Project Management Tune-Up

Apr 22, 1996

We work for the owners and top managers of a lot of different A/E/P and environmental firms. While all those companies and their managers are different, they share one thing— they’re not happy with project management in their firms. They could all benefit from a project management tune-up. Here are my suggestions: Require a weekly progress report to all clients on all jobs. I find myself making this recommendation to more and more clients of all sizes and types because it has so many benefits. A weekly progress report should be a one- or two-page memo. It should indicate what you did last week, what you’ll do this week, and any other special issues or concerns that you have relative to the project (i.e., you are waiting for a client approval on something, waiting for information from someone, etc.). This report should be copied to the job file, and someone should be responsible for checking off on a list that the memo has gone out (i.e., whoever is responsible for maintenance of the project files). Any PM who has not sent out his or her report on a job should be called by the PIC or the COO and bugged to get the report out. And one other thing— make sure that the client’s boss is copied on the report, and perhaps even the boss’s boss. This way the A/E or environmental firm will be sure it isn’t being blamed for non-performance when the client’s PM is not doing what he or she needs to do to expedite the project. Give all PMs a weekly, line-by-line project management summary on every one of their jobs. This summary should show the job number, name, budget, what’s been earned to date, and what’s left to earn on the job. Don’t think that giving your PMs a 10-page project report that shows who went to Burger King and charged a “Whopper Meal Deal” lunch to the job on August 2, 1995, is as good as a single-line summary. It’s not. Too much detail obscures what’s really important!! Publish data on everything related to your project manager’s performance. I’m talking about sending out a weekly report e-mail or posting summary performance data on each PM on bulletin boards. Include data such as the total of all budgets versus actual completed project costs as a percentage variance number. Or show WIP (work-in-process) write-offs by PM. Show average collection period by PM. Show effective multipliers by PM. Show follow-up sales by PM. Show repeat business by PM. Let everyone in the company see this data. Use peer pressure to improve accountability. Provide training to your PMs for each and every market sector they serve. Every firm eventually gets around to providing PMs with some kind of training. But usually, it’s stuff like how to read the PM reports, set up a project budget, do a full-wall schedule, and other related project management-type functions. Rarely, however, do firms give their PMs training that educates them on the business of the clients they are serving. It may prove more valuable to understand the peanut butter industry if you are serving peanut butter manufacturers than to learn about a CPM scheduling technique. Understanding the client’s business and the issues they are dealing with improves the quality of the firm’s design or environmental consulting services. Do a monthly client satisfaction survey for every single client. Ask them how they feel about the value of the firm’s services for the money they are paying, about the firm’s ability to meet schedules, about the firm’s responsiveness, and so on. Post the results in a graphic form for all to see. You may even want to share the results of an ongoing client satisfaction polling with the clients themselves. This becomes part of your firm’s marketing efforts to nail down the relationship with your current clients. Any firm, large or small, could implement each of these items. Isn’t it time that you got serious about improving project management in your firm? Originally published 4/22/1996.

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