Project Management Strategy and Governance

Abstract

Against backdrops of increasing deregulation, globalization, dynamic technological innovations, an informed workforce, and shifting demographic and social trends, few can dispute the fact that the primary role of today’s management falls on establishing and implementing best management and governance frameworks. Today’s business markets have been greatly affected by the positive and negative effects of globalization. Though globalization has provided modern-day businesses with a wealth of opportunities to operate from, it is useful to note that some of its negative effects have posed great challenges to the survival of these same businesses. For instance, globalization has caused stiff competition among multinational corporations: thus demanding that for these companies to operate on a profit basis, then they ought to perform at high levels while delivering the best quality and relatively cheap prices.

It is from the above background that the author of this project pre-views the experience he encountered while participating in an IT project at Royal Saudi Air Force’s headquarters in Riyadh-Saudi Arabia.

This project had been won by a reputable Saudi technology firm Zuhair Fayze Partnership (ZFP). This firm was to develop, supply, and roll out a ‘high-tech” Facilities Information System (FIS) that was to be developed as a sub-component of the larger Engineering System Project (EIS).

This IT project, like any other organizational project, had its own strengths and weaknesses which the author highlighted in the analysis of the experience beneath.

Project Background

Project management strategy and governance

Project management and governance has proved to be a complex discipline. This is so because it has been found that it requires a balance to be struck between the two key stakeholders involved; technology and humans to be involved. As organizational knowledge manifests itself in the processes, people, products, services and similar organizational foundations, the successful implementation of organizational projects has highly depended on the management clearly understanding the existing organizational structure, employees’ attitudes and the general corporate culture.

Rational/Justification for the project

As noted by Bhatnagar (2004), from public to private sector, besides leadership, many organizations have had inadequate human resources to implement and manage projects of any nature (p.70). Strong project management and governace skills have been acknowleged as defining factors of successs in all project cases. By possessing the requisite skills, project leaders are likely to ‘sell’ their projects to expanded internal and public audiencess. It is from this rational that the RMIT School of Business, through its Project Management Program, made it a requisite for its students to develop this kind of report.

Introduction

In today’s competitive and ever-changing business environment, any organization requiring to effect changes will, in one way or another, initiate few, or more ‘change’ projects to survive (Harlow Council 2005, p.3). Most management have studied and identified their specific organizational needs to provide a basis for their sustainability and renewal; to ensure their competitive advantages (Chowdhury & Ahmed. 2004, p.2). The identification of needs has been followed by the placement of adverts that aim to attract reputable bidders to analyze the identified needs with the purpose of creating functional systems to answer to these needs.

Though many bidders declare early success when their bids are chosen to implement project solutions, it should be noted that the succeeding activities of project management and governance are in themselves complex and important activities for the winning bidders to take note of (Archer & Ghasemzadeh. 1999, p.207). Though there have been relatively more divergent techniques for winning bidders to use in estimating, evaluating and choosing project portfolios, most companies contracted to implement projects have failed to adopt or implement any of the techniques simply because they consider them to be too expensive and complex; requiring a lot of data input, providing inadequate treatment to risks or uncertainty amongst others.

Having studied in class and established the need for project-based structures across most industries, the researcher took an initiative of participating in a practical attachment to familiarise himself with the project environment. It is from this practical experience that the author highlighted the following in this project report.

The author begun by stating the aim of the project followed an analysis of the literature review. In the literature review he clearly differentiates project, project management and governance.

Beside the literature review, the author described how ZFP developed strategy to implement the project that was at hand. It should be noted that the author paid respect to the governance forms and rules while describing this strategy.

In the end, the author provided a detailed analysis of the experience on the project.

Aim of the project

In writing this paper, the author wanted to reflect on the experience gained when he participated in a practical assignment that was undertaken based on the established project management and governance principles; which had been the core themes covered in his coursework. The stated experience can be used by managements or future scholars to improve on this important but broad topic.

Literature review

Definition of Project, project management and governance

Until everyone in an organization has a shared understanding of what is meant by project, project management, and governance, misunderstandings, conflicts, and miscommunication are bound to exist (Lewis. 2004, p.3). In his research, Lewis (2004) discovered that most senior managers had often confused the term “project management” when they relentlessly insisted that they clearly understood what it entailed since they had managed or participated in successful projects in their line of duties (p.3). This, in Lewis’ view is unjustified since in insisting that they had managed projects, what these managers did not understand was that they were not under any obligation to follow any structured or formal approaches-key characteristics of any project management programs. To help us differentiate the two, Harlow Council (2005) defined projects as series of unique interdependent activities and tasks, planned to help in achieving specific outcomes, with consideration to constraints of costs, time, and resources (p.3).

In trying to clearly understand the difference between project management and governance, Ramenyi (2007) noted that the two terms had a gap both in practice and theory. He went ahead to justify his assertion by highlighting that though governance assumed that strategies were implemented through projects-it did not establish a roadmap on how the implementation was to be concluded (p.147). Furthermore, he went ahead to define governance (in IT perspective) as “specifying the decision rights and accountability framework to encourage desirable behaviour in the use of IT” (Ramenyi. 2007, p.148).

On his part, Cabanis-Brewin (2010) noted that project governance was the framework of management within which decisions affecting the project were to be made. He went on to stress that project governance was a key element in any project. This is so because despite organizational charts detailing the responsibilities of its employees on a specific project seldom did an equivalent chart exist to keep an eye on the capital investments directed towards the same project. In addition, Centre for Business Research (2010) pointed out that project governance contained 3 major pillars namely the structure (of the governance committee), the people (forming the committee) and the information (from key documents describing the project activities).

Project management was defined as the science (or art) in which the components of projects were organized (MPUG. 2011). On his part, Fewings (2005) simply summarized the definition of project management as “a managed stage trying to reach an agreed design scheme and methodology” (p.40).

Steps followed in project management and governance

No matter the kind of project being implemented, typically, project management followed the same pattern-from definition of the project, planning of the tasks or activities to be implemented, the execution stage, the control stage and finally the closure stage. Lewis (2007) listed these stages as initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and control and then closing (pp. 17-19).

depicting the stages involved in project management
Figure 1: depicting the stages involved in project management

Skills of project managers

Lewis (2007) identified the following nine areas as the key knowledge areas that project managers needed to familiarise themselves with in order to be considered complete project management and governance professionals (p.20-21). These were:

  • Project integration and management
  • Project management scope
  • Management of project time
  • Management of project costs
  • Project management quality
  • Managing the project human resource
  • Management of project communication
  • Project risks management

Project management and governance: failure or success factors

Lock (2007) postulated that “the manager of a typical project would consider the task well done if the project finished on time, according to its specified performance and within its budgeted cost (p.17). These, according to him, constituted the traditional basic parameters in which project failure or success was determined. Tellingly, he went on to expound on this by listing the following as the shortcomings which can condemn projects in their initial stages; thus constituting to their failure:

  • A poor understanding of the project scope (the extent to which the work is to be done).
  • Vague technical requirements.
  • Estimates of timescale and benefits or cost are unrealistic or too optimistic.
  • Flawed or incomplete risk assessment.
  • Inappropriate project strategy.
  • Insufficient or poor regard being paid on the cash flows. Also, delayed ‘servicing’ of project funds can cause its ultimate failure.
  • Not paying keen interest to stakeholder wishes, demands or wishes.
  • Undue regard being paid to project employees’ behaviours or motivation.
  • Approving of the project being granted based on ulterior motives (for example, personal, intuitive or political reasons). In this case, consideration of the business plan is ignored.

Ideally, from his research, Badiru (1995) identified the following as the major characteristics required for the success of any project (p.84):

  • An identified goal and scope
  • A desired time of completion
  • Availability of enough resources
  • A defined measure of performance
  • A scale of measurement for reviewing the project work

Implementing projects: selection of best strategies

Soderlund (2004) highlighted that before the implementation of multi-project firms, it was vital that strategies based on “projectification”, functional and innovation processes be developed (p.660). The Harlow Council (2005) on its part averred that robust project management procedures, reporting mechanism and frameworks/strategies were essential for delivery of project success (p.3). Moreover, the chosen strategy or framework must clearly outline what project was and establish its necessity as a change management process (Archer & Ghasemzadeh. 1999, p.207).

Project Case Study: Engineering Information Systems Project by Zuhair Fayze Partnership (ZFP) in Saudi Arabia

The project case study which was attached was an Engineering Information Systems (EIS) Project that was undertaken by Zuhair Fayze Partnership (ZFP) to the aviation branch of the Saudi Arabian Airforces. This aviation branch has been commonly called The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) and has recently upgraded its image from a largely defence force of military to an advanced and an offensive military capability unit.

The EIS project required the contractor to provide the aviation firm (RSAF) with a high-tech Facilities Information System (FIS). The FIS was to act as a modern communication backbone for RSA’s Control, Command, Computer & Intelligence (C41) and the Communication Systems. The developed systems were to link the operations happening in all the above sections of the RSAF. It should be noted that each Saudi Air Force airbase was formed based on all the above sections and as such, RSAF being the central branch that serviced all Saudi Air Force airbases, was in need for a high-tech information system (in the form of FIS) to provide real-time services to all Saudi’s air force stakeholders. It was from this need that the RSAF had advertised the tender for the supply of such system. ZFP, being a reputable engineering firm in the Saudi Kingdom had therefore emerged as the successful bidder for this tender. The developed FIS system was to enable users (who were mainly constituted by soldiers) access real- time data that contained both and text graphical objects.

Besides enabling real-time access, the FIS was to reduce the costs that were previously associated with processing and relaying data to the widely spread airbases by ensuring timeliness hence improving on decision making processes at RSAF.

My participation in this project was in form of an FMS architect. In this role I was to provide project engineers with sets of customizable tools. The engineers could use these tools to create custom tables, make inquiries on the in data/information that had been captured by them from the various airbases. In addition, they could use them to store tailored application data or their un-completed application programs.

In addition, my role included customizing the created system to suit RSAF’s screens for contract management, their time-keeping scheme and a host of their other applications.

How ZFP developed the Project Strategy (based on governance forms and resourcing required for success)

Having signed the engagement contract, ZFP was now tasked with implementing this huge technical project. The company’s management observed some of the governance elements in the strategy it developed to implement the project. The following is a detailed discussion of how the strategy was developed by the firm.

The company’s management established a project committee that contained the heads of each department. This meant that the following departments had to contribute each of their senior members: hardware department, software department, operations department, quality assurance department, finance department, human resource department, customer care department and finally the bureau department. In addition, the company’s Senior Business Development Manager was also made it to the committee.

Having established the project ‘steering’ committee, the next stage involved the ‘steering, committee understanding the business case that was compelling. This committee held meetings to come up with the best strategy of developing the Facilities Information System. During its first session, the committee stated the aim of the project as ‘to develop a hi-tech management Facilities Information System (FIS) for RSAF. The following were the objectives that were to help in achieving the stated aim:

  • To facilitate information sharing at RSAF and its external airbases.
  • To eliminate cases of redundant entry of data in RSAF’s Engineering Information System.
  • To enhance effectiveness and ability of the Saudi air force staff.
  • To design and develop a highly secured Facilities information System.
  • To develop an FIS that will ensure open, reliable and flexible technology in the ever-changing business environment.
  • To develop FIS that will facilitate the capture of electronic data at source airbases.
  • To install and commission the improved system.
  • To develop a system that will monitor employee output thus increasing on their productivity.

After stating the business objectives, the project scope was defined. The committee noted that the main FIS system to be created was to be installed at RSAF headquarters in Riyadh. Its subsequent sub-systems were to be installed in all Saudi air force bases. This meant that the system was to be interliked to the following four Saudi air force bases: Dhahran, Tabuk, Taif, Al Kharj and Khamis Mushait. Furthermore, in defining the scope, the committee noted that the FIS system to be created was to incorporate the following sub-systems: Control, Command, Computer & Intelligence (C41) and the Communication Systems.

In the identification of the project stakeholders, the committee established that the following constituted the stakeholders: RSAF senior management, RSAF subordinate staff, ZFP project ‘steering’ committee as well as its employees. Beside the two key stakeholders listed above, all suppliers of project materials were included on the list of stakeholders since their role and interest in this project was also the key to its survival.

Having clearly identified the stakeholders, the committee noted that there was need to establish a communication method for reaching the three stakeholders. As such, it was agreed that the email be adopted as the means of reaching the stakeholders. Though some committee members had proposed the use of the telephone as the means of communication, most members felt that since the type of communication that was involved in the project was lengthy and always accompanied with graphical illustrations, the email constituted the best means of relaying such detailed data. Its capability in providing a means of reference also contributed to its selection.

Ideally, three weeks to the commencement of the project, a meeting was organized between RSAF senior management and the ZFP ‘steering’ committee members. This meeting agreed on all the specifications for FIS deliverables. The RSAF stressed that they would only consider the system complete and successful if all its four components were able to relay-real-time services and allow for the relay of graphical data amongst other capabilities.

To add, the ‘steering’ committee then selected a project manager who in turn assigned roles to all the engineers that were to be involved in the implementation of the project. The following table format was developed by the project manager while assigning roles to project members.

Table 1: showing a representation of the work scheme

     Name and contact of participant      Title       Role attached         Comments on his/her assignment

Having identified the roles of the members to implement the project, a project plan was drawn spanning the following phases of the project:

  • Phase I: Securing agreements with hardware vendors
  • Phase II: Ordering and paying for the equipments. Also, coding software applications (was be done simultaneously with the ordering)
  • Phase III: Receiving the purchased hardware
  • Phase IV: Installing and customizing developed software programmes
  • Phase V: Conducting Hardware/Software Testing
  • Phase VI: Implementing by conducting training

The next stage involved the estimation of the project budget. Here, it was estimated that the project was to cost a total of $80, 579, 000. The following is a breakdown of the key variables as estimated in the project.

Table 2: showing the breakdown of the budget

Variable Amount (in $)
Securing agreements 450,000
Costing of project equipments 30,500,000
Design and analysis phase 18,000,000
Development stage 28,429,000
Testing phase 800,000
Installing/Commissioning 600,000
Training 1, 800,000
Estimated Total 80, 579, 000

Having established the project budget, the following the table depicted the risk management as was developed by the coordination of the project manager. The plan had three levels low, medium and high. These levels have been abbreviated as L, M and N in the table 3below.

Table 4: showing a risk management plan for the project

Risk Risk Level
L/M/H
Likelihood of the Event Mitigation Strategy
Project Size
Person Hours H: Over 20,000 Certainty Assigned to Project Manager. Also engaged to a consultancy firm, a comprehensive approach to project management to assist. Beside a proper communications plan has been put in place.
Estimated Project timeframe/ schedule H: Over 12 months Certainty A comprehensive project timeframe with frequent baseline review has been developed.
Team Size at Peak H:Over 15 members Certainty A comprehensive communication plan, a tight mangement oversight and frequent meetings to address arisng member grievances.
Number of the existing interfaces to be affected by the created FIS H:Atleast 4 Certainty Develop an interface documennt control for the interface. (To be done with immediate effect).
Project Definition
Users’ level/ Knowledge M:Knowledgeable Likely Assigned to Project Manager team heads who are to help in assessing global implications
The creep of the project scope L:Scope was clearly and generally defined, but it is subject to reviews Unlikely To be reviewed on a monthly basis by the project ‘steering’ committee under the guidance of ZFP project manager.
Deliverable unknown L:Well defined Unlikely Included clearly in the project plan, but subject to any amendments.
Deliverables from vendor M:Estimated, and unclearly defined Somewhat likely Has been incoroprated in the project plan, but subject to amendments
Unrealistic cost estimates L: Were thoroughly estimated with help of industry experts. The experts allowed a 15% margin error. Unlikely Also incorporated in the project plan. Will be subject to any amendment espescially with the discovery any new details in the project scope.
Unrealistic timeline estimates M: No derailment was assumed Somewhat likely Will be reviewed on a monthly basis by the project manager.
Project members unknowledgeable in the technology or military business L: Members well versed espesciallyi in any technology impacted busness operation. Unlikely Project manager to assist in identifying member’s knowledge gaps. If identified, necessary training to be provided.
Project Leadership
Existence of the ‘steering committee’ L:Identified and very enthusiastic Unlikely To seek frequent support
Absence of project members’ commitment L:Members understand value & support the project fully Unlikely To organize progress meetings to assist each other.
Project Staffing
Availability of project members L:All members to operate from a central point (at RSAF headquarters). Unlikely Project supervisors to identify missing members and assess the reasons for their absence
RSAF physical location to affect members performance L:Enough and well ventillated spaces provided. Unlikely RSAF management to offer alternative work site if members feel uncomfortable in the current locaton.
Project Management
The adopted procurement
Methodology best to members
L:Procurement Methodology very familiar Unlikely N/A
Change Management processes undefined L:Well-defined Unlikely N/A
Quality Management measurement tools unclear L:Well-defined leading to their acception Unlikely N/A

Having developed the above strategy, project were taken to the site (at RSAF headquarter, Riyadh) to commence work.

Analysis of my experience

The extent to which the organization involvement was a coherent decision

Before the year 2001, when the Royal Saudi Air force put up tenders for the development of the Facilities Information System, the Saudi aviation company had made maximum use of a ‘traditional’ information system that had been developed based on HP’s Application Program Interface (API) (IDG Network World Inc. 1991, p.70). Though this system had its own advantages that included amongst others its ability to allow Centrex trained soldier’s to create applications that employed call information-with reference to automatic number identification (ANI) and the dialled number identification services (DNIS), the system had a great number of weaknesses which needed to be addressed (IDG Network World Inc. 1991, 70).

As the only ‘traditional’ network that was being used across Saudi airbases to carry and relay unclassified data to the RSAF’s Riyadh headquarters, the system could not function efficiently when under traffic congestion. The system was to handle traffic that ranged from large batches of RSAF data bases to electronic mail. Besides, as the technology continued experiencing rapid changes, future applications for the RSAF could not interoperate or cooperate with this ‘traditional’ system. The coherency of RSAF involving itself in this particular project emerged from the need for a modern ‘high-tech’ system to deliver quality services to the Saudi air force.

As Cordesman (2009) noted, the Saudi airforce wanted to compete amongst the world’s best air forces through owning best and excellent facilities- that could successfully inteoperate, could be maintained modernly, and could provide real-time servicess thus improving on the rate at which decison making could be done (p.224). All these were some of the major characteristics of the FIS sytem that was to be developed then.

How the project generation strategy influenced the chosen mission and goals

In today’s volatile market environment, the need to select best re-engineering strategies cannot be disputed. In developing any change strategy, people ‘overseeing’ the implementation of the changes are required to carry out detailed studies to establish the unique internal or external drivers of change in their organization of working.

It should be noted that the chosen mission and goals included amongst others the provision of a secured FIS system, provision of a system that could improve on the efficiency and effectiveness of services at Saudi airbases and the provision of a quality system that could provide real-time services. Having adopted a regeneration strategy that begun with conducting a needs analysis to establish user requirements thus designing a high-tech quality system that answered to Saudi air force bases’ needs, ZFP’s generation strategy was in the end a most suitable strategy that answered to RSAF’s business goals.

How the strategy influenced this being the right project and that it had effective organisational form, rules, and resources etc to facilitate the required capacity for the project

It’s a matter of fact that ZFP had established and positioned itself as a giant and reputable Saudi Arabian technology firm. These praises had been achieved best on its capability to implement large project that required huge investments (Snowden & Boone. 2007, p. 74-75).

From the strategy adopted by the firm, it is evident that it had put all the mechanisms in place to answer to any challenges that would have arisen in this FIS project. The company had established a high level authority in the name of a ‘steering committee’ to oversee the operations of this great and complex project. It is this ‘steering’ committee that later on appointed a highly qualified project manager to head this project. The project manager in turn appointed the supervisors who were to help him in overseeing the operations of this project. It should be noted that the members that formed the ‘steering’ committee were drawn from all departments. As such, all project necessities were likely to be addressed. For instance, if additional funds were needed, the Finance Officer, who also topped up as a member of the committee, could be contacted to quickly resolve any financial issue.

In addition to the efficient leadership structure described above, it should be noted that the creation of a task schedule and the risk management plan by the project manager went a great deal in emphasizing how the adopted strategy had captured most, if not all, elements of governance required for achieving success in any project.

How my observations compared with the literature

As earlier on highlighted in the literature review, for any project to succeed, there ought to be a number of requisites that have to be met. Key among them was the creation of a competent team to steer the project. This competent team must be knowledgeable in the following areas:

  • Project integration and management
  • Project management scope
  • Management of project time
  • Management of project costs
  • Project management quality
  • Managing the project human resource
  • Management of project communication
  • Project risks management

From my observation, the project ‘steering’ committee, the project manager, the supervisory team and all project members were well endowed with the above skills. After reviewing the project manager’s risk assessment plan and seeing how members applied their skills to resolve emerging issues, I had no doubt this project members were competent in handling projects of such magnitude. As Snowden and Boone (2007) postulated, “project leaders needed to assess the facts of the the situation at hand, categorize the facts, and then base their response on established practices” (p.70). This was the case at ZFP.

More so, the development of the strategy that stated project objectives, defined the project scope and drew up a budgetary plan amongst others highlighted the concerns of the project leaders in ensuring the success of this project.

How the project could have been led more effectively

Conclusively, having keenly followed and participated in most phases of the project, I highlight the following as the recommendations which can be used to improve on ZFP’s future projects:

  • The ZFP management should review their engagement contracts to provide room for the owners of a project to cover for some of the additional costs arising from the project. This was noted when ZFP management insisted on the upgrading of the Communication module of the system to high standard levels that cost ZFP an additional $25,000. This had not been captured in the management’s earlier requirements and since the ZFP contract did not provide room for such compensation, it was to cover the extra costs on its own.
  • The management should also consider adopting and implementing a reward scheme for its working employees. There were incidences where members stayed late into the night thus covering large portions of their assignment. If such members were rewarded, they can put in more efforts and conclude projects before schedule thus saving on some of the costs as estimated in their project budgets.
  • Lastly, the management should consider funding its projects on a monthly basis as opposed to its quarterly basis. This is so because in this project, a lot of issues arose in the course of 1 month-thus making it difficult for the project activities to move on. A good case occurred in the sixth month when it was required that one of the imported hardware components needed to be upgraded to a newer version. This activity required re-shipping the older version and re-importing newer version-activities that had been accounted for in the last financial amount released.

References

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Chowdhury, Naguib & Mohiuddin Ahmed. (2004) Critical success factors affecting knowledge management implementation in oil & gas companies: A comparative study of four corporations. Web.

Cordesman, Anthony H. (2009) Saudi Arabia: National security in a troubled region. USA: ABC-CLIO.

Fewings, Peter. (2005) Construction project management: an integrated approach. Ney York. Taylor & Francis.

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Lock, Dennis. (2007) Project management. 9th edition. Hampshire, England. Gower Publishing, Ltd.

MPUG Homepage. (2011) What is project management? Web.

Ramenyi, Dan. (2007) Management leadership and governance: Proceedings of the 3rd European Conference Held at University of Winchester. UK. University of Winchester.p. 147-148.

Snowden, David F & Boone Mary E. (2007), Frameworks for decision making. [online]. Available from: hbr.org [Accessed 7th May 2011].

Soderlund, Jonas. (2004) On the broadening scope of the research on projects: A review and a model for analysis. International Journal of Project Management. Vol. 22, no. 4. pp. 655-677.