In a global project, end-state is typically not a single milestone that can be easily defined, but more often a series of activities and sign-offs across multiple departments in-house or at times, with partners and vendors.
Each project management methodology specifies a way to define and handle project end state. Depending on which form of project management the organization uses, a Global Process Owner (GPO) could work through activities as per the CP (Closing a Project) stage under PRINCE2 or the follow the process as outlined in the PMBOK Closing Process Group. However, even when the GPO and customers or stakeholders involved sign off the successful closure of the project in accordance with the process management guidelines, businesses often find that projects fail to realize projected business value in the long term.
Defining End-State: Is it really the end?
Part of the problem often lies in that the end-state criteria defined in the early days of the project may no longer hold or be relevant due to changes in project scope. Doris Fox, Senior Project Manager at Sphere Management Group, emphasized the importance of clearly defining the end-state definition and, if required, updating it to reflect any changes in the project scope. “The GPO must do a good job of defining the end purpose and expected result so that all stakeholders / users involved can understand their part in the overall process. A project cannot be successful if the expected end result is not clearly understood; or has changed.”
In addition, few projects, if any, come to a complete halt after implementation. They often continue in a different form. It is important for businesses to recognize that project end-state does not always signal end of life but is rather a transition from the initial setup or implementation to a more stable maintenance mode. Vin Kumar, Associate Principal at The Hackett Group, leads TheHackett Group’s Global Business Services advisory practice and has over two decades of experience in global management strategy. He shared, “Most companies are pretty good about creating a global process owner role for a large transformation project. But companies focus too heavily on defining the end state, and not enough on how to transition from it.”
A larger part of the reason businesses fail to realize the full value of the project is the common practice to dismantle the global project office and reassign PMO resources once end-state is reached. “In most project-based organizations, GPO teams are multi-disciplinary and this works as an advantage to successfully bring the project to a closure. But at the end-state, GPO is disbanded, with members reporting back to their functions or units”, stated Niraj Mankhad, management consultant and faculty at FLAME.
GPO Involvement and Transitioning Beyond End-State
Kumar has seen many companies struggle once they’ve finished designing and implementing a transformation initiative and have to transition to day-to-day operations mode. He explained, “During the transformation or systems integration project, there’s one person who might speak on behalf of each end-to-end process. But once the project is finished, they often go back to their day job. People can start deviating from the new processes, performance can drop, and things can move back towards the status quo”. To address this, he believes it is critical for companies to ensure that the global process owners remain after the project and embark on an end-to-end process ownership framework to manage the end-to-end performance of the processes. “End-to-end process ownership is a fundamental lever to make significant process performance improvements, and to maintain a focus on continuous improvement,” he added.
Fox also believes that in order to realize the full value of the project, GPO involvement is required even after end-state, especially since they have been instrumental in implementing the project and understand it better than anyone else. She elaborated, “There is always room for improvement even if the initial objectives of the project have been realized. It is the responsibility of the GPO to continuously apply new KPIs and identify opportunities to streamline the process. It is not uncommon for business objectives to change, and with it any processes contributing to the objectives needs to be updated.”
However, Mankad cautioned, “When project implementations are successfully completed there is a temptation to make the GPO continue managing the project for the future. This should be avoided.” He explained further, “Skills to bring the project to a successful end differ vastly from those that are necessary for its sustenance in the long term. Response towards the uncertainties of the fuzzy front-end of the project requires being creative, agile and rapid within a chaotic environment. In contrast, day to day
operations beyond the initial end-state are relatively stable and require discipline and structure. That is a sharp contrast. Instead of having the GPO continue owning the project, it is better to have GPO step into an advisory role to provide additional learning or guidance to the project.”
In either case, with or without the continued involvement of the GPO, organizations that plan ahead beyond the current implementation to how the project will be integrated into ongoing operations and maintained beyond end-state will be better positioned to realize the full business value of the project.