Professional project management: reducing risk & cost

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“There’s a world of difference between professional project management and co-opting a line or functional manager into a co-ordination role, and calling that a Programme Management Office”

With the current business climate, nil plus ultra clients are focussing on ways to improve efficiency, either through cost reduction projects, revenue improvement initiatives or more significant operational restructuring. Typically, this pushes people in the business beyond their comfort zone; sometimes they are unsure if they have the competency or capacity to drive the necessary changes. Sometimes, motivation is simply not there: for example, it’s hard to motivate people, if the sponsoring management’s imperative is potentially unpopular, such as when downsizing.

Alan Hooper, Senior Programme Director

Alan Hooper, one of nil plus ultra’s most senior Programme Directors, highlights some common challenges: “We often find that a business’ leadership team have a fair idea of what they want – even need – to do. The strategy is reasonably clear, even if it may need translation into an operational change plan. The challenge is then all about implementation. One of the most critical factors becomes the use of “fit for purpose” project management skills. Even if there is sufficient capability to execute elements of the programme, its overall programme management is often a neglected point of potential failure.”

Alan believes that effective programme management combines pragmatism with a deep understanding of project efficiency: “knowing where the risks lie, how to manage a critical path effectively and practically in the real world are important considerations. But an effective Programme Manager commands respect, and can influence, motivate, cajole people – do what it takes, really – so that the programmes’s goal is achieved. What we see too often, is that an internal manager, maybe even a good one, is co-opted to lead the programme. All the outward-facing paraphernalia is established, such as calling an office, suitably set aside, the “Programme Office”. What’s missing is the experience and know how to really run these kinds of projects. How many times have we seen either a project fail, or run into difficulty, requiring remedial help to get it back on track? Much better is to get it right at the start. Although, if things haven’t been set up correctly from the start, and things go awry, all is not lost. We are often brought in to rescue a failing programme; it’s better to call in help than keep in denial about it.”

Alan elaborates: “businesses under pressure are looking at more complexity, more challenges – such as rightsizing, closures, reskilling initiatives… even new product or service launches to help boost failing revenues – and realise they need to avoid dangerous escalation of risk and programme cost. Many organisations don’t have real project management skill in-house.”

The smart ones don’t fudge it, and stretch people too far – they enlist professionals. This can massively reduce the cost and risk of the programme.” – Alan Hooper

There is also another response to meet the challenge. Alan again: “often, we can help to skill up the business’ own people, especially if they already have some project experience. Training and upskilling is a real option for many of our sponsors.”

Mike Utting, Co-Chair Supply Chain & Commercial Group

Mike Utting, nil plus ultra’s Co-Chair Supply Chain and Commercial Group is our Head of Training. Mike comments: “we’re seeing an uplift in demand for this right now. Organisations see the need, more than ever perhaps, for skilled project and programme managers (PMs). More and more are combining our training courses – designed and delivered by experienced PMs who have a flair for training – with supplementary engagement of our own PMs. They engage us on a “pay per use – or hire by the yard” basis. This is flexible and highly cost-effective. This enables the business to grab hold of the running programmes, taking a tight grip on cost and risk. The parallel training also enables them to start to build their own capacity, which they re-use again and again. This combination has become so popular recently, with many businesses executing change programmes, that we’ve developed ways to integrate training courses with the provision of PMs on an “as needed” basis. One of the innovations we’ve set up is the “PM Expert Consultation Line”. This is an approach where people who we’ve trained up, can call or meet with one of our expert PMs to get “in the field” coaching or consultation on a problem or challenge they face. This is proving really popular.”

nil plus ultra’s programme managers are experienced and accredited Prince2 and PMI professionals.

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Posted on 05 Feb 2012
Posted in NilPlusUltra News, Programme Management, Services, Solutions

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