Estimating the time required for a project is often difficult. The complexity and uncertainty of a global project that spans multiple business units, and time zones, makes the Global Process Owners’ task even more challenging. There is often an inherent conflict between the need to deliver the project at the earliest date, in order to meet a deadline, and the need for high quality deliverables. All this can add undue stress to the GPO and project leads who work out the time estimates for each phase of a project.
Vin Kumar leads The Hackett Group’s Global Business Services advisory practice, and he has helped close many successful global projects. He shared, “Many companies underestimate the effort required to implement global process ownership and manage the change. The process of defining a standard across business functional silos and diverse regions requires a full-time person, certainly during implementation.”
While there are many factors that contribute to mistaken time estimates or delays in the schedules, there are some common patterns that projects leads and GPOs would do well to recognize—and avoid.
Getting the Right People Involved
Doris Fox, Senior Project Manager at Sphere Management Group, says the biggest, and most common, mistake in developing a project timeline is to not consult the people who will be actually doing the work. She explains, “This is sometimes done to save time, other times because the person preparing the estimate does not know who to ask, and still other times because the person preparing the estimate doesn’t understand the variables that will impact completion of the task.” She recommends a simple, direct approach to addressing this problem: “Make certain the person preparing the estimate understands the full scope of work and the variables that will have the biggest impact on that time estimate. For example if a time estimate is based on your best performer and he/she is not actually performing the work, the time estimate provided will not be sufficient to complete the activity. It is better to know that upfront than to learn it after your schedule has slipped due to overflow.”
Kumar believes the level of executives that are given GPO responsibilities is also an important factor. He says, “Whenever possible, senior people should be given the role of being the voice for any given process and have the organizational gravitas to enforce process standardization across business units, functional & geographical silos.” He added, “All the business units and geographies that will be impacted must be involved from day one. Otherwise it can be tough to get buy-in, and you’ll encounter resistance and obstacles later in the process which can be time-consuming and costly.”
Clearly Understanding and Defining the Project Scope
Fox also shared, “Another common mistake is providing a time estimate without fully understanding the scope of work involved. When this happens, people are sometimes held to a time constraint that is unrealistic.” She cautions against taking a high-handed approach when mapping out tasks: “Often, when budgeting time it is tempting to focus solely on the large tasks and not account for the many small tasks involved. In some cases the small tasks are the ones that derail the project the most.”
Kumar added, “GPOs need to spend time with the various business units and geographies they’re working with, so they can understand the requirements and concerns better. By spending more time in the design phase, companies are less likely to see delays during implementation, and are more likely to be successful.”
Planning for Quality
While planning a project, especially new implementations, many GPOs tend to focus on getting the required functionality up and running, and fail to factor in the time for testing and quality control. “Most activities have some form of quality control that should be applied, from proof reading documents to test runs of machinery. Be sure to factor in the time for these quality activities and the corrections, so that your timeline is realistic and your deliverables meet expected standards,” advised Fox.
Factoring for Uncertain Activities
In a global, complex scenario there will likely be external events or activities that can impact the project. While some of these may be completely unpredictable, it is important to factor in the foreseeable events, as far as possible. Fox shared, “There are many variables that contribute to the estimate that are, for the most part, out of control of the person providing the estimate. Understand the outside influences that will affect the time estimates and be realistic about their impact on the project timeline. If the project requires significant resources during a typical holiday period when everyone is absent from the office, you need to factor in additional time to your estimate to keep it realistic. “
Kumar believes adopting a common framework for global or cross functional projects at an organizational level can help reduce this risk to some extent: “All GPOs should use a common approach and framework in terms of how they manage, standardize, measure, and communicate change to internal customers. Consistency, and a standard playbook, is key.”
There is always the chance that the scope of a project creeps into other areas; internal or external un-planned events can also overwhelm the project. While it may not be possible to prevent or control such situations, Fox offers a simple, yet effective piece of advice for handling the unforeseen: “Just be as thorough as possible when preparing your time estimates, and you will have a better chance at budgeting the proper amount of time, thus preventing the PMO from chasing you!”