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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Why Formalize Project Management - RTMI Baby!

David A. Zimmer
David A. Zimmer, PMP
Chief Project Professor
American Eagle Group



We need to ask the question, “WHY do we need project management?” More specifically, “Why do we need to formalize it?” We get the job done, don’t we? Nights, weekends, overtime, “the beatings will continue until the moral improves” as Blackbeard the pirate was fond of saying. We do what it takes. So, why formalize project management?

Let’s be real. We seem to get projects finished. It may not always be pretty. We may burn out a few people. And we may end up over-budget and behind schedule, but we do get them done. How can using processes help us?

By defining a process, we take the best of what we have done and do it again. If we never document what we have done, we have a hard time repeating it. We have a hard time transferring the job to someone else. If the person who knows the method to accomplish some task gets sick, leaves the company or worse, goes on vacation, how will we finish the work?
Processes make what we do:
  • Repeatable
  • Trackable
  • Measurable
  • Improvable
For those in the know, this cycle is simply a restatement of Walter Shewart and Peter Demings’ Plan-Do-Check-Act quality improvement methodology.

Processes are Repeatable


By documenting our processes, we see what we did before. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time we perform a similar function. We simply pull out the documented process, follow the steps and end up with the same or similar results.

Another benefit of documented processes is “institutional knowledge.” We transfer the knowledge of the best practices to others on our team. They don’t have to learn from scratch or from observing others. The steps are defined and refined to improve our productivity and effectiveness.

Documenting processes does not need to be complicated. For example, following the nine steps while building your project plan as defined in this manual saves you time. Yes, there is a learning curve and lower productivity while you learn the process, but the end result is repeatable actions saving time and delivering predictable results.

Processes are Trackable


Once we can repeat processes, we can track them. We determine if we are doing the right step at the right time. We know if we deviate from the method defined. While there might be a reason to do so, we want to do so intentionally and not because we mistakenly took the wrong path.

For example, after a while, people learn the shortest or fastest path to get to work (well, more likely, to get home from work). They use the same path over and over because they know it works. The first time they took the route, they probably mapped it out using Google Maps or some other service, GPS, etc. Once they became familiar with the area, they may have learned shortcuts not originally given by the earlier process. They actively decide to take the shortcut. Had they not had the original route, they wouldn’t have known the shortcut was truly shorter. By tracking the original path, they knew when they deviated from it and how to improve it.

Processes are Measurable


Once we define our repeatable process, we can track it. As we track it, we realize we have certain measurements which help us determine if the process is working or not.
Going back to our drive-home route example, we learn by leaving the office at 5:00 pm, we should be at the red light on 45th and Main Streets by 5:25 pm. If we are there earlier, we’re doing great. If we don’t reach the intersection until 5:45 pm, we know we are running behind schedule.

Those measurements let us know how we are progressing and if the process is still working. If we discover a slightly different route which chops fifteen minutes out of the schedule and yet delivers the same results (quality, performance, outcome), we modify our process – the route we drive. By knowing the amount of time prior to the improvement and the new time after the improvement, we have a comparison for future performance measurement.

If the time begins to increase back to the original – others find the same route and it becomes jammed – we begin to look for improvements again. The measurements let us know how we are performing.

Processes are Improvable


Just as we saw in the example under measurement, we were able to improve our method by finding a new route. Unless we can repeat what we have done through defining our processes, we cannot track, measure or improve them.

The key, therefore, is the very first step: eliminate the Wild-West approach of “just gitt’er dun,” by documenting the processes, tracking, measuring and improving.

Consequences of Process


We defined the benefits of processes. Let’s be fair and understand some of their downsides.

1.  Implementing processes takes time, lowers productivity and adds bureaucracy and red-tape.
To document what we have been doing and creating processes is a lot of work – True. They slow people down – True. They create more paperwork – True. Processes hold people accountable and we know the responsible person when something goes wrong – True.

Well, all those are true and more – at least initially. There is a learning curve to anything new. Fact is, people are following a process now, whether it is documented or not. But in many cases, only they know the process. Therefore, if the person has to be replaced, the substituted person struggles and typically can’t keep up. Overall, the work slows down.
By defining the process, others learn or at least have some reference information to accomplish the tasks and in the proper sequence.

Additionally, we know who is responsible for doing what. We are not here to point fingers, but more to determine how to fix problems. Is it training? Does the person have the wrong authority? Are they physically capable or incapable of doing the job? We can pinpoint the problem and apply a solution.

2.  People hate being told what to do and don’t like change. They want the liberty to do it their own way. If the truth be told, processes are more liberating than confining. Rather than fretting over the next step, their decision-making capacity is spent on improvements, not reinventing the wheel. By making them a part of the process development or improvement, they become co-owners and more involved raising the quality of their work.

Conclusion


Process has its benefits and detractions.  Once it becomes part of the daily routine, we simply do it and stop noticing it, just as we stroll the same route to get a cup of coffee. Any change to the path causes consternation to many; a loss of productivity until the change becomes part of the regular course of business. By having a formal process, we can examine it for inefficiencies and fix them because they always exist.

Project management is not a singular process, but a complex interplay of processes and methods across multiple divisions and disciplines within the organization. Without process, without formalization, we cannot keep the lines of communications, work and results from becoming entangled. Following the RTMI discussed in this article, companies can reap the benefits of formal project management methodology while minimizing its disadvantages.