The 3 Pillars of Project Management Excellence

By Patrick Haley | May 3rd, 14 | Categories: Deltek, Pending Update

Building a Strong Project Management Culture at Your Firm

This article was transcribed from a joint webcast between Deltek and PSMJ Resources titled, Building a Strong PM Culture at Your Firm: The 3 Pillars of PM Excellence. This webcast contained A LOT of valuable information and for that reason we have chosen to break it down into several blog posts.

During this webcast Dave Burstein, P.E. of PSMJ Resources and Bob Stalilonis, CPA, MBA of Deltek started off by discussing why a strong project management culture is critical to the success of your firm before diving into the 3 Pillars. They also discussed 10 things Principals must know about their Project Managers’ projects and delivered the key takeaways from this webcast.

Why A Strong PM Culture is Critical to the Success of Your Firm

Since this topic has been covered in another post, we’ll briefly touch on it here:

The only way you make money is by projects. Your typical PMs are responsible for several key roles such as planning, organizing, directing and controlling projects. However, your strongest PMs take on additional roles that require a significant investment of time. Since your PMs have a direct impact on various aspects of your firm, your firm’s future completely depends on their ability to perform. They are much closer to the top of the hierarchical pyramid than you may have anticipated, and that’s a good thing.

See also: Building a Culture of Better Project Management

Pillar 1: Building Strong and Effective Project Managers

A good project manager can be summed up by the following qualities:

  1. Follows through on their own commitments as well as the commitments of others
  2. Good listener
  3. Proactive
  4. Nails every aspect of the job
  5. Leads by example
  6. Good communicator
  7. Backs decisions of team members
  8. Organized
  9. Handles multiple priorities well
  10. Technically proficient
  11. Holds people accountable
  12. Delegates well

In some ways your firm resembles a fine dining restaurant and your PMs are your head servers. Your PMs are responsible for explaining the options available to your clients while conveying the scope of the work to your team. They are incentivized to ensure that the work is delivered within a reasonable amount of time and that the bill is delivered and paid in full.

The first step to establishing a firm-wide leadership development program is to develop a group of strong project managers. This is the source of the next generation of principals. This all starts with a vision created by senior management. You need clear company-wide standards with efficient processes and functional professional development. You need to invest time into formal PM training and time mentoring your team to enhance skills like team management and public speaking. Finally, you can’t achieve any of this without consistently holding your team accountable.

A great starting point is developing a PM Development Plan:

PM Duties/Authority Current Vision
Manage proposals for the projects he/she will ultimately manage No Yes
Prepare the fee budgets for their projects Occasionally Yes
Actively participate in fee negotiations with clients No Yes
Actively participate in selecting their project team members No Yes
Actively participate in performance evaluations of team members No Yes
Able to get non-performers removed from their projects No Yes
Control design and technical decisions (within the overall constraints of firm policies) Yes Yes
Stay in firm control of their project budgets Usually Yes
Stay in firm control of their project schedules Yes Yes
Maintain the day-to-day relations with their clients Yes Yes
Sign and seal the drawings (in states where they are licensed) No Yes
If there is a collections problem, directs the collection efforts Participates Yes
Really feel accountable for the success or failure of his/her projects Yes Yes

Use this template or adapt it to create your own to help you benchmark yourself against how you envision your company running.

Pillar 2: Creating an Environment That Enables Project Managers to be Successful

To enable your PMs to be successful you should implement a few best practices. First, They need the templates and tools required to comply with standards as well as efficient well-documented processes in lace. Workflows from your project management system can provide them with real-time project status updates while providing the principals and accounting staff with real-time insight into the financial performance of each project.

Lastly and arguably the most important thing a PM needs to be successful is support from senior project managers or principals. A partnership between a PM and Principal has deep roots in your organization that affects all aspects of the business.

Activities Project Manager Principal
Fee proposals Prepares Approves
Fee negotiations Participates Directs
Team selection Requests Approves
Performance evaluations Inputs Performs
Removing non-performers Recommends Acts
Design/technical decisions Meets standards Set standards
Client relations Maintains Client Sponsor
Future work Secures Approves
Accountability Maintains Rewards/punishes

Principals ultimately make the decisions, but they cannot make the right decision without consulting the PMs. When you give PMs the tools they need you inherently get better insight into how your firm operates. It is completely possible to see what you need to see without relinquishing control over the direction of your business all while improving transparency into how you maintain accountability. For example, if you give your PMs the tools to track their actual expenditures versus earned value, you allow them to see when their projects are running over budget and do earned value management.

Pillar 3: Instilling Accountability Across the Organization

Becoming a more profitable business is always driven from the top down. In other words, it starts with management. Senior Management always sets the standard and the Principal should be conducting rigorous project reviews at least monthly. Project Managers should always discuss the scope of current project plans as well as changes with management. If a project falls behind with budget or schedule a standard escalation of steps should be followed.  This can be drastically mitigated for when KPIs are monitored monthly so that action can be taken when project performance is below the benchmark. Finally Finance should partner with PMs to share information and make sure you are billing your clients correctly and getting paid when you need to be.

  1. Is the job set up properly in the accounting system?
  2. Has a Project Management Plan been prepared and distributed to the team?
  3. Are there pending change orders that need to be formalized?
  4. Has the job been billed recently?
  5. Are payments current?
  6. Is the job running over or under budget?  If over budget, what corrective actions are being taken?
  7. Is the project on schedule?  If not, what corrective actions are being taken?
  8. Are our QA requirements being followed?
  9. Is the client happy?
  10. Is there more work coming up with that client?

We highly recommend reviewing the 10 Things Principals Must Know About Their Project Managers’ Projects for an overview on how to prioritize projects and how you can go about asking these questions at your firm.

Key Takeaways for Project Managers and Principals

  1. If you’re a Principal, make sure you have a specific list of duties you expect your PMs to perform. If you’re a PM, sit down with your supervisor or principals to make sure you understand what is expected of you.
  2. Make sure your PM’s performance is evaluated in terms of profitability and client satisfaction. Are they making the profits expected of them and are they satisfying the clients as expected? Hopefully better in both cases.
  3.  Have a written plan for developing promising design professionals into strong PMs.
  4. Communicate regularly with your PMs to find out the status of key issues. If you’re a PM, make sure you are communicating with your principals.
  5. Senior Management commitment to strong project management. Senior management should take the lead on setting goals and making sure they are achieved.
  6. Senior Management needs to adopt and institutionalize the processes required to meet the goals of the firm.
  7. Make project planning is integral to business process so that you can identify your scope and schedule so that people can fundamentally work to that schedule. Communication is key to ensure satisfaction among your team and the client.
  8. Clear career path, training and development, and support for PM leads lowers turnover and increases your ability to attract new talent.
  9. Best practice firms leverage technology, streamline business processes, and centralize information in a single database.

Want to learn more?
Here at BCS Prosoft we help professional services firms in the Architecture & Engineering, Consulting, Oilfield Services industries streamline their operations with Deltek Vision and other ERP solutions. If your business management technology is holding you back, start a dialogue towards better business efficiency today by contacting us today. We’ll give you a free consultation to see if we can help you achieve your goals.

About Deltek
For over 30 years, Deltek has uniquely delivered leading enterprise software and information solutions for project-based businesses. Our unparalleled solutions and industry expertise deliver actionable insights, enabling our clients to profit more.

Bob Stalilonis, CPA, MBA is Deltek’s Senior Solution Architect (Follow him on Twitter)

About PSMJ Resources, Inc.
PSMJ Resources, Inc. is the world’s leading authority, publisher, and consultant on the effective management of architecture, engineering, and construction firms. With offices in the United States as well as the United Kingdom and Australia, PSMJ offers over 150 titles in book, audio, and video format. In addition, the company publishes several monthly periodicals and delivers dozens of seminars, roundtables, conferences, webinars, and in-house training sessions every year for A/E/C professionals around the world. PSMJ’s sought-after consulting expertise covers a range of critical business areas such as strategic planning, project management, valuation, succession planning, and mergers & acquisitions.

Dave Burstein, P.E. is a Principal at PSMJ Resources

Recent Posts