Published on 2017/11/30

A University-Wide PM Methodology to Improve Efficiency and Drive Projects to Completion

The EvoLLLution | A University-Wide Project Methodology to Improve Efficiency and Drive Projects to Completion
By standardizing the institutional approach to project management, it’s possible for a university to realize massive efficiencies while also seeing major projects through to completion closer to (and even under) their anticipated time and budget.
At many colleges and universities, major implementations and projects are becoming increasingly commonplace as the rate of technology change increases and the expectations of students rise. However, the process for implementing major changes is often arbitrarily defined, if at all, and project management (PM) is seen as a tangential or ancillary—rather than central—responsibility. In this interview, Luc Roy reflects on how Laurentian University is moving towards a more coordinated and organized approach to project management by crafting and implementing a university-wide project management methodology.

The EvoLLLution: Why was it important to craft a university-wide PM methodology?

Luc Roy (LR): Efficiency. Transparency. Inclusion. Measurement. Those are some of the central benefits that come from our development of a university-wide project management methodology.

Of course, there are so many other benefits that can be associated with a project management discipline. For Laurentian, common opportunities explored included:

  • Better collaboration
  • Better business cases
  • Better awareness of projects
  • Better execution of project implementation

Even though many projects are well executed, some mediocre projects exerted an unneeded impediment to not only the project itself but to the normal business operations that rely on people that were also involved in these projects.

Therefore, Laurentian embarked on defining the areas that could most benefit from a project management methodology, and measured whether (and how) standardized project management can increase the efficient use of time and money.

Just measuring the planned completion date compared to the actual completion date showed the impact of PM. Those projects that used and respected a project management methodology were completed within four months of the anticipated completion date 90 percent of the time. The undisciplined projects were delayed by more than year 60 percent of the time—some were delayed by years.

Thus, Laurentian agreed to focus on the administrative areas first.

Evo: Prior to the methodology, how were projects typically launched and taken from concept to implementation?

LR: Each group, like IT, facilities and others, had their own method. Some methods were better than others. The non-synchronous method is not amenable to a change of culture.

The other aspect to consider is, if an institution does not have a methodology or policy on project management, then all projects are at risk and are implemented with best intentions but nothing more.

Evo: What kinds of challenges will standardizing the process help to alleviate?

LR: We hope that the project management initiative will assist and offer several benefits:

  • To efficiently deliver projects on time
  • To forecast effort so proper decisions are made (to take on a project or not)
  • To measure effort taken so projects, programs and portfolios are properly evaluated
  • Up front justification of the project based on data metrics and proper resource allocation
  • Transparent status of projects
  • Transparent prioritization of projects
  • Data-driven facts (e.g. measurements) for each project
  • Uniform method of measuring the total cost of ownership
  • Independent and uniform escalation when projects do not meet timelines
  • Capacity planning
  • Prevent over-subscription of resources
  • Instill more confidence for completion of projects
  • Prevent delays
  • Accountability
  • Better communication of changes attributed by the project for all involved constituents

Evo: What did it take to develop this methodology, and who had to be involved?

LR: For the AVPs (Associate Vice Presidents), it required agreement amongst each other.

To change culture, you must start at the top. All AVPs convinced our Vice President Administration to embrace this approach and for him to be our champion within the Executive Team. In addition, we also proposed that the VP’s performance objectives include this initiative.

Then, we agreed that the scope targeted university-wide administrative groups. We solicited and received agreement from both administration and academic departments.

The next challenge was to implement the initiative without additional resources. A few years ago, we invested in two individuals (IT and Facilities) to pursue their Project Management Professional certifications; that initiative is now paying dividends. Both individuals are now engaged in creating and agreeing on the templates, the minimum requirements, the training and the method of engagement. Neither needed much convincing, since they deeply understood the value and the benefits of a disciplined project management methodology. The initiative gave them even more satisfaction since the initiative was wider than their areas.

Evo: What advice would you share with other leaders looking to develop a similar institution-wide methodology to manage major projects and changes?

LR: It’s best to start with certifying yourself in project management, so you can walk the talk. Every institution is different. By walking the talk, you will be in a better position to customize the approach that fits your institution and also gain the credibility and buy-in with those that you need to convince.

Secondly, ensure that the executive team buys in.

Third, be prepared. Ensure that your templates are completed, and give yourself time to train your people. Encourage your staff to escalate ill-specified projects so that their time and the university’s effectiveness are not impacted.

Finally, have a Project Management Office—real or virtual—in place so that projects are properly documented and tracked.

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Key Takeaways

  • Establishing a university-wide project management methodology ensured that major projects ran more smoothly, stayed closer to anticipated timelines and made more efficient use of human and financial resources.
  • Since every unit typically has their own unique approach to project management, often the only thing moving the major change forward is best intentions.
  • Investing in employees to gain PM credentials, gaining buy-in from senior leadership and establishing a centralized PM office are critical steps to creating institutional alignment around PM.
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