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How to Improve Project Management and Create a Better Process

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Paul Dandurand is a big believer in process. The Burlington-based, start-up entrepreneur is CEO and founder of PieMatrix and creator of Pie, a visual project management software platform. He says a lack of process at many organizations leads to reduced productivity, failed projects, and disengaged employees.

We talked to Paul about project management, the pitfalls of lists, and keeping employees motivated through process improvement.

Process seems to be a lost art in today’s multi-tasking, fragmented workforce. When it comes to project management, why do you think process is something not done more effectively?

I see two reasons why many are missing a process mindset. One is a traditional focus on budget and time. When asked, the majority will say a quality end-result is critical, but upper management is more financially driven than quality driven, at least for the short term. Second, people who plan projects are more or less schedulers. They don’t think about how the process is done. It’s easier to think about who’s doing the what than the how. In these two cases, organizations end up running projects from task lists created from scratch or from a copy of something done in the past. In either way, it’s just a list of stuff with assignments, dates, and progress.

Why is process so important?

Eighty percent of what you’re doing at work is process based. We do repeatable work all the time, which naturally lends better for process. For example, let’s say an education department has a project to create courses for the new semester. Guess what? The approach is most likely the same each year. It’s a project, but the methodology is always repetitive. That’s the process part. A process is a set of repetitive ways to get something done really well, over and over. A good process leads to a good project done on time, on budget, and with happy results.

What happens to process when there is turnover at a company or organization?

Often when people leave, their knowledge goes out the door with them. It can be detrimental if the knowledge is not previously captured and available at your fingertips to execute in real time. Also, whether or not the process knowledge stays behind, we should still be open to improvement when a new person comes into the organization with new insight. The key to process is that it should be flexible and sustainable.

What do you think are some of the biggest pitfalls in project management?

The Standish Group CHAOS survey is a good place to look at the biggest pitfalls. It’s one of the most recognized and extensive project management surveys of large organizations. Their top reasons for failures are lack of executive support, weak behaviors on how people work together, poor user involvement when gathering information, business improvement effectiveness is lacking, and just not enough skilled and experienced people since the good ones get promoted or retire.

I love the CHAOS reports since they really show the seriousness of failures. I have a three-part blog series talking about why 70 percent of your projects fail and what to do about it.

What are some habits professionals need to have in order to be successful at project management?

When I think of a project manager, I think of someone who is a good team leader, a problem solver, and always thinking about getting quality results. It’s also someone who is engaging the team to be creative with how to improve the process for next time, and very diligent with following up by looking at what people are doing and asking questions.

What are some warning signs that an organization needs help with project management?

Too many crises, especially repeated ones. Disengaged people, missing targets, and lousy end results.

How can leaders and managers use process to help engage and motivate employees?

There needs to be a culture change to focus on process and process improvement. I would also suggest a focus on gathering ideas from employees and talking about lessons learned, and then figuring out how to incorporate those ideas and lessons. It’s also helpful to encourage employees by giving them recognition when they contribute ideas, help others, and ask for help.

How does process benefit employees and productivity?

A process helps you understand interdependencies, how work is grouped, and how to make it more efficient. A good process provides a way to draw on and improve from lessons learned. A process tends to engage the teams much more than a task list. It helps us think creatively about what we learned and how to make it better the next time around. I think the world would become a better place is everyone spent extra time thinking about how to incrementally improve something every day.

Learn about UVM’s Professional Certificate in Project Management.