Jim Grohman During my seven years as a U.S. Marine, it was easy to understand the value of process. Having a clear idea about how things worked enabled my fellow Marines and me to think nimbly when challenges arose. We were all operating from the same rulebook, which meant we knew what tools we had to work with and how they could help us get the job done. For us, structure was liberating because we could focus on the problem, not on getting organized.

Today, as a former-Marine who is now involved in developing operations for my own company — as well as for our clients — explaining how structure relates to flexibility is not always an easy task. The questions are many: How do rules encourage creative thinking and the ability to change and respond on the fly? How does discipline translate into freedom? How can you implement systems without stifling initiative? Some of these things may seem mutually exclusive, but I call that a false choice, you should too.

Eighteen months ago we began to build our Project Management office for similar reasons as many organizations. We have multiple functional groups and those groups have to work together to deliver an engagement or product. Without a centralized system it’s simply hard to get things done. We knew that by standardizing procedures we could deliver more consistently, at a lower cost for clients and for ourselves, and move faster to meet expectations—all with higher quality and efficacy.

We looked at implementation in terms of a change management process. That meant we had to think about how we were going to integrate this new group given the typical ranting and eye-rolling that Project Management is bureaucratic, restrictive and a low-value add. We knew that how we brought the system to the table would telegraph why were we’re implementing it.

First, we knew we had to pick and train the right change agents to be our Project Managers (PMs). So we took people from our various teams who we knew had been effective in getting people to do what they might not want to do. We centralized them as a group and provided system instruction and Project Management techniques (relying in part on the Project Management Institute). We did this all with an eye on the notion that the skill set was not about becoming the person who says “no.” Rather, we empowered them to coordinate and guide teams, while understanding that that expertise and decision-making would still mostly rest on the people who do the work and deliver solutions. The PM role is simply to get teammates to articulate the way they plan to do their work, understand how to integrate that work into the larger plan and then commit to timelines and hours. This approach was critical to setting a tone of enabling rather than bureaucratizing.

The second thing we did was to package the idea the right way—as a serious and powerful tool that would 1) make people’s lives easier, 2) help our bottom line, and 3) help us accomplish our mission. In the end, it became an issue about time, as much as anything. People want to get things done faster and more efficiently. A Project Management system—with PMs who are serious about communicating and facilitating when commitments aren’t being met—helps each team member have a better quality of work and life. Ensuring you win more often. We broadcasted this message right from the start.

Finally, we developed parameters around the new system to “keep it clean”—meaning, to limit bureaucracy. We did this by only implementing process where it was needed and resisting the urge to bring everything under centralized control. While we did lean heavily on the Project Management Institute (PMI) for process development, we treated their suggestions like an a la carte menu — we picked only what we felt was right for us. What’s important is that we didn’t institute our systems to get organized, per se, but rather to get projects done better and more efficiently.

By taking this three-pronged approach we were able to get better buy-in across the board. We’re not exactly where we want to be yet, but eventually these processes will pretty much be on autopilot. But what we have now is discipline. We have a system to get from point A to point B, while being able to multitask and develop creative solutions as needed. To me, that’s freedom to do great work—an internal muscle memory of basic procedures that you can modify as you go to get to the next level.

“Jim’s Tools of the Trade” blog posts will be featured monthly. Vice President, Operations Jim Grohman provides our project teams and managers, as well as our IT group and analytics specialists, leadership and guidance to ensure flawless delivery. A former Major with the United States Marine Corps, Jim is a member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and is certified as a PMI Project Management Professional.

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