Full-Service Project Management

Get out of the details, keep it simple, and get the work done!

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “full-service”? I think of a full-service gas station where I would go with my grandpa or a full-service spa where I went with my friend Kathy in Vegas (no more about Vegas).

The concept of full-service seems to be dwindling in importance and is being replaced with mega service, niche services, or worse yet, no service at all. Although this isn’t an article on service per se, I think we have done the same thing with our project management mentality. We have lost the essence of the project management culture, which is to provide service to others – full-service – and help get things done. Although not a “formal” definition, when I think of full-service project management, it is “providing service to others to help get things done.”

With the onset of agile, automated tools, and the tenacious focus on methodology and terms, it seems that we have become more focused on the ideology and practice of project management instead of project management as a best practice to help people get the right stuff done for the customer within the natural world of constraints and budgets. As the chair of the professional project management program at Minnesota State University–Moorhead, don’t get me wrong, I respect the rules, concepts, processes, and standards of project management; however, when we lose sight of the “helping” mentality, we lose sight of what a project management culture truly is. If you ever have worked with a project manager who focuses so much on document creation and following the rules, you know what it’s like to have to go around them to actually get the project done. A full-service project management practice is intended to incorporate leadership, customer service, and best practices and is agile enough to adapt to the changing whims of the customers.

Full-service project management focuses on these items: 1. Project managers are taxed with helping get the work done and leading others, not just organizing the work for others. 2. Project managers are tasked with training other people to be project managers, even if they don’t have the formal title. 3. The kick-off meeting is required, and anyone interested can come, not just a select few. 4. All managers respect and know the process so they can support the culture, not usurp it.

Project managers taxed with getting work done obsess about getting the work done; they obsess about leadership, and they obsess about organizing. They are contrarians to the dilemma where a project manager creates endless meetings, more paperwork, and actually distracts from the momentum. In a full-service project management culture, the project manager offers full services and minimizes the amount of work for people and almost becomes a one-stop shop. There is a cultural norm where project management paperwork is considered a voodoo practice. There is no SharePoint because no one reads it anyway. There is not an endless stream of change orders documented to save face. Instead the team goes thorough intense trust-building processes, and trust is embedded in the culture and the performance management processes so when something needs to change, we can trust people will do what is right for the customer, not be mandated to do so because a change order has been documented. Change orders are only used when the price, quality, or deadline is severely compromised. Also, when people violate the “full-service” mentality, which is more of “what can you do for me” instead of the opposite, they are fired. Just kidding; that’s too strong, but they are not rewarded for individual meritocracy but for how much they helped someone else get something done. It would be nirvana for me if it was so overdone in a company that someone hit someone with their handbag for helping them (like the woman being over-helped to cross the street by the Boy Scout).

Project managers are taxed with training other people. In the ’80s, it was very popular to have a “customer service” department; now in most cases, the customer service “department” is an expectation for everyone. Everyone in the company is in customer service, modeling the Zappos example. I think the next evolution of the full-service PM mentality is that everyone in the company is a project manager, and the project manager role and department become a shared service to equip everyone to manage their projects with the same language, processes, and flexibility throughout the company. At any time, anyone in the company should be equipped to provide project expertise as they were equipped to provide customer service. To have people embody the project management culture and skill set, the company leadership team needs to set it as an expectation, as they did when they said “Service is everyone’s business.” It would sound like “PM is everyone’s job”. They also need to train people. Project management is not a natural skill set for some of us; but it is definitely one that can be learned and easily adapted to your situation.

The kickoff meeting is required for projects, and anyone can come. Typically, in the PM world, kickoff meetings are scheduled for the elite, and then in the next six to 12 months, the PM spends time trying to manage multiple stakeholders who come out of the woodwork and were not invited, feel left out, and are now angry with you! Put the accountability back on the people and invite everyone, those that don’t show up and have a problem can’t say, “you didn’t tell me!” Well, they can say that, but in my mind you can handle that with a much different conversation – if you know what I mean! The theory is that instead of spending time uncovering information hidden under a rock, spend time creating an environment for those who feel affected by, can contribute to, and feel they need to know. I never understood why we would spend months trying to analyze and manage stakeholders when we could just have an “open meeting” type philosophy where you come if you feel you can provide service to the project, the issue, or the cause. If you come though and become a disruption or show up like the “one huge” naysayer at a city council meeting, the group can ask that you not come, and then you have to deal with the consequences of your own behavior. After all, we are adults, are we not?

All managers know the processes and can support the full-service culture, not usurp it. Just as most customer service driven companies have expectations on serving a customer, full-service project management companies have expectations on those who “violate” the normative project management culture by going back to “overuse of paperwork”, big long words and meetings, and the creation of more work. The reward for supporting the full-service PM concept will be magnified, and the consequence for not will take care of itself because you will find yourself not being included in the fun projects, or worse yet, not having people who will work on your projects!

Project management is meant to serve, not command or dictate. If you remember that philosophy, the rest falls into place. Recently, one of my favorite cousins passed away. He had a simple life on a small dairy farm in Wisconsin and didn’t need a fancy set of tools to get stuff done; he just did the work. My hunch is he would have agreed with one of my favorite quotes: “If I’d had more time, I’d had written a shorter letter.” (Mark Twain). They both would have been phenomenal project managers because they didn’t understand complexity.  

Check out more full-service articles from the summer 2016 issue of The Partner Channel Magazine online, or sign up for a free subscription to come right to your office.

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