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Towards management efficiency

by DEBABRATA SAMANTA, RITES LTD
Indian Management March 2021

Summary: A combination of the right people, right process, and right tools is key to implement structured project management practices on the ground. Here’s addressing the tools part.

Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them. - Henry Ford As per Economic Survey Report of 2017-18, India will require investments of around $4.5 trillion by 2040 to develop the infrastructure for sustaining its economic growth.

It has been observed that more than 37 per cent of 1754 of the central sector projects worth R150 crore and above are running beyond their scheduled date of completion, and have cost overrun of around R4.43 lakh crore. (MoSPI, 2019)

And, as per “Report (14 June, 2019) on the Taskforce on Project and Program Management from Niti Aayog, Government of India, the key issues of conventional approach of project delivery across different sectors in India are identified as follows:

  • Uncertainties in land acquisition process and regulatory approvals;
  • Lack of comprehensive upfront planning and risk management; and
  • Low maturity of project management processes to adequately plan for such factors.

The factors mentioned in points (ii) and (iii) above can be addressed by adopting structured project management practices such as project scoping, planning, scheduling, risk management, communication management, change management, quality management, HR management, cost management etc. This boils down to the requirements of right people, right process, and right tools in order to implement structured project management practices on the ground.

In both government and private sector organisations, multiple projects are executed to keep pace with demand growth, market developments, changing technology, environmental requirements, diversification, etc. There are various organisations such as product-based, construction-based, and a mix of the two. All such organisations either act as client organisation or contract executing organisation or as both, at various times during their business life-cycle for various types of projects so being planned and executed.

The purpose of this article is to focus on the ‘tools’ part.

Projects are discrete entities with defined start and finish points that provide something new or improved that embrace an organisation’s ability to meet its operational or strategic responsibilities (Cleland, 1999).

In a healthy enterprise, projects are created to promote growth. In a sick enterprise, projects may be initiated to stop the bleeding of resources or produce quick fixes (that eventually fail). However, business reality shows many cases where projects form part of a wider and more interconnecting and interdependent stream of activities. These are managed as a cluster/portfolio of projects often sharing resources and linked in a strategic direction towards a common goal. This concept of clustering or portfolio nature led to the term program management—defined as managing a group of projects together for added benefit (Turner, 1999).

In case of executing a project or portfolio of projects, multiple stakeholders are involved, and interests of all stakeholders are required to be managed in order to ensure that an individual project is successfully implemented within time, cost, and quality. And with successful implementation of a group of projects, the benefit is accrued to the organisation. Hence, the projects are more required to be managed at the enterprise level. That is where enterprise level project management (EPM) comes in to play.

And, the inclusion of the term enterprise in tandem with the term project management recognises the diverse range of stakeholders that get affected by project outcomes.

The term enterprise in EPM infers recognition of leveraging knowledge assets (while all stakeholders being in the same EPM platform) in managing individual project and a group of projects in an organisation. EPM is aimed at efficiently accomplishing more in less time with quality and transparency— conversion of project-based information to knowledge which could be leveraged across project management organisations to effectively achieve viability and survivability in a dynamic and competitive environment. An enterprise managed as sets of interrelated projects can meet such challenge (Conrad C. S. et. al, 2003).

The concept of EPM involves a portfolio of projects using common support systems such as enterprise knowledge and information assets, information and communication technology (ICT) systems, procedures and processes to minimise reinvention and leverage knowledge to enable smart responses (in time) to common problems and challenges. EPM requires a high level of integration of ICT systems, management procedures and compatible work cultures across projects so that mutual understanding (at maximum level) of project team members and all project stakeholders is achieved. (Dinsmoore, 1999)

In a non-learning organisational style, a silo approach may be observed where each individual project is managed without any significant learning being captured and leveraged from the experience of others. Valuable customer or supply-chain specific knowledge could be lost and reinvented for each project in the program. In an EPM approach, the integration of support systems and knowledge assets allows lessons learned and valuable knowledge to be shared, re-cycled, enhanced, and built upon. This creates greater value.

The central concept of EPM requires a change in world view from understanding the enterprise as a hierarchical structure of major business units (MBUs) and then programs (containing projects), to that of the enterprise being primarily a portfolio of projects generating diverse potential value. The concept of enterprise reveals a potential for organisational reinvention and evolution rather than maintaining a status quo. (Conrad C. S. et.al, 2003)

Any technology solution will fail if it does no recognise the importance of human connections. However, in the current scope, human aspects are not addressed.

The enterprise governance system then absorbs, tests, and reflects upon this knowledge and provides feedback to projects to enable those engaged in these projects to work ‘smarter’ by learning from the enterprise how to do more with less. This is exactly what can be achieved through real-time, data-driven (in terms of issues, cost, time, risks, changes, resources) decision making and capturing of data at a granular level across the project/ program stakeholders and progressed to dashboard level for top management to view and act upon on real time basis.

Towards this direction, some of the Indian start-ups (such as www.whitebullcs.com) have developed EPM solution, which may be implemented across all industry sectors. This solution addresses the tool part; however, the people and process parts need to be addressed as well to gain the most out of above EPM solution.

Debabrata Samanta is Project Manager, RITES Ltd. (A Government of India Enterprise).

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