The Phone Call
About six months ago I was contacted by a senior manager of a large company who proceeded to tell me: "Listen, we know that you have a project management course and we are interested in it … But would you be able to come in and just assess what it is that we are doing wrong with projects and maybe customize your course according to the findings?" Obviously I agreed to get together with him and we arranged for a meeting.
It turned out that his company was in the real estate development industry with strong ties to federal, provincial and municipal governments.
The organization had recently been created through a merger of several other smaller firms. Consequently, the company has experienced a significant growth in the number and size of their projects (the largest ones hovering at around $500 million). At the time, a typical company project portfolio consisted of approximately fifty ongoing projects, twenty of which were "cross-departmental" (i.e. required the involvement of five to ten or more different departments).
As a result of the above-mentioned events the company started experiencing problems in the areas of resource planning, resource allocation and project management. For example, while the employees of the company were complaining that they were too busy to fulfill all of their project and functional duties, the senior management was concerned that a lot of projects were late and the quality of final product was subpar. Furthermore, there were certain issues with proper planning of the projects, adequate project control and performance reporting. Many of the company's flagship megaprojects were over budget by almost 50% and some of them were close to a year late.
The bottom line expressed by one of the executives was:
"There is something horribly wrong with our projects . . . we are not entirely sure what it is and where to start since there seem to be too many problems."
I suggested that we start by interviewing the cross-section of organization's employees starting all the way at the top of the company (i.e. C-level executives) down to department heads, project specialists (the company did not have any designated project managers) and even some outsiders, including customers and suppliers.