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A Remedy for Growing Pains: The Right Dose of Project Management

Growing Pains

Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? Personally, thinking about those years makes me shudder more than smile. It was a time of excitement and hope, but also a time of uncertainty and pain.

Businesses experiencing the thrill of growth - whether organically or through mergers and acquisitions - also experience pain. Just like a teenager, the company is growing faster than its “body” (people, processes, enablers) can stretch. This pain isn’t all bad. If you endure it, you will move your business into the next stage of maturity.

Of course, symptoms are certainly more easily identified than root causes of pain. They can be quite noticeable, such as complaints, concerns or questions that are difficult to answer. Here are a few typical symptoms organized within key areas of people, process and enablers (e.g., technology, tools, templates). What symptoms are your organization experiencing?

Typical Symptoms Suggesting Growing Pains

Figure: Growing Pains Symptoms

Simplistically, there are two major areas where growing businesses concentrate:

  • Ongoing Operations. The core of your business that got you where you are today. This is the crank you turn that prints the money.

  • Projects. The work that will get you to the next level, or the rules that must be implemented "or else.”

When you’re in growth mode because your money-printing crank has been on overdrive (bravo!), it means that you now have some extra money to invest. But, of all of the options, what is the best choice? Deciding what projects to invest in to achieve your firm’s vision, in line with its values, considering the resources you currently have and may need is not always easy. And then whatever you decide to invest in, you’ll want to support your workforce with whatever they need to get the work done right the first time, so that you can see the results as soon as possible.

Here’s where project management becomes important. If your organization is small, you might be able to lead the implementation yourself. You can speak with your employees directly, stay involved, make the tough decisions and keep everything on track.

Once the organization grows, you need to change your approach. If you continue to manage all aspects of projects while growing your business, eventually you will become the bottleneck and your key people will tend not to learn to make the right decisions on their own. In fact, in many organizations, employees who try to make decisions on their own are put back in their place, which means they and everyone else that heard about it, will avoid ever making that mistake again. And that is when the leader starts working 24/7 (also a symptom).

So, how do you make sure everyone is doing the right work and making the most of your investments, even while the organization scales? And then how do you make sure that they are doing it right? The answers are surprisingly simple.

Four Project Management Tips to Drive Performance While You Scale

1. Governance. Decide on the Right Work.

Perhaps you have some projects in-flight, but there is a great new idea to act on immediately. How do you make the decision to stop, pace or not start other projects so that you can take advantage of this new opportunity? The answer is Governance.

2. Portfolio Management. Provide Visibility into your Project Investments.

Your project portfolio includes all of your organization’s projects and programs. It is organized in a way that makes sense for managing your investments. Providing top management with quick visibility into status, spend, risk, return and, of course, a clear answer to, “what are all of these people working on?”

3. Project Management. Do the Right Work Right.

Once you’ve chosen the right work as part of a balanced portfolio that makes sense for your organization, you need to make sure that you can deliver on your promises. By definition, projects are unique, meaning that no one has ever done it before in exactly the same way under the same circumstances. Implementing project management best practices can help you to predict the cost and time of a project and then deliver results as expected. It helps to avoid unacceptable situations where projects cost more than you expect, fall grossly short of the expected value and upset key team members or customers along the way. With projects delivered consistently with real results and as promised, morale improves and your company grows.

4. Talent Development. Empower Your People.

People often wear multiple hats and/or are given new opportunities to showcase their talents as they help the company expand. When you assign them to a project, you need to be confident that these talented resources have the skills and experience to successfully deliver something no one has ever done. Whether they’re acting as Project Sponsors, Steering Team Members, Project Managers or Subject Matter Experts, they all need to know how to be successful in their roles and what to expect from one another throughout the project lifecycle. Technology is rarely the biggest obstacle on projects. People are. By ensuring expectations are clear at each stage of the project, you can eliminate many of the hurdles your team is sure to face. These struggles translate into project delays, rework, and in-fighting instead of teamwork, positive attitudes and results. These avoidable situations cost you more during the project and delay your time-to-value not only on this project, but also on other dependent projects in the portfolio.

In Summary

If you are disappointed in your organization’s ability to deliver projects as promised or if you are concerned that your organization may not be poised for what is coming next, then it is time to take action. By adding the right dose of project management discipline, you truly can accelerate through those tough “teenage” years of excitement, hope, uncertainty and pain, so that your organization can emerge as mature, prosperous and confident in its ability to choose the right projects and do them right.


About the Author: Dawn Mahan, PMP, is the Founder & CEO of PMOtraining, LLC., grew up in a small town and definitely experienced growing pains. Since then, her company developed The Driving Coach Program which helps organizations experiencing growing pains implement the suggestions above through a unique just-in-time, bite-sized virtual training with live human coaching approach that is customized for every client.

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