you want to hear and it also takes away from the project manager’s power.
Be involved in project members’ tasks, but don’t become over-involved. Frequent checking of progress is important so that you can spot problems early, but too much checking can be interpreted to mean you don’t trust their abilities.
Once you become comfortable using these strategies, you can move on to letting others make decisions and set agendas while you, as project manager, control the environment.
Successful project managers avoid wasting valuable time and are more productive. The following time management tips can help lead to such increased productivity.
- With a comprehensive plan, everyone on the team knows where the focus should be, allowing the project manager to spend less time dealing with issues caused by confusion and more time tracking progress and moving the project forward.
- Don’t waste time on endless team meetings. Enforce an agenda that keeps meetings short and to the point. Discussions about big issues should only include individuals that are directly involved. It is pointless to have the whole team sit through a discussion when they could be working.
- Following the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, can also improve productivity. As a project manager it pays to focus on the 20 per cent of activities that are most important since these tasks can yield 80 per cent of the desired results.
- There is no need to get involved in the technical work. It is the project manager’s job to allow the carefully chosen team to concentrate on their work. Instead, spend time steering the project to success. When the project manager loses sight of the big picture problems are created rather than solved.
- Making a daily to-do list, and crossing items off the list as they are completed, gives a sense of satisfaction and keeps the project manager focused on the day’s objectives.
By following these time management tips the project is sure to move forward and have a greater potential for success.