Building a Project Management Culture

Delivery excellence and quality are everyone's job

What is so difficult about project management?

It should be fairly straightforward for a smart and motivated project manager to deal with the three elements of a project (scope, time and cost), right? Then why are so many IT projects less than successful or outright failures?

According to industry analysts, only about one out of every four IT projects successfully delivers the anticipated scope within the expected time and cost. Approximately two out of four are "less than successful" (late, over cost or short on functionality and/or quality). The remaining one-fourth are deemed outright failures (either canceled en route or never really used as planned upon completion). This is an alarming track record.

What is the big deal?

In most organizations, the project manager has the principle responsibility for delivering the project on time and within budget. He is held accountable for those results and is most visible as the individual whose job it is to make it happen. However, the project manager often has very little real authority over the resources needed to ensure project success. The authority is usually delegated to him by someone else (such as a supervisor, the project sponsor or user). The application of the project manager's authority really gets tested when multiple geographic locations are involved and managing the project requires a distributed team management approach.

The project manager must then rely on skills such as negotiation, team building and personal persuasion or even the use of threats and intimidation in order to get things done. This becomes a real challenge for even the most experienced project manager. Rookies and less experienced project managers don't stand a chance.

To be effective, the project manager should be given real authority. Yet, given the structure of most organizations, this is usually both impractical and unrealistic. The resources needed by the project manager to succeed are usually controlled by multiple departments and business functions and are usually assigned to the project on an as-needed basis. In the absence of real, formal authority over these resources, the project manager's quest is for authority, in fact (de facto), over these resources.

Delivery excellence and distributed team management

Since many outsourcing project managers function within those same client organizational structures, they must also gain de facto authority over resources needed for success. This is a real challenge, requiring a cultural commitment to quality project management and delivery excellence. In order to succeed and grow, this commitment to a project management culture must remain vigorous and must grow along with the company. Everyone involved in the project must understand and believe in this cultural commitment. With this commitment, delivery excellence and quality, project management then becomes everyone's job.

Outsourcing projects that leverage a global delivery model need a foundation of cooperation and collaboration using a distributed team management approach. The project team and, in particular, the project or engagement manager must subscribe to, and passionately believe in, a commitment to delivery excellence.

The project management battlefield

Given that de facto authority is necessary for project success, how does the project manager get it? One way is to simply take it until someone says, "Don't do that!" Though confrontational, this approach will often work and will increase the chances for project success.

Yet this approach has its challenges. One of them is "friendly fire" from supervisors and project sponsors, who often fail to meet promises and commitments that they have made to the project. The project manager often has much less authority over these individuals than more formally assigned project team members and must simply trust that they will come through when needed. And, of course, when they don't deliver, it is often the project manager who must accept the lion's share of blame for a poor result.

The project management battlefield described above underscores the need for some fundamental principles, rules and guidelines that should be followed for a project to be successful. All those involved can be disciplined to play by the same rules and, in essence, level the playing field for the project manager. Also, as in a game, consequences and penalties need to be in place and enforced when the rules are broken. Most project managers can play the game very well when they know which game is being played and what the rules are.

Project management culture

A project management culture is an environment that exhibits a healthy respect for the time and dollars spent on a project. Time and money are tracked. Change can be managed. And there is a shared commitment for a successful outcome. Every hour spent should count toward the delivery of the scope of the project. Tools and methodologies can help, but it is only through human intervention that project management problems can be resolved. Tools and methodologies can't manage people; people must manage people. Project management cultures can't be bought. They must be built from the ground up and driven from the top down within an organization. The good news is that there are gains that can be made by committing to some very simple principles for running projects.

Cultural foundation

Keane Inc. has developed the Six Principles of Productivity Management for managing projects that lead to delivery excellence. These principles are supported by a set of rules and guidelines for managing projects of any size or complexity. Their common-sense simplicity and nontechnical nature appeal to all constituencies in any organization and, as a result, facilitate widespread adoption at a single project site, or over multiple sites, onshore and offshore, in a distributed team management environment.

The six principles are:

  1. Define the job in detail.
  2. Get the right people involved.
  3. Estimate time and costs.
  4. Break the job down.
  5. Establish a change procedure.
  6. Agree on acceptance criteria.

The consistent application of these six principles will test the most seasoned veteran of project management. However, if the organization agrees to adhere to the principles and play by the rules, the project manager's chances for success increase dramatically.

The six principles at work

In most projects, someone first gives a brief description of the project and then asks, "How much?" or "How long?" Principle No. 3, "Estimate time and costs," is usually the first of the six to get exercised. This is to be done without any definition of what the project consists of or what resources will be available.

Unfortunately, most organizations need time and cost estimates long before specific project details are known. So the best way to answer this question is to facilitate the dialogue, expectations, parameters and risks associated with the estimate as it is derived and established. The result is a time and cost estimate with risks known and agreed to by all parties that becomes a useful vehicle for the achievement of project goals.

The right people?

After the estimate, people are assigned through Principle No. 2, "Get the right people involved." However, even in the most ideal situations, project managers rarely get all the people they want on a project. What often drives the assignment of people to a project team is not so much their appropriate skill sets as their availability.

In the people principle, the challenge then is how to motivate and utilize the team members assigned given their skills, abilities and experience. This also applies to the extended project team members. The way to accomplish this objective is to establish a team where all understand their responsibilities and assigned roles and where all believe that the success of the project is in their best interest.

What is the job?

Now that the estimate has been established and the project team assigned, the project needs a definition as stated in Principle No. 1, "Define the job in detail." However, large projects can be very difficult to define in detail at inception. The project manager must be able to draw a circle around the effort involved, the personnel required and their roles and responsibilities.

The best way to do this is to break the project down into smaller jobs. Each job defines areas of difficulty, uncertainty and opportunity prior to the start in a document called a Statement of Work. The SOW becomes an integral part of the project management culture. It functions as a beneficial agreement or contract between the project sponsor and the project manager and acts as the repository for promises and commitments made to the project by the extended project team.

The project manager's 'execution' of the deal

The first three principles of productivity management can be thought of as The Deal, since they define what the project manager is supposed to deliver in the scope for the time and cost allocated to the project. The last three principles can be thought of as the "execution" of the deal.

Principle No. 4, "Break the job down," contains rules and guidelines for breaking the project down into components that can be measured and monitored during execution. It contains the "80-Hour Rule" which states that no person shall go more than two weeks (80 elapsed hours) without producing a tangible deliverable to the project manager.

The fifth principle, "Establish a change procedure," contains rules and guidelines for funding and managing project changes. This includes a change budget that is established and managed by the end customer for the project. This principle also establishes accountability for changes caused by promises not kept to the project as documented in the SOW.

The sixth principle, "Agree on acceptance criteria," includes rules and guidelines for accepting products as developed throughout the project life cycle, thereby avoiding unpleasant surprises at the end of the project. If the first five principles become a part of the project management culture in the organization, the final acceptance of the finished, successful project becomes a very straightforward, logical extension of all that has happened before.


The Six Principles of Productivity Management provide a foundation for establishing a strong project management culture. Their consistent adoption and implementation becomes the responsibility of everyone within an organization to ensure delivery excellence and quality project management.

5 collaboration tools that enhance Microsoft Office
Shop Tech Products at Amazon