Editorial: Practical PM improvement

Oct 21, 2011

By Mark C. Zweig Founder & CEO, ZweigWhite We are talking more and more about the importance of good project management in boardrooms these days. There isn’t much more you can do to increase your profitability and reduce your risk than improve the quality of your PM efforts. So what can you do – now – in your firm to improve your project management effectiveness? Here are my thoughts:
  1. Track and report PM performance metrics firm-wide. Why aren’t you doing this now? What are you afraid of? Show project multiplier to contracted multiplier, average collection period, client satisfaction scores, total dollar value of work being managed, extra services sold, and more, by PM. And send this to everyone in the firm. This way, the best PMs will be recognized, and the worst shamed.
  2. Do continuous client satisfaction monitoring and report it firm-wide. Ask specific questions about how the PM is doing from the client’s perspective. Again, by sharing this information with all, the best PMs will get accolades and the weakest will be embarrassed. That’s good.
  3. Narrow down the list of who gets to be a PM. Most firms in this business have people assigned to the PM role who have absolutely no business being there. Even though most have absolutely no training, but perform well, some people simply have no aptitude for PM. So, why have them do it? It’s really silly and seems obvious to me they shouldn’t be PMs. We need to concentrate our PM responsibilities in fewer, better project managers.
  4. Provide really good training in how to write as well as in-house assistance with writing. So much of project management is about writing! I was talking to a fellow at our recent Principals Academy in Kansas City who told me that his firm actually hired his business writing instructor from grad school. Not only does the professor train all their people in how to write, he also provides an ongoing resource to edit and rewrite critical communications turned out by employees. And his turnaround time is mere hours. How smart – and progressive! (See related case study on page 6.)
  5. Require a weekly job progress report on all projects. Again – this is a no-brainer. The clients like it, the subs like it, and you will like it. Even if you don’t like writing these, they are crucial to keeping a project moving the right direction and especially valuable to heading off problems before they get too big.
  6. Get smartphones for all employees. This is a simple tool that improves communication within the firm, with subs and with the client. When we pay $70K, 80K, 100K or 150K per annum for an employee’s base pay we sure as hell can afford to buy them a phone and pay the phone bill. The increased productivity is well worth the cost.
  7. Manpower scheduling. Try scheduling someone who doesn’t report to you; doesn’t work too well, does it? Yet, this is something we ask PMs in this business to do every day. Organization structure is crucial to good project management. Studio structures or standing teams are by far the best structures for effective manpower scheduling. The leader sets and juggles the priorities and has the people (or most of them) under their control.
  8. Just talking about stuff like when to ask for payment for out-of-scope services and when not to, what unbilled WIP is, how to ask for retainers when you should, and more. There’s just not enough dialogue between the principals and the people who work as PMs on these kinds of topics.
I’m out of time. But we would love to hear your practical ideas on how to make A/E or environmental firm project management more effective. Drop me a line at the email address below. Mark Zweig is the founder and CEO of ZweigWhite. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweigwhite.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.