On the Sense and Sensibility of Integrating Project Managers into Your PPM

The project manager's role in project portfolio management

Have you ever managed a project? I mean, a real project. Not that house renovation thing in your spare time. A business project.
Did you like it?

If yes, why? If not, why not?
Please pour yourself another cup of coffee and take some time to think about it. I’ll wait here for you.

A Theory: Your job satisfaction as a project manager correlates with the quality and frequency of information exchanged between you and your project stakeholders.

Let’s be honest; it takes a certain dose of ‘tough love’ to manage a project. In the end, it means nothing but taking over responsibility for an outcome you can only partly influence. Project managers typically lack the disciplinary power or the management level to be allowed more than presenting their monthly status report and repeating their mantra-like cry for more resources. The much-touted need for flexibility, which is needed for successful project management, is in fact only the answer to lack of planning and sustainability. One of the most important management instrument, therefore, is the right exchange of information.

The more complex a project, the more points of contact exist in and around it. There is a reason why communication planning, with names such as “Stakeholder Analysis” or “Communication Matrix”, is a standardized part of project planning1.

Information flows not only horizontally within the project team, but also against gravity, i.e. “upwards”. Much loved and often used instruments of vertical communication within companies are the project status report and its evil big sister, escalation. The latter usually comes into play when you’ve mentioned the ‘need for management decision’ in your status reports for the third or fourth time, and there still hasn’t been any reaction. In that case, the project manager blows the horns of Jericho to signal the need for action in a more urgent fashion: Please read my status reports and do something or else everything is going to blow!

The problem in many companies, status reports and escalations cause neither adequate nor timely results. It remains only one-way communication, either to cover your back or just to follow the given formalisms. But due to their lack of management seniority, project managers heavily depend on a working, planning, and decision-making culture within their company. Wanting to be “left alone” is – when combined with unrealistic project demands (which is yet another consequence of insufficient communication and planning) – one of the main reasons why more and more employees try to hide by sinking deeper into their office chair when the call for project managers echoes through the building.

Another Theory: Project managers want to make their projects a success, but they are constantly deterred from it!

Improving and simplifying the flow of communication will not only increase your project manager’s job satisfaction and depth of experience, but it will also boost your project success rate. Just imagine, your project is in need of an additional resource to make the planned due date. And now, imagine  your resource demand is fulfilled on the same day you made the request.. Something you could get used to, right?

Why this is so difficult to achieve:

  • Management has no time to read your status reports. It’s nothing personal, but still true.

  • Management lacks the transparency on projects and current allocation of resources to come up with an answer to your issues in a timely fashion.

What prevents the success of project managers?

Theory Number Three: Project portfolio management and resource management are the methods needed to fully support your project manager.

Project managers are probably the greatest beneficiaries of project portfolio management. Knowledge of the composition and prioritization of the current project portfolio, as well as the current and planned allocation of resources across that portfolio (–> transparency), allow management to quickly make right decisions. As a result, our project managers get exactly what they need most: A solution to their problems.

Such a benefit does not come for free, of course. Project managers must also provide something in advance, that being regular and timely delivery of information needed for portfolio and resource management. Nothing can happen without the two big ‘D’s – data and discipline.

Immediately entering status information, especially the remaining effort needed to complete the project, into the PPM software enables management to have immediate access to it. This reduces the amount of effort that is usually necessary to transfer traditional status reports. Management decisions can also be visualized and communicated within and via the software and subsequently mirrored back to the project managers. No one needs to wait for the next Steering Committee anymore. The concept is: fast, lean, unbiased. The speed and adequacy of management decisions ensure the acceptance of the maintenance effort.

And another thing can be realized. Project managers can search for ‘ad-hoc’ solutions together without necessarily having to escalate everything. The PPM software becomes a communication and problem-solving solution among project managers, as well as between them and their management.

This makes escalations fun again. Sadly enough, due to the improved planning quality the number of escalations will significantly drop. Well, you can’t have everything.

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