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Getting Managers To Recognize The Limits Of Timeline Project Management - Part 2

In PART 1, we focused on how despite the development and chronological maturity of scientific management tools in the project space, the chances for project success today are still 50% or less based on major studies. We also pointed out that these tools alone couldnít adequately help us to respond to the challenges imposed on our projects by complex, high-pace, globally competitive, matrix-managed, yet matrix immature organizations. In short, we found that we needed better people focused management tools.

So now we want to ask ourselves, how can HR help IT Project Managers to drive their opportunities for success past the traditional 50% mark? The answer is to get them to focus on addressing the complex people and rapidly changing environment issues with solutions that enhance the effectiveness of traditional scientific management monitoring and follow-up tools, such as PERT and Gantt.

Eight soft steps for avoiding hard project failures

Here are eight things you can recommend to these Project Managers:

  • Create a project charter. A charter document outlines the expectations, roles and responsibilities of the participants in the project. Once accepted, the charter becomes the basic contract outlining the relationship of the parties in the project. Arnold highly recommends this and I personally have found it to be a highly effective tool. Charters clarify and codify the roles and relationships of the project team members as part of that team, which often can be very different from their roles and relationships outside of the project.
  • Define and use a “change process.” Letís face it; we live in a time when change comes frequently and rapidly. Rather than building rigid project plans and then fighting to make sure that everyone sticks with the original plan, a more prudent course of action is to build flexibility into our plans. By designing an orderly change process that outlines how say for example scope changes are proposed, who needs to approve, the need to recalculate cost, resource needs and completion estimates as a result of accepting a proposed change, a project is given the flexibility needed to adapt when adaptation is supported by a strong business case. It also provides an audit trail and resistance to frivolous change requests.
  • When outlining project steps engage a critic to help identify risks. Learn to make effective use of the often-avoided “critics” on your team who generally excel at risk identification. Jay Arthur, author of How to Motivate Everyone, tells us that every project involves three key players: the dreamer, the realist, and the critic. Each of these three responds to different types of influencing language. According to Arthur, dreamers are big picture visionaries. The realists are achiever/problem-solvers that Arthur refers to as “sea-level, detail people.” They will move the project forward. Critics, on the other hand, basically want to avoid difficulty.” Critics Arthur explains are focused on preventing disaster. “These people tend to drive project managers who are generally a mix of dreamers and problem-solvers crazy,” he states. Critics Arthur explains generally talk in statements like “We donít want to have this go wrong again.” They will systematically point out all of the potential flaws and tar pits in a project in statements that make your problem-solvers feels as if these critics are “no-can-do- show-stoppers.” Actually, what they do provide according to Arthur are insights into potential risks. To use the output from the “critics” assessment of risks and to get the “problem-solvers” working on a solution, Arthur advises that the project manager become an interpreter that turns the “critics” negative statement of risk into a “problem-question for the “problem-solver.” For example, when the critic says to the project manager “we donít want to lose all that money like we did on the last development project which we had to end before completion due to lack of budget,” interpret that as “How do we make sure we have enough funding to see this project through to the end unlike the last software project?” Thatís a question the problem-solvers can wrap their arms around.
  • Create a centrally managed critical path buffer. Advise your project managers not to let their team members own their own task safety buffers. Hereís why. It they do, then the person who can start a job today that takes two days to complete will start at best in seven days because their task isnít due for two weeks. Furthermore if they finish ahead of time, they will most likely not report the task completed until the due date. However, if they run into a problem and they are on the critical path, they will pass the delay to the next step(s). Translation: Based on my experience when individuals have their own task buffers they tend to start their steps later than they can, they never pass on gains resulting from early finishes and they always pass on delays. One way to offset this is for the project manager to give everyone tight deadlines for their steps, and create a cumulative buffer for all the steps on the critical path, which the project manager manages centrally. Here is how this would work. The project manager estimates, based on discussions with the members of the project team, that each of them can complete their critical path steps on an aggressive, zero safety basis within three months. Of course, for each of their steps there are risks and other factors that can push them out from one to several days. The project managers can add all of those “just-in-case” step safety buffers and create a single 30-day buffer, which they add to the end of the critical path, (which means they will commit to four months for project completion). The project manager can now manage everyone to the zero buffer aggressive plans and play out buffer only as needed. This keeps the project manager in charge of the buffer and prevents individual time-budgeting, which as we saw above leads to buffers being consumed without benefit to the project and only delays being passed down the critical path.
  • Secure a high-level project sponsor. Arnold advises project managers to secure a high-level project sponsor as quickly as possible. By high-level, she is referring to someone high up in the food chain that has direct authority or powerful indirect influence over ALL the project team players and their respective line management. For organizations that are not big on formality, she suggests that you meet with your sponsor informally to briefly, discuss each of the charter document elements including your role and the role of the other project participants. The resulting output from the discussion can be reduced to an email back to the sponsor and the team, which becomes the project managers charter approval. Ronald A. Gunn, managing director of Strategic Futuresģ ( and a specialist in strategic management and human resource development agrees with this advice since project team members roles are generally not as clearly spelled out in todayís horizontally managed projects as it would have been in the vertical top-down world of a few decades ago. As Gunn aptly points out: “Securing resources and gaining a top priority claim has to be accomplished at the top in matrix managed organizations.”
  • Communicate strategy and desired outcomes to the team. When launching a new project, advise project managers to have a meeting with all the team members (especially those that are geographically dispersed). Gunn refers to this type of meeting as the “high-touch” people step that needs to take place for the project manager to be successful. Arnold advises that project managers use this meeting to make sure the team understands and agrees with the charter and the overall plan, which includes the following elements: goals, deliverables, duration of project, checkpoints, feedback mechanisms, boundaries, decision-making strategies, resources, guidelines for the change process and logistics. Keep in mind that at this time the project manager is also “forming” the team, establishing trust and essential linkages among team members. Also Charmaine McClarie, head of McClarie Group ( an organization that leads executive development programs, advises project managers to use this meeting and other opportunities to communicate project vision to the team. “Focus on strategy not task,” she advises. “Make sure people grasp the big picture, so that they can respond according to the big picture,” she adds. Furthermore, McClarie tells project managers to make sure they communicate what she calls the three “must-make points:” Why should they (the project team members) listen, whatís in it for them and what specifically do you need them to do. This type of communication, as McClarie points out, secures personal accountability for results and not just task execution.
  • Create and maintain strategic witnesses for your project. “An outcome without a witness is not an outcomeóit's just a completed task” states McClarie. Her advice to project managers is simple: make sure that their project has and sustains the attention of strategic leaders in the organization who “see” (witness) the progress and the impact of the projectís progress on the companies objectives. These strategic witnesses according to McClarie should be high-level executives in the organization that receive direct benefits from the results produced by the project. This is one important way of enlisting powerful help to protect the project from having its resources and/or budget raided.
  • Become an effective influencer of people. In todayís matrix business world, there is little value in a project manager trying to use top-down management or bullying techniques with people who do not directly report to them. Arlyne Diamond is a management consultant and professional development coach based out of Santa Clara, California that teaches managers how to manage people, projects and teams ( According to Diamond the only control project managers have over project team members in todayís matrix organization is persuasiveness. ĒThey have to be good listeners and they need to know how to build consensus and influence people in a positive way,” she states. “Persuasive power” she adds “means getting them excited about the project, in contact with each other about elements of the project, and willing to cooperate and participate with each other.” According to Diamond, that means team meetings have to be designed to continuously build and sustain agreement, buy-in and energy. This Diamond points out requires frequent communication, feedback, accountability, support, direction and positive motivation which are significant parts of the job of the modern project manager.

Setting the stage for future project success

In addition to taking the above steps, advise project managers to take the following two additional steps to pave the way for even greater success in their future projects:

  • Grow the project management talent pool. Most organizations turn to a small pool of overworked multiplexed people who are usually the few, best and brightest to handle all their projects. “Organizations need to systematically develop ⁄ cultivate more “A” players so they donít drain the precious few” states Arnold. “Project managers need to add new people as back-ups to key players in each project in order to develop and cultivate more trained A-players,” she adds. The other experts agree.
  • Teach project members to help identify overload challenges that could lead to project failures. Arnold advises that we encourage people to speak up when they are over-burdened or have challenges that result from overwork. According to Diamond for this to work of course, the culture of the company has to allow the person to say no and ⁄ or ask for help with work prioritization.

Managing beyond the timeline is about managing before and after the creation of the Gantt and PERT charts. Itís mostly about managing people and the soft aspects of project management in order to avoid failing on the hard results measured by the charts. As my expert colleagues and I agree, this is the most challenging area in todayís fast evolving complex, global business environment. It is also one of the areas where you as HR professionals can drive huge gains by coaching project managers on how to decrease waste and increase the success rate of their IT projects.