Finding order in chaos: Getting things done in the midst of changeReta Cordproject management office, emerging markets, business strategy There's no reason why chaos has to rule. No matter what the size or your organization, chaos can and should be managed. During my seven-plus years of project management, I've experienced the chaos when companies grow very quickly in emerging markets. I've watched them react to the changes in a knee-jerk fashion just to maintain those growth spurts. In the midst of this kind of change, it's sometimes difficult for the management team to step back and look at each project to determine its strategic value. Much of this comes about because so many companies involved with mortgage lending are growing at break-neck speed to meet demand. The number of projects escalates to match the rate of growth and often they are started in a random fashion across all departments. These projects usually spring up with little or no thought to how they relate to each other or the goals of the organization. Each division is focused on their piece of the pie and projects are developed in their individual silos without any regard to what's going on in the organization as a whole. As these organizations struggle to keep up, another problem develops: more people are brought on board to "fill spots." They hire so quickly that training is placed on the back burner of priorities. If you're hiring people with creative minds, each person starts doing things their own way, contributing to the chaotic environment. That's okay in a small, slow-growing environment, but it won't work in a high-growth industry like lending. And, without standardized processes and procedures, we are totally dependent on each person's own way of doing things to get the work done. Next thing you know, someone leaves and it feels as if its impossible to replace them. There is a better way. By creating and supporting a project management office (PMO), the management team can get a handle on change and make it work for the organization. The PMO looks at all projects to see how they fit in with the company's overall vision, and how they meet the strategic priorities set by the executive team. The PMO also looks for ways that projects can be combined for mutual benefits. For example, the content management solution project may also meet some of the customer service requirements in a separate project. By combining these projects, we may come up with a more robust, enterprise solution. The PMO provides the guidelines or methodology to manage projects. We provide the templates so that all projects are managed using consistent standards. The PMO provides the global (portfolio) view of all project information that allows executive teams to make decisions, prioritize projects and allocate resources based on the strategic plan or direction. The PMO provides financial status of the portfolio so that executives can pull the plug on projects when costs begin exceeding benefits. At each phase of the project's completion, the executives can maintain reality checks on the health of their portfolio. The service industry has been relatively slow to embrace the concept of project management. The engineering and construction industries were the earliest adopters, largely due to the engineer's technical and detail-oriented skill sets. More recently, the technology industry climbed on the bandwagon. Now other industriesincluding financial servicesare adopting the project management approach. Here's how adding a project management office can help your institution stay one step ahead of change: Managing resources Ineffective allocation of resources is a common problem when projects are managed within individual departments. Many times, this approach doesn't allow resources to be fully utilized. A PMO provides performance indicators for how resources can be allocated across multiple projects. Creating best practices Using project management helps an organization create and use best practices. These can be constantly improved by the entire organization. As projects finish up, managers and team members review and document the lessons learned, resulting in a continual process improvement. The team is the focus here, not its individual "stars." Getting a handle on true costs Organizations that are experiencing growth spurts do not always stop to analyze the actual costs of projects. Budgets are nonexistent in some cases due to the urgency to get things done. For every hour a resource works on a project, there is a cost associated with that time. When costs are tracked, not only can you determine how much a product costs to develop, but the information can also be used in making future decisions based on similar projects. Executives will have the data to make decisions on how profitable or beneficial projects are to the organization. Dealing with dependencies When creating project plans, some steps can't be taken until other tasks are completed. These are called dependencies. Getting a handle on these dependencies and the tasks and resources involved with them is critical. It allows the team to understand the order in which deliverables must be completed, thus providing the executives with a more realistic view. Change is exciting. Change is good and in today's lending environment, managed change is a critical success factor. But change can overrun an organization to the point where it spends all of its time reacting to it. A common approach to managing projects is essential to ensure consistent, repeatable and quality results. By investing in a PMO, you can harness the energy of change and put it to work for you to improve your bottom line. Reta Cord is director of project management for Rocky Hill, Conn.-based Integrated Loan Services. She may be reached at (800) 842-8423 or e-mail [email protected].