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When Do I Turn on Project Management?

Best Practice | By Pierre Monacelli | Read time minutes

Business strategy and planning chart

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 organisation 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 programme manager and the technology partners arrive to begin the implementation. The programme manager inherits a few key target dates, set by senior leadership during the previous negotiations. At first, the programme manager is optimistic. But as that programme 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 programme management culture, augmented by a seasoned programme 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 behaviours 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 programme 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 programme management sets out to accomplish. An organisation 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 programme 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 programme 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 organisation?

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

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

After this information is collected and analysed, the programme 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 programme.

Because we do not live in an ideal world, sometimes organisations may not have the luxury of introducing the programme 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 organisation's inheritance of an ill-planned technology investment. If faced with that situation and clear symptoms of a poorly managed programme, the organisation 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 organisation, especially if a lot of time and resources have already been committed to the programme. That said, once the decision is made to terminate a programme, the programme management function will be focused on closeout processes and realigning resources. If the organisation decides to continue with the programme, it will have most likely have benefited from investing in a programme "time-out." The organisation can then refocus the programme management function to collect the critical upfront information before proceeding further.

Introducing programme 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 organisation 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.

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 organisations. A graduate of the Defense Systems Management College (DSMC) programme manager course, he is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®) from the Project Management Institute. Pierre can be reached at

This article was first published by IT Today


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