Project Management -whose job is it anyway?

(a shorter version originally appeared in "Inside Housing")

Working with a large number of implementations of software in LAs and RSLs over the last 17 years, initially for a supplier and then as consultant how often have I talked about the crucial nature of project management for success? But what does it really mean and where should the project manager sit - should they be an employee, provided by the software company, a consultant?

There are many models and methodologies - but the important thing is what works.

Project Management - everything's a project?

Early on in my career I saw a large authority using the concepts of 'everything's a project' to drive change and efficiencies through their organisation. It seemed to me a way of focusing on tasks in a different way and moving away from the hierarchical traditions, giving 'ownership' of projects clearly to staff lower down the organisation within a controlled and supportive environment.

Yvonne Leishman, now Director of Operations at Wyre Forest Housing Association who was involved in this approach at the time says 'we set about developing a team of people who were experts in co-ordinating projects'. They came from different levels in the organisation and might be involved as project manager in a project which was in a different area of expertise to their mainstream job. They all had external training in project management with a company, joining groups from different industries to learn the skills.

Small is Beautiful

I was always a Schumacher fan! On the wall of my office I keep an article reporting on an American survey of 23,000 IT Projects. The study found that 'project success', delivery to time and within budget is in inverse proportion to the size of the project - even then the success rates by these criteria were between only 7% for large projects and 18% for small ones. Many of these I expect were bespoke software projects rather than implementations however.

I think the conclusions apply generally though - key factors in success after size are ·

Back to the Question!

So what are the pros and cons of using the supplier? They know the software but they won't know your organisations or your policies. Will they be good at chasing up undone actions within your organisation or will they sometimes be pleased to let them be delayed to give themselves time to catch up. And if it comes to the crunch there will be conflict. You do of course need a project manager within the suppliers company, or a key implementer but don't expect them to do all the chasing round beyond what they are supplying you with.

And the consultant - can you afford the level of project management you would like and is it good value for money. If there are delays it will be more costly. And one of the problems of implementations is that going live is the beginning not the end. But likely the consultant will not be retained then. They, like the supplier, may have a key role but it may not be being the project manager.

With a few exceptions my view is that what works best if it's possible is the internal staff member who can be freed up and trained up - and supported by the expertise of a consultant when necessary.

Of course this is not always possible, particularly in smaller organisations, perhaps the smaller RSL where freeing up a member of staff just can't be done. Then it may be that a team need to be supported by an external person taking the project leader role on a part time basis.

Supporting the Project Manager

One organisation, LB Newham, who have decided to take the approach of DIY in a procurement exercise are being assisted in areas where we can fast track the process because of our experience with E.U. documentation, detail of the specification, expertise in developing evaluation criteria and facilitation of the process in general. They have set themselves a challenging timescale to get to a decision and are being assisted by one of HACAS Chapman Hendy's associates.

Their project manager, part of the housing IT team, Joanna Mercer says 'I've found it really good - you don't do this project several times over like a consultant so although you could find it all out it would take time. Our associate has access to other source material which is useful. Also, consultants can take an overview which helps when you get stuck in the detail. The experience of shortlisting and company knowledge speeds things up too.'

For HACAS Chapman Hendy though we are all clear that it is Newham's project and their decision - and they own it.

Ann Martin Head of IT Consultancy HACAS Chapman Hendy

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