It’s usually not difficult to know if project management practices are too light as an organization is likely to experience higher levels of project issues, baseline variances or outright failures. While the same challenges might occur when good practices are being executed by ineffective staff it is generally easy to assess which is the real root cause.
Things get a lot murkier when one is trying to decide if practices are too heavy.
Leveraging the scientific method, one could progressively reduce effort spent on project management activities and determine at what point the savings achieved by doing so are eliminated by the costs of project failure, but few organizations are likely to approve such research!
Industry-specific benchmarking may feel like a good alternative but the challenge is that the context of specific projects will impact the ability to conduct valid analysis between comparator organizations. In addition, unless each comparator uses the same approach to measure project management effort, you are unlikely to get an apples-to-apples comparison.
A better approach might be to develop an in-house model incorporating the factors which drive the need for greater project management effort.
Such factors include:
- Degree of project uniqueness – the more routine a project, the lighter the practices required to successful manage it
- Extent of regulatory oversight – industries with stringent regulatory requirements will, by necessity, usually demand greater project management diligence
- Alignment of key project stakeholders – the greater the misalignment between key stakeholders, the greater the effort spent in creating alignment
- Number of distinct subcontractors involved – as the number of subcontractors increase, greater effort has to be spent in managing them
- Project size & complexity – as project size and complexity increases, project management effort will also increase, and usually non-linearly!
To develop and refine such a model, actuals for project management activities can be compared with total effort spent for completed projects. Time spent by project managers can usually be 100% booked against project management activities but very specific guidance will need to be provided to other staff to ensure that time is appropriately allocated.
Over time, with the aid of such a model, it should be possible to develop rules of thumb to help guide project teams in tailoring project management practices to the needs of a given project.
Outside of project management process fanatics, most stakeholders will feel that your project management practices are heavy regardless of how much effort is expended in right-sizing them. An effort estimation model might provide you with an objective basis for discussion.