Dec 10, 2008

Those Ups and Downs

Posted by Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin in Project & Program Management, Portfolio Management, Project Management Office (PMO), Resource Optimization | 0 Comments

One of my favorite scenes in movie history is from The Lion in Winter, which takes place at Christmas in the castle where Henry II (Peter O'Toole) has imprisoned his uppity spouse Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katherine Hepburn). In the midst of a raging domestic battle over the king's mistress and his succession plans for their three sons, Hepburn winds up lying on the floor. "Ah, well," she says in a calm, philosophical tone, her cheek on the threshold. "What family doesn't have its little ups and downs?"

Well, it's Christmas time again, and members of the global family we call "the economy" are having our ups and downs. Mostly downs, you might say, And yet - speedreading the headlines in the various business and tech newsletters arriving daily in my inbox, I'm getting the sense that, at the same time that certain aspects of our economic life are darkening and dwindling, other aspects are getting ready to come into their own.

Case in point: Management Consulting News reports in its December 2 edition on the generally lousy state of the ten top publicly-traded consulting firms the organization tracks. No surprise there; but wait - there's one exception:

Of the companies in the MCNews Index, only Hewitt has managed to hold onto a gain in its stock price over the period of the last two years. From the inception of the Index in January 2007, Hewitt’s stock price has gained almost 6.0 percent, while all of the remaining companies face heavy losses in their stock values.

What interests me about this fact is that Hewitt, alone among all the other companies in the MCNews Index, has been a finalist in our PMO of the Year Award competition. Their innovative management of information technology globally and their application of project management problem-solving techniques to the challenges of going public are described in the 2008 awards program. Since I don't much believe in coincidence; I'm betting that great project and portfolio management has allowed this HR outsourcing and consulting firm to do the things that less-savvy businesses are now scrambling to implement: resource optimization, portfolio management, aligning strategy with action via projects. None of these processes can be well managed without a PMO, so companies that hope to thrive in lean times should take a leaf from Hewitt's notebook.

A few years ago I attempted to map the high-performing organizations in our Strategy & Projects study to available financial metrics. It turned out to be impossible, as the companies ranged from big nonprofits to small close-held consultancies; from government agencies to the Fortune 500, so no common metric could be found. But, what I did find when I Googled their names was a string of superlatives along the lines of:

Winner of the 2005 Best Place to Work Award!

Professional Services Company of the Year!

Customer Service Award!

Regional Poll Says We Are Tops in Patient Care! ... and so on.

That's when I knew that our instincts about the bottom-line effects of managing by projects were correct. Now, I'm thinking that economic collapse is the perfect environment for project management to prove that executing strategy as a portfolio of projects, balancing resources wisely across the portfolio, eliminating rework and duplication, and so on, will be the differentiator between organizational success and freefall.

Going up?


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