in Portland Press Herald, March 13, 2007
There's that oldtime comment about a dog playing cards: What's remarkable is not whether the dog plays well, but the fact that he can play the game at all.
The challenge of managing projects often is referred to in much the same way: The wonder is not how smooth the process or how perfect the product . . .but the accomplishment of anything at all. Managers don't dare hope the outcome might resemble the original intent, however blown the budget or tattered the schedule.
The low expectations tend to create their own reality -- and not without reason. Many factors are arrayed against management of time, cost and quality.
To begin with,
projects are innovations, the unknown wrapped in risk. You're trying to
achieve something new, without really knowing how to do it, and you'e
under pressure of time and cost.
Perhaps the most agonizing factor in an important project is that the situation really calls for unusual discipline, collaboration and creativity among those involved --while the circumstances are precisely those that discourage planning, teamwork and imagination.
And, of course, the more valuable the intended outcome, the more risky, complex and uncertain is the process required to achieve it. PRESSure!
All of that being true, many projects are mounted haphazardly in the belief that it's going to be a mess anyway. Projects frequently are slowed or paralyzed by uncertainty. Planning, direction and leadership are left out because they are considered a waste of time.
POY to the rescue
The Project Management Institute has developed, over the last few decades, an organizational Project Management Maturity Model, which specifies the knowledge and practices that make high-return projects fully controllable and predictable. The Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) details what it takes to do that.
The judging results have been interesting and instructive. The first competition, POY 2002, produced co-winners of the Project of the Year designation.
One co-winner was Cianbro Corp., for its exemplary work in completing the Portland International Jetport parking garage ahead of schedule and without disrupting airport operations, and without a single lost-time injury. The other was Shalom House for development of Brannigan House, a facility for the mentally ill that required numerous governmental and regulatory changes as well as an efficient construction process.
There you have it: a big construction company and a small social-service agency, designated as equally excellent in accomplishing something very difficult and doing it well -- each in its own way, but both meeting professional standards of project management.
Over the years, there has been variety in the projects that were singled out. While the 2004 winner was the superbly managed Maine Turnpike Widening, a Project of Distinction winner that year was the joint career-development project of the Scarborough Community Chamber and Scarborough High School. The judges found different strengths to emphasize in the two projects, but they saw common qualities of vision, coordination, planning and follow-through.
Last year's Project of the Year was the Student Business Plan Competition of USM's Center for Entrepreneurship - a successful experiment five years in the making.
The runner-up designation of Project of Distinction has been won by Fairchild Semiconductor, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Ingraham, Spring Harbor Hospital and HNTB Corp., as well as Cianbro, the Turnpike Authority and USM for other projects.
How they do it
What's the secret? Some of the organizations that have won awards are not very sophisticated in management terms, and some had never heard of the PBOK Guide. Yet, the judging panel found that they had developed and followed the practices of planning, inclusion, communication, collaboration, innovation and quality management that PMI has codified into the Guide.
A major reason for the POY competition is to popularize professional project management as an excellent tool for innovation, and for facilitating growth in business, the nonprofit world and public institutions. It can be especially valuable in Maine, which faces severe challenges in such fields as economic development.
A methodology that so distinctly improves performance can contribute significantly across the board. In terms of the card-playing dog, teaching the right new tricks can put the wonder in the results.