Project Management Practice – a Case Study On Team Management

Project Manager

It was Tuesday morning and the clock started ticking 11 am, John Gillon looked worried as he skimmed through delivery timeline for various projects in his portfolio. He was wondering how he can ensure smooth deliveries from the “Institutional-Billing” group.

Background
TeleMeck has been a small but renouned IT services and consulting companies in Telecommunication industry. Its Billing & Payment practice group was headed by a company loyalist John Gillon. Having consulted many telcom companies in US and Europe for more than 20 years, John was known as manager with thorough domain knowledge and hands-on experience of various billing systems and payment processes.

The growth record:
Under John’s leadership, the Billing & Payment Department has grown multi-fold: revenue was tripled and team size has grown from 60 members to 350 resources. Looking at the strong financial performance in past few years and current size of projects in the sales-pipeline, senior management has entrusted John to expand his practice-group.

The sub-practice group:
Thomas McGill joined Billing and Payments department six years ago as a consultant; since then he worked closely with John. Having exhibited high level of commitment, Thomas easily entered into circle of people trusted by John. It was not surprising to see that Thomas got promoted over the years and now as a project manager, he is leading a sub-practice group ‘Institutional-billing’ and in turn a team of thirty people (Direct + Indirect). Sarah, Silton and Jason are directly reporting to Thomas and they in turn, are managing team size of approximately ten members each. Sarah, Silton and Jason shared very good rapport with Thomas.

Project delivery issues:
Though all other things, apparently were looking good, since last couple of years, John Gillon started sensing some problems in the project deliveries. Couple of clients also complained about lack of sound project management practices in his department e.g. A vice president at Erricxen Corporation and a sponsor for couple of projects for ‘Institutional-Billing’, voiced problems regarding stakeholder updates, slippage of delivery schedule, quality audits, etc. John Gillon was aware of these concerns. After consulting his colleagues and senior managers, he concluded that

  1. His department lacks the expertise in project planning and deliveries. Current team members who have got promoted as project manager were assigned this role purely because department has grown and company needed somebody to manage bigger teams
  2. His department needed experienced and certified project managers to streamline project management practices and in turn deliveries. These project managers would also guide current team about best practices in project management.

Solution devised:
Hence a year ago, John decided to hire experienced and certified project managers and one such hire was Alex. Alex was certified PMP who has worked in CMMi level 5 compliant organizations and holds considerable work experience in financial sector. Alex joined ‘Institutional-Billing’ – the sub-practice group sharing project delivery responsibilities with Thomas. Thus ‘Institutional-Billing’ has got two project managers. Alex was a experienced project manager but he was not an expert in ‘Billing and Payment’ in telecom domain.

As couple of months passed, Alex realized that he was not able to get correct information about deliverable,resource utilization, their availability, project plan, actual progress & state of deliverable. Sarah, Silton and Jason were not sharing complete picture of what their teams were working on, who was working on what, when would they deliver certain deliverable to the client. As Sarah, Silton and Jason were directly reporting to Thomas, they were not paying much heed to Alex’s requests. Alex strongly suspected that Thomas was deliberately preventing his team from sharing/passing on the information.

If PMO or John Gilton ask for specific project data, Alex would remain unsure of the inputs he had provided whereas Thomas was able to provide precise details to the same requests. Yet Alex and Thomas’s sub-practice-group started facing delivery issues even more prominently – delayed deliveries, increased attrition rate, instances of non-compliance with PMO guidelines.

When Alex complained about these issues to John, John advised him to understand the domain well and indicated that Alex has not been able to tackle team properly. Alex was in a fix, that neither he was well aware of the technology, domain, etc to argue about, in the meeting nor he was able to manage the deliveries properly.

Six months later, the same issue prevailed; despite of the fact that Alex tried hard to break silos. Alex has come to conclusion that he is at a wrong place and he would look out for another job. He even indicated the same to John.

What do you think?
1. Was John’s decision to induct two project managers for ‘Institutional-Billing’ sub-practice group, correct?
2. Since ‘Institutional-Billing’ practices needs to be streamlined, what alternate approach would you suggest?
3. If you were at Alex’s place, how differently would handle the situation?

* The instances mentioned in the are real however name of the company and people in this case, are completely fictitious. Any similarity of these names is purely coincidence.

** Because of space constraints, the case is presented with apt brevity. You may make your own assumption to analyze the case in that context.

Img Credit: US Dept of Labor

24 Responses to “Project Management Practice – a Case Study On Team Management

  • First and foremost, unless there is an organizational buy-in; Alex’s effort will ineffective.
    1. It is John’s responsibility to provide strong support to Alex. Alex can not implement sound practices without having enough power.
    2. If necessary, John should convey strong signal (appropriately) to Thomas, Sarah, Silton and team.
    3. IMO, considering the facts presented here, Alex is a poor fellow. He is at a wrong place.

    • Thanks Jamie for your comment.
      You said it correctly that resources should to be empowered aptly and should have a right environment to work, in order to work effectively .

  • Kevin Justice
    5 years ago

    For Alex, it is clearly a case of responsibility without power.
    What is the point of hiring Alex? John could have arranged for a project management consultant or trainer who would have trained existing staff members.

    1. For the current staff, a new PM was pushed on them; hence it is not surprising to see that they have reservations for new project manager. (I am not saying that they are correct. If it is a change for good, they have to accept it)
    2. It appears as if, John himself is not sure of how things are going to shape up.

    Hey Dhan,
    I am curious to know, what happened to Alex further (in reality)?

    • Thank you Kevin for stopping by & analyzing the case study.

      Generally, we have resistance to any change. As you said, if the change is for greater good; we should embrace it.

      @Alex’s future,
      In next couple of weeks, I am going to update this blog post with what happened further (I would love to see more such responses). Do visit again to check what happened to Alex.

      Also, be ready to check more interesting case studies to analyze.

      -Dhan

  • Martin Walker
    5 years ago

    Whoa !!
    What sort of manager Alex is, who doesn’t know who’s working on what?

    Is it fair to assume that Alex failed to convince Thomas as well as John that how things are going wrong, since he was not getting real picture from the team?

    It is true, nobody likes to see that his current practices are wrong, Alex could show-case how these practices can be improved?

    Can he arrange for sessions for Thomas, Siton, Sarah, etc. to explain together they can make it better?

    I agree with Kevin, John need to strongly support Alex without making Thomas feel insecure.

    Best,
    Martin Walker

    • Hey Martin,
      I liked your comment! (Thumps up!)

      It is a right approach, Alex might have taken to convince Thomas about the larger benefits of the Project Management practices Alex wanted to introduce.

      Keep visiting & commenting. We’ll have more interesting case studies and conversation about those.

      -Dhan

  • SabithaAnisetti
    5 years ago

    The case is here is quite similar to my current situation and in this case both John and Alex are wrong in the way they approached the situation. Surprisingly enough the solution is as simple as a communication approach and applying a management methodology. Here is how it can be done:
    John: Bringing in a Project Manager is a huge change for both Thomas and Sara. Understand and identify the response these 2 would have when a 3rd person is brought in. Communicate with them what is lacking with the projects and let them understand the need & value in hiring a certified experienced PM. John jumped in without his team buy-in ahead of time and hence the resistance from Thomas and Sara is quite natural. John also could have communicated the challenges as well as team dynamics with Alex beforehand and maintain that integrity.
    Alex: As a newly hired PM, there was no authority given to Alex over Thomas and Sara’s work. Alex knows what he is stepping into and should have a clear communication as in what kind of support he can expect from John. Before promising your deliverables, know the boundaries – Risk management 101. Hence Alex turned out frustrated wanting to leave job instead of finding a balanced ground to help Thomas, Sara and most importantly the company.

    The trend I have seen so far within management styles has been quite an unfortunate scene. Throw somebody in and expect problems to be fixed, this might work on a manufacturing floor with a bit of griping. It is different with a pool of highly talented professionals. What lacked here was appropriate change management and communication.

    • Hi Sabitha,
      Glad to see you here & thank you for detailed analysis.

      As you correctly pointed out – though John is leading the department and directing it, the clarity of communication, buy-in from team is not seen. He clearly missed to foresee and realize that things could go wrong if this change was not received well.

      Alex is frustrated since he could not even work normally, for the very reason that he has no powers and was not received well by the team.

      You are so right in your closing para. Absolute truth and unfortunate reality – “throw somebody at a problem and expect things to turn out hunky-dory” , does not work in these scenarios. In such cases, management and leadership is really more about, right change management approach and clear communication.

      -Dhan

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