Death Of A Project Management Enterprise Tool

A Much To Often Fate Of Well Meaning PM Enterprise Tools

 

I was so happy the day I was selected as the consultant spreading awareness about project management in an automobile organization which I had fallen in love growing up. My father had the iconic motorcycle from this company and I remember going on umpteen rides with my father in the beautiful rural areas of Madhya Pradesh on that Iconic bike. My first bike accident was on a bike that was produced by this company when I was just 18 yrs of age. No, the fault was mine. And now, at the age of 52, I was planning to buy one of the newer models that this iconic automotive company had launched recently.

And, I was going to be consulting in that company. Yahoo!.

My engagement started with this organization by training some of their senior persons on fundamental aspects of project management. Even the PMO Executives from that organization were there to get trained on the Project Management concepts. The training went very well and all the participants were ecstatic from learning practical new tips that they could apply in their organization. Everyone seemed to love the fact that I could relate to their work and their intellect. However, during the training, when I interacted with the participants, I realized that their PMO was reporting to the Head of Commercials department. This somehow did not make sense to me. Here was a company that had ambitious plans to become not only the largest automotive organization (in its segment) in India but also in Europe as well. Their brand value and goodwill was rising fast enough to make quite a few European brands rather nervous.

Soon, I had a flurry of trainings in that organization. The top brass was so impressed with my applied and practical training style that they were interested in getting almost the entire set of managers and executives trained on project management.

Every time I would have a training, there would be some real world discussions and very soon, I was able to see a pattern. Almost all their projects were getting delayed. This was despite the fact that the dynamic young owner of the organization was directly involved in the projects. How can this happen? Well this is what happens in an organization which has the organizational structure of weak matrix.

Weak matrix is an organization structure which is set up for empowering and supporting operations more than projects. This kind of organization makes most of its money from Operations or lines of business and they just have a few projects once in a while to enhance some operations. The entire decision making powers, in such organizations, are with the Functional / Departmental Heads. This was the reason why a PMO was actually instituted under and reporting to, the Head of Commercial Department.

As my influence grew in that organization and as I managed to get even the top management to listen to me, I realized that every single top manager in that organization had absolutely no clue about project management. They were all using operations management concepts to “somehow” manage the several projects being initiated there. I also felt that there was an inertia that had set in among the top managers about “Selling more numbers” than creating more variety.

I was clearly seeing that there was more frustration among the trained and eager project managers as they knew how to get a project done better but were unable to get any support from their supervisors and there top management.

Despite my repeated suggestions of having a separate interaction with the top managers to sensitize them about needs of their project managers as well as how to initiate and support a project vis-à-vis., operations, it did not materialize. Some excuse about pressing issues, international travel or meeting an important client always came up.

PMO, though doing their job very well, the staff there always complained of the following problems: -

  1. The senior managers would always be reluctant to commit resources or even support the project initiatives even when the project was initiated by the managing director himself.
  2. The project managers could never find sufficient authority nor did any of the cross functional staff ever listened to them.
  3. Whenever there was a management council meeting the PMO was invited to speak out their challenges and suggestions at the very end and sometimes skipped all together for want of time “Due to more pressing issues”.
  4. None of the functional heads would have any staff available at any point of time to lend for project work.
  5. The project manager would not have a clear idea as to who were the key stakeholders of the project. Anyone of the senior management could, at any time, walk into a project or literally walk all over the project.
  6. Every senior manager would provide a lot of suggestions as to how a project ought to be but never committed to anything.
  7. Just too many emails were floating around. Too many CC to all kinds of emails which would keep PMO busy to the extent that they would not be able to do the very work that they have been instituted to do.
  8. Every project seemed to have a completely different manner of planning or tracking the performance and reporting the project. This created further confusion and misunderstandings.
  9. Functional resources who were appointed to a project would always complain about the fact that whatever they would do for the project would not count in their KPI’s for the quarter and hence ended up taking up operational work even when they were assigned to project.

The PMO, being staffed by very passionate and dedicated executives, they set into motion a very ambitious initiative to counter at least some of the problems that they faced on a daily basis. They decided to invest in an enterprise project management tool that would streamline initiation, planning, resource allocation, recording of project time, costing as well as reporting and communication. It took the PMO 2 months to convince the senior functional heads, particularly their commercial Head to release funds for this initiative. To be honest, I had personally suggested them that this was not the best way forward. I was suggesting for the creation of a virtual project based organization where all the projects would be conducted. An organization which would have a completely different organization structure where Project Managers ruled the decision making. Anyone who would be assigned to any project would be detached from reporting to any functional head but report only to the project manager and the project team. I had offered to the company that I would make a full plan that would take care of their KPI’s as well. But, they decided to go ahead with an initiative that seemed easier to implement than to “shake up an entire organization structure”, as they put it. Having consulted so many organizations I knew all too well exactly what was going to happen in the next 6 to 8 months. However, for the PMO this was going to be their first experience. An experience of sheer frustration and humiliation. Despite knowing this fate I lent them moral support as the decision was not in their hands at all. Remember they were reporting to the Head of Commercials who really did not have much time for them anyway.

The PMO, very diligently selected an Enterprise Project Management Tool which was one of the best tools that are there in the market. Practical features like scheduling, team collaborations, critical path calculations, work alerts and resource clash alerts.

This amazing tool was procured and installed on their servers. The suppliers even flew down their technical team to train and empower the local technical team to maintain and support this application as it is rolled out to the stakeholders in that organization.

Soon a plan was organized, lasting several months where they would train over 800 senior and mid managers who would be expected to use this when they handled project work.

With the numbers of projects initiated every year by the MD of the organization, even this number of 800 was expected to grow to about a 1,000 persons. Definitely a very ambitious initiative.

Again, due to having seen the same story in the past and having learnt from it, I (though not even been paid for these services and advise) reached out to the PMO officers and told them to be careful in setting expectations about this tool. Let all of them know before-hand exactly what this tool would do and what it would not. Also let everyone (specifically the Functional Heads) know that this tool would not start giving returns immediately when people start using it, as adoption takes time and change in work culture, before it starts to give results. The PMO officers were very reticent to reach out to their functional heads with this “dampening” statement as it is with immense difficulty they managed to sell this idea to them and for the first time PMO was receiving organization wide focus and the cooperation was high and they just did not want to risk dampening that.

Since, I was not officially involved in this project there was only as much I could do to influence their communication and roll out.

I knew then that their fate was sealed. It was just a matter of time.

Every time I would meet some of the participants from that company for training or consulting work, I found people very excited about the new tool and the entire initiative. What I did notice that a lot of people were crediting this tool with things that were not even its features. This is a huge problem. This was precisely what I was warning them against. Active and deliberate steps have to be taken continually for ensuring that stakeholders do not have any kind of unrealistic or tangential expectations from the system being rolled out.

As I met the stakeholder from that company over the next several months, the feedback that I got was that people were finding it very tedious to use this tool. The tool is fantastic but none of the senior decision makers were using it. This lead to enormous work for the project team as now they had to first put up all the data in this tool as well as extract information from this tool and make reports in excel to be consumed by the functional heads. And just as it had happened in so many such balanced matrix and weak matrix organizations, soon there was a lot of resentment against this tool. As is always the case, this resentment started in hushed and guarded tones and soon the resentment gathered enough momentum to dare being out in the open. This soon turned into a playing ground for the more political of the functional heads to lay the blame squarely on the PMO for misguiding them into believing that it would ease the work. PMO was being bombarded with emails and meetings to keep on explaining why certain features were not included as pointed out by one of the “Functional Head”. The PMO officers went horse explaining how this tool is only for projects and not operations. But, can such a thing be explained to Functional Heads who are on the crusade to prove that anything that they do not understand is “Alien Technology”.

Since this lasted for over 6 months, several crucial and strategic product launches were delayed, which had a serious effect on their current sales. This heralded an era to cut costs and stick to the “Known business” of operations. Soon some of the PMO officers quit out of frustration to join other companies. The PMO itself was removed from the charge of the Commercial Division and now placed under the Finance Department. (Yeah! I too could not understand this move so do not expect an answer from me.)

Today as I write this blog this automotive is facing some serious project delays and put on hold those very projects that could have infused life into their dwindling market share. But then the MD is surrounded by Functional Heads who are advising him about how to do “Projects” in that organization. Repeat, Functional Heads are advising the MD “How” to conduct Projects in that company. Let that sink in.

Another death of an amazing Enterprise PM Tool, something that has happened in countless other organizations. May be, even in your organization.

I always tell people that applying a project management related tool with hype and festivities without looking at the organization structure and organizational culture is only a lot of noise before death.

There are only two non-negotiable rules for implementing an Enterprise Tool and they are:

  1. Never ever oversell the features of the tool and what it can really bring to the table. Actively reach out to ensure that none of the stakeholders have any unrealistic expectations from it.                 And
  2. Remember that every single tool implementation would follow this HYPE Cycle and keep patient.

 

Remember…..    A fool with a tool is still a fool.