13 tips for turbocharging projects

Today's rapidly changing business environment requires a faster, stronger, more flexible approach to project management

Once upon a time, companies mastered what they did, and that was enough to secure a long, prosperous future. The external business environment changed very little, so adapting to shifting circumstances was far less important than being excellent at operations.

In that utopian past we had "IT projects," and the top priorities were to keep costs down and quality up -- factors that matter most in stable business environments.

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It's all upside-down now. Markets and supply chains are in constant flux, and the company's ability to adapt to changing circumstances is, for many firms, the difference between survival and failure. IT projects? There's no such thing -- we're partners in achieving business change throughout the enterprise.

That's why, as last week's column pointed out, projects are no longer driven by cost and quality. Cycle time, throughput, and excellence -- in this case, flexibility and adaptability -- make up our new value system.

This change in priorities challenges our sense of what works best when managing projects these days. To help shed light on where your IT organization should be heading, here are 13 tips and techniques for achieving shorter project cycle times, higher overall project throughput, and flexibility and adaptability throughout your organization.

Next-gen project management tip No. 1: Establish a project manager career track

Many companies use project management to try out promising staff members in a management situation. Those who succeed are promoted out of project management into the company's management hierarchy. As a result, the company never develops a cadre of experienced, excellent project managers.

It's a very bad way to staff the most important competency in most modern businesses.

Next-gen project management tip No. 2: Institute business sponsorship

Every project must have a business sponsor -- someone who wants the planned change deep in his or her gut; has the authority to make decisions; and who considers the project manager a partner in making the change happen.

Next-gen project management tip No. 3: Foster a team environment

In theory, project managers should be able to allocate programming tasks to a developer pool. Among the many reasons this rarely works well, this one stands out: An engaged workforce always outperforms an uninvolved one. Without establishing a project team, those performing project tasks won't become personally engaged in the effort.

Next-gen project management tip No. 4: Keep project teams small

If the core team has more than seven members, risk goes up for two big reasons. The first is that team members have to work well with each other. As teams grow in size, the number of interpersonal relationships -- and therefore the possibility of dysfunctional ones -- grows polynomially.

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