Understanding Connections Improves Project Management System

Project Management is a system of “connections” working together – rather than discrete activities working separately. Learn the seven key elements that comprise an effective project management system.




“In the early 1950s, the Dayak people of Borneo suffered from malaria. The World Health Organization had a solution: it sprayed large amounts of DDT to kill the mosquitoes that carried the malaria. The mosquitoes died; the malaria declined – so far, so good. But there were side effects. Among the first was that the roofs of people's houses began to fall down on their heads. It seemed that the DDT was also killing a parasitic wasp that had previously controlled thatch-eating caterpillars. Worse, the DDT-poisoned insects were eaten by geckoes, which were eaten by cats. The cats started to die, the rats flourished, and the people were threatened by potential outbreaks of typhus and plague. To cope with these problems, which it had itself created, the WHO was obliged to parachute 14,000 live cats into Borneo.

This tale about a lack of whole-systems thinking underscores that if we don't understand how things are connected, then often the cause of problems is the solution.

But if we harness hidden connections, we can often solve or avoid a problem in a way that also solves or avoids many others without making new ones – before someone needs to parachute more cats.” (Rocky Mountain Institute, September, 2002)

Many credit unions are disappointed with their project management efforts – missed deadlines, wasted time and misspent money – resulting in organizational fatigue. In many cases it is a lack of whole-systems thinking – not understanding the key ‘connections’ of the project management process – that is blocking their successes.

Project Management is a system of ‘connections’ working together – rather than discrete activities working separately.

This system of ‘connections’ is made up of several key elements. These elements are:

1) prioritizing projects, 5) managing project meetings,
2) developing a project business case, 6) training for all relevant staff, and
3) developing the project charter or plan, 7) ensuring effective communication.
4) developing and implementing the project schedule of deliverables and tasks,  

Gaps might exist in your Project Management system of ‘connections’!

Prioritizing Projects: Prioritizing is critical to the entire process of project management, yet is often not done. Determine a process whereby the executive team ‘votes’ on a priority order listing of ‘current, queued, and dropped’ projects. If executives don’t prioritize, then by default they have abdicated ‘what gets done and when’ to the people who actually have to do the work, whom may not have all the facts to make the same choices the executive team would.

Project Business Case to Establish ROI: As credit unions grow, it's important that both a framework, and attention, be brought to project management. Each strategic project needs a Business Case. A Business Case defines each project and lays out the case (the ‘why’ and the ‘how’) for executing it. Included is a high-level alignment statement with the credit union’s strategy, broad objectives, risks, estimated cost and effort, talent, resources, team authority, and project scope.

Project Charter/Plan: The Project Charter/Plan includes developing the detailed scope, authority and evaluation criteria, as well as selecting the most effective talent for team members. This is the constant touch point to ensure the related Project Schedule is constantly aligned.

Project Schedule (Deliverables and Tasks): The Project Charter/Plan results in the Project Schedule Guide, which becomes necessary to develop the project milestones and tasks, track due dates, completion dates, and resources, as well as to note knowledge learned. The goals are to keep the project on track and to reduce the learning curve for the next team who works on a similar project.

Project Meeting Management: Project members must ensure that a meeting framework is followed, including agenda, team member preparation, minutes, team member discussion and decisions. In addition, follow-up items should be captured, together with all project information being organized and made easily accessible for staff to see.

Project Training: Often, managers put themselves on all the project teams because they ‘want to know what is going on.’ If there is a project management process that is followed and an effective project training program developed for staff, managers and executives can be ‘coaches’ rather than ‘players.’ They can build staff leadership through delegation – and spend time more wisely doing other important work.

Project Communications: Ensuring that a granular and ‘big picture’ view of how all these elements are being leveraged allows executives, managers and staff to quickly and easily access or distribute project(s) updates. Consequently, better decisions can be made concerning all strategy projects, resources, and results.

What can the right Project Management system of ‘connections’ do for you?

Based on a survey conducted this year by Cardwell, when a project management system of connections was followed, credit unions achieved the following results: projects were completed at least 30% faster, managers got back an average of 4 hours per week to do other important work, and project quality became at least 30% higher.

To answer your questions about effective Project Management, please contact:
Jim Cardwell — jcardwell@cardwellgroup.com — (800) 395-1410 or
Karla Norwood — knorwood@cardwellgroup.com — (800) 395-1410