Sunday, June 24, 2012

Is Project Management the New Quality?

In the 1980’s and 1990’s quality management seemed to be taking over the world’s organizations and businesses. It seemed quality improvement, kaizen, value added management, LEAN, six sigma and so on were all seen as the tools for helping organizations improve performance every year. A large number of the world’s best practice organizations led the way with massive investments in training, systems, equipment and culture change programs. It now appears that most of these organizations that were leading the charge to quality have largely led the retreat as well. Few organizations now seem to have highly paid Quality Managers, Quality Departments or Quality Systems as such.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s it was often said that organizations had to improve somewhere around 10% year on year just to stay relevant compared to competitors and constant changes in technology.
Constant improvement and prevention of errors, waste and mistakes, I believe, is built into most of us.

If that is correct then my question now is: If quality improvement was so vital to every organization’s success then, how is it happening now?

My answer is project management.

Organizations, both public and private sector have embarked on a huge project management kick and most don’t seem to realise it. A cursory review of job titles in the public sector has thousands of staff with project in their title. They could be project managers, project team members or project officers but most are not formally trained project professionals and don’t really do formal projects that would meet today’s definition of a project.

How did this happen and what does it mean for organizations?

I believe it happened because quality became too expensive, too difficult, time consuming and too risky to stick with and far too hard to obtain tangible results that could be directly attributed to the quality effort. You can have the greatest product in the world but people have to see the need to buy it and reasonably believe that it will produce the desired results. In the end after such a huge investment there had to be significant results and in a lot of cases these results couldn’t be put forward for all to see. The belief was no longer there.

In today’s climate it is much easier to sell executives and decision makers the concept of project management as a “go forward” type vehicle for most organizations. This has, just like quality management did before it, generated a support industry made up partly of zealots and believers established to support organizations through their project management transition. This means training, accreditation, materials and record keeping systems to accommodate them all. One of the other negatives is the amount of energy some industry insiders are happy to spend arguing/discussing the merits or otherwise of the various project management methodologies available and which one is “best”.

Amazing how wedded some people get to methodologies instead of being more interested in getting the best results. Reminded me of the old quality management days.
Progress down the project management road so far is pretty mixed to say the least. Catastrophe databases have appeared on the internet documenting some of the more spectacular project failures around the world.

This makes depressing reading.

The private sector and the public sector seem to be both struggling to successfully deliver major projects, especially IT projects. It almost seems at times that the projects are managing the people and not the other way around.

In this country, we have a public transport ticketing system that cost taxpayers more than the last Mars landing. We have a payroll database brought in at a budget of $40M that still doesn’t pay staff the correct salaries and has blown out to $400M so far and still going. There was a federal government initiative to encourage home-owners to get roof insulation installed in their houses to save energy. Included in the unintended consequences of this project were four fatalities including a number of young and inexperienced installers who tragically and unknowingly ended up in harm’s way just trying to earn a living. This project was obviously a rank failure as soon as the first person lost their life but it should be noted that professional inspections were then required for 50,000 dwellings and a further hundred or so houses burnt down as a direct result of the project.

It is the same overseas as well. There is a litany of spectacular project failures in driver’s license databases, stock market programs, travel systems, baggage handling systems, construction projects, disaster management restoration programs and now, more recently stimulus spending programs.
There is research that suggests that around 1/3rd of all projects fail in progress and are abandoned before they are finished. It also seems that roughly half of all projects come in close to double their original budget.

The research also suggests that around 1/6th of all projects come in on time and on budget.

Is this good enough? I think not.

What can be done about it?

Will project management eventually join quality management and the dinosaurs and be consigned to the history books?

Article by Stewart A Brown for PM Hut.

More bout the author:
Stewart A Brown is the Managing Director and owner of Blueprint Planning Solutions Pty Ltd.
Stewart holds a number of qualifications including Mechanical Engineering and Development, Quality Technology and Quality Improvement. Stewart earned a Graduate Diploma in Quality and a Masters in Business from Queensland University of Technology. In addition, Stewart has been trained by Nippon Light Metals in process improvement and has accreditation to deliver KAIZEN projects. Stewart has also delivered many training sessions using Value Added Management, Project Management, Decision Making and Process Improvement Tools and Techniques. Stewart was an accredited Team Leader for the Australian Business Excellence Awards and has also served as a team member for the Australian Mining Industry Safety and Health Awards.

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