Is it Possible to Do More Project Management with Less?

I don’t know about you, but recently I have heard the phrase “doing more with less” many, many times. It has come from technology managers in both the commercial sector and public sector.  Corporations and government organizations alike continue to reduce the size of their workforces while attempting to “get work done” (or sometimes more work done) in spite of hiring freezes.  Work as we know it, including project management, is undergoing profound change. With colleagues laid off and a wave of upcoming baby boomer retirements, what’s a professional project manager in a PMO to do?  Is it possible to do more with less in our field?

The initial knee jerk reaction, of course is to counter, “but I need more skilled project managers.”  I know that I have sure had my fill of people being assigned as “project managers” who are little more than team members who are now leads. But the reality is—at least for the present—corporation and agency leadership is not likely to give us the full component of project staff members that we think we need.

So, in a spirit of finding a silver lining in the project staffing cloud under which many of us are working, I have a few suggestions to help us survive doing more with less.

  1. Develop templates that even non-PMPs can use –
    We use templates all the time and many are available free from vendors.  A template done correctly can help codify the information you need and help manage the communication of project data.
  2. Create online forms that streamline common requests and approvals –
    If you are fortunate enough to have an online collaboration portal (Like SharePoint, eRoom, Google Docs – now Google Drive, BaseCamp, etc) then create a form that can be used to facilitate processes.  Since you don’t have time to chase around getting approvals, use the power of the computer to capture and route these types of processes.
  3. Define and automate workflows that help your team get work done –
    If you are even MORE fortunate to have a tool that does workflows (Like SharePoint, Clarity PPM, ProcessIT, etc) then you can create a workflow to manage the processes or take a form and send it through an approval process.
  4. Automate the most time consuming processes with a tool or template.  Things like status reporting, resource allocation, demand management, requests and approvals, or schedule updating. (Again the big tools are Project Server, Clarity, and many other online tools)

This is not an exhaustive list – but hopefully is a good starter for you.

When faced with challenges such as doing more with less, smart firms find ways to innovate through processes and technology.  What additional techniques is your organization using to maintain professional project management with fewer resources?

Part 5: If projects are like gasoline – PM Tools with Hybrid Octane

In the past four posts, I have talked about project management tools and requirements for various size projects, from small projects, supported part-time by three or four people, to large complex efforts involving 10’s to 100’s of people. The metaphor I choose to talk about the different project management and tool options was “gasoline for cars with the octane contained in different types of gasoline”. Higher octane equals more power and greater cost.  I can say that the choices and number of products on the market is huge in 2012 – it is like going to a gas pump and seeing 5 or 6 choices of octane not just 3!

In this final post of the series, I would like to talk about a hybrid approach to tools for organizations.  Organizations usually have multiple types and sizes of projects, each having unique needs for capturing requirements, monitoring status and reporting — noting that all projects need support for communication and artifact storage. For organizations with multiple types of projects, I would recommend a collaborative tool suite that can handle all sizes of projects without a lot of training.  I prefer Microsoft® SharePoint® because it works equally well with all types of projects.  It also works well with small project management tools, like Excel, and with complex tools for large projects, such as Microsoft® Project Server.

Although I appreciate SharePoint’s flexibility and scalability, I find the major value addition from this server-based software to be its support for collaboration among team members and across projects or portfolios of projects. Besides working transparently with dedicated project management tools, SharePoint provides a content management system that supports a web-based collaboration environment and a way to capture and process data in lists and forms.

For example, SharePoint® facilitates team-level information sharing using a web-based browser for communicating between or among team members as well as keeping all project documents immediately available. With the addition of content management systems, project documents can be searched and controlled intelligently for the right piece of data or problem resolution guidance contained in the project or organization-wide document library.

Another feature of this type of “hybrid tool” is that you can create project team sites to allow easy access to critical information using no more than a web browser.

Because the project information is housed on a shared server, access can be controlled to provide individuals with only the information they want or need to see. Therefore, the project management office or portfolio manager can view summary of information on projects, while the project manager can drill down to the detailed information needed for day-to-day management.

Of course the addition of a project tool like MS Project or Microsoft Project Server can add additional functionality to a project, but those tools can still allow for the basic collaboration being done inside of SharePoint and office tools.  Therefore smaller projects can use the basic collaboration without the rigor and overhead required by most complex project management tools.

So let’s summarize this hybrid tool:
Pros for Microsoft SharePoint:

  1. Uses Web browser (Everyone can access)
  2. User training minimal – ease of use
  3. Central repository for all information – can allow sharing of information across all projects
  4. Works well with other tools (MS Office, Project, Project Server)
  5. Permission based access – can manage who sees what information

Cons for Microsoft SharePoint:

  1. More cost  than just purchasing desktop tools (Initial setup and on-going administration required)
  2. No central resource pool – unless you add a tool like Microsoft Project Server you don’t get a picture or forecast of staff/resource requirements in a central database
  3. Requires more infrastructure – network, server, SQL database

As I finish this series of Fear No Project posts on tailoring project management tools to the size and complexity of the project, I want to express my appreciation to all of those professionals who commented on their experience and recommended the tools they use successfully. We all get up the project management hill a bit faster with the support of knowledgeable peers.

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