Teams Work: A Model for Project Management Success
Improving Project Performance: Eight Habits of Successful Project Teams
Author: Jerry L. Wellman
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Publication Date: 2011
Length: 352 pages
Larry Kreger, CRM
Once upon a time, records managers practiced their craft more or less independently, conjuring up requested information through methods that were perfectly mysterious to the rest of the organization. Increasingly, however, such independence is being replaced by work on project teams, where records personnel work alongside representatives from legal and IT units to meet the challenges associated with such issues as electronic records and e-discovery. Should you come to work one day and find yourself assigned to a project team, you would do well to keep Jerry L. Wellman’s Improving Project Performance within easy reach on your bookshelf.
Subtitled “Eight Habits of Successful Project Teams,” Wellman’s book draws on his more than 30 years of experience as an engineering project manager at Honeywell to distill key practices that can create a happy ending to even the most challenging projects. While Wellman’s own experience is with large-scale technical matters, the habits discussed in his book can be applied to any type of project, whether it is the building of the International Space Station or the implementation of that document management system you’ve been working on.
For as long as there have been group projects, there have been attempts at making them more efficient. That there is still room for improvement, not just in large-scale public works projects whose failures make headlines, but in projects of every size and type, is illustrated by the surveys cited in the book’s opening chapter. Even the most conservative of these studies found that more than one-third of the projects surveyed failed to meet their original requirements on time and within budget.
Wellman’s prescriptions for this situation, while not entirely new, are fleshed out by real-world examples from an experienced professional. Along with the metrics associated with project management, Wellman, who holds a doctorate in human and organizational systems, treats the reader to examples of individual and collective human psychology that can make or break a project.
The eight habits cited in the book are founded on the premises of preparation, adaptation, and communication. Regarding preparation, Wellman believes that, too often, project teams immediately want to get off and running to show management that the project is well under way. Since management also wants to see early results from its investment, the tendency is that detailed planning often receives far less attention than it deserves. But, Wellman emphasizes that planning is work, too, and because “projects succeed or fail early in their life cycles,” he recommends a project team not move forward until its project vision is reviewed by all, understood by all, and, most importantly, supported by all.
Of course, even the best laid plans, as both mice and project managers are aware, often go astray. A key insight from Wellman is that project efficiency is “based on how rapidly a team learns what it does not know and then adapts to that learning.” Projects falter, he says, not so much because they are complex, but because they are “dynamically complex,” meaning the amount and type of changes that occur can overwhelm the original plan. Processes must be in place to encourage dialogue between team and customer and to permit analysis of the impact of all changes.
“Over communicate” is a phrase Wellman uses to emphasize the importance clear and consistent communication plays in the success of any project. While undoubtedly true for project management, there are times in the book when the author’s “over communicating” becomes a hindrance to the reader. The early chapters in particular feel a little longer than necessary; tighter editing would have resulted in a less hefty, more engaging volume.
It is axiomatic that readers should not judge a book by its cover, but the cover of Improving Project Performance, depicting an arrow pointing the way out of a labyrinth, is an appropriate representation of the book’s value. Records managers, who are often project managers in disguise, can benefit as much as anyone from its recommendations.
Download the complete PDF version here.
Larry Kreger, CRM, can be contacted at email@example.com.
From September - October 2012