There was some very encouraging news in the Pulse of the Profession® report released earlier this year by Project Management Institute. Organizations around the globe significantly reduced the money they waste on their initiatives — by about 20 percent, or $25 million for every $1 billion invested in projects and programs in 2016, compared to the year before.
As a measure of success, the bottom-line is a decent place to start. It’s hard to argue against eliminating waste and redundancy. But cost is only one measure. As organizations focus on efficiency, they can’t lose sight of other definitions of success, from the traditional — scope and schedule — to the most important measure of all: Did a project achieve the desired benefits?
“Champion” organizations, as described by PMI, not only complete 80 percent or more of their projects on time and on budget, they meet the original goals and business intent as well. They have high benefits realization maturity compared to “underperformers” that have success rates of only 33 percent.
So how do champion organizations do it, and what can we learn from them? That’s the purpose of a new offering from PMI called Pulse at Work: Practitioner’s Guide. These guides will serve as companion pieces to the Pulse of the Profession research, bringing practical, applicable value to the data by connecting the findings to the day-to-day work of project management practitioners.
The most recent Pulse at Work guide identifies three key success factors exhibited in champion organizations: 1) project management practitioners are seen as strategic partners within the organization; 2) they connect strategy and action; and 3) they embrace agile approaches.
And here’s where the Pulse at Work gets to work, diving deeper into the success factors to ask project professionals how they achieve these often elusive aims.
For example, when it comes to connecting strategy to action, benefits realization management is essential. That means creating clear requirements and a vision for your projects, yes. But it also means that “project leaders must look beyond simply technical aspects of the project, and incorporate a more holistic viewpoint of the organization’s strategy and business goals.”
Karen Chovan, PMP, advises her peers to “take a look at the project scope that’s been defined and see where it aligns with other strategies within the organization. By asking a few questions during the initiation phase, you can find out whether the project will contribute to more than one strategy and include those things within the scope and requirements gathering for that project.”
On the subject of embracing agile, the Pulse at Work report notes the 2017 Pulse findings that 71 percent of organizations are now using agile approaches for their projects “sometimes or more often.” Significantly, 55 percent of champion organizations frequently use agile compared to 24 percent of underperformers.
“Using agile approaches, frameworks and thinking enabled us to do far more in the same timeframe and with the same money than was originally expected,” says Lawrence Cooper, PMI-ACP, CPM, PMP. “The importance of putting the customer first, doing only the most valuable things, demonstrating value often, and having highly motivated and engaged teams can’t be overstated. Instead of an IT project to procure and implement a learning management product, it became a business project where we implemented learning management, which has another level of business value.”
Exploring the trend further, one in five projects now incorporates a hybrid approach, applying elements of agile, waterfall or other methods, according to the report. In other words, there isn’t one formula for project success today. Increasingly, successful organizations and their PMOs are supporting blended or customized approaches that best meet each project’s particular needs.
Hearing from our peers about what is (and isn’t) working in the project trenches will always resonate more robustly than data alone. The Pulse at Work guides promise to serve a much-needed role in connecting the research to your real-world challenges. I’m looking forward to learning from and sharing this valuable work.