• Marissa Forbes

Project Management Expanded: The Role of Program and Project Management Professionals in Experience

BLOT: Customer experience design is critical to organizational success, but organizations are missing the opportunity to engage their most valuable human resource in the development and oversight of an effective experience design program — program and project management professionals. Organizations shifting their strategic focus to customer experience as the key driver for business asset acquisition and improvement should be looking to today’s program and project management professionals for assistance in strategic decision-making, and in experience design.

Alice, a functional leader needs to reduce call center costs. She identifies a cost savings opportunity related to the service provided to customers in her call center, based on incoming calls data. Alice discusses the opportunity with her leadership, and they decide that a reduction in calls by driving customers to their website is necessary to reduce costs. Alice then reaches out to Bert, the program manager overseeing multiple projects for her call center, and requests a project to take calls out of the system by increasing website usage for self-service. Bert assigns Claire, a project manager to establish and execute a project designed to increase website usage.

What is wrong with this scenario? Alice and her leaders assume that website usage for self-service would reduce call volume. On the surface, that may seem logical, but a more detailed review of what the customer needs may have provided a different answer to Alice’s problem. The solution Alice proposed was not founded on a customer need or pain point, and was not validated through customer observation and analyses. Without validating the assumption, Alice engaged resources, Bert and Claire to implement a solution that may not solve her problem. Alice assumed that the value of Bert’s role is in the oversight of the project, but did not consider his gained expertise in the business having overseen many projects in her call center. Additionally, Alice and Bert assumed that the value in Claire’s role is solely in the direct management of assigned projects. Thereby, Claire was assigned to work on a project that may not provide value to Alice or to the customer. There are many roads we could explore in this scenario, but I will focus on just two avenues — expanded utilization of program and project management professionals (Project Professionals), and the connection of that expanded utilization with designing customer experience.

The scenario above is a basic description of the typical engagement and utilization of Project Professionals based on my near 20 years in the corporate world — both in for-profit and non-profit industries. However, it is not ideal. Not only does it under-utilize the potential of Project Professionals, it also ignores the end-to-end vision of what should be the focus for everyone in a company — customer experience. Customers, external and internal alike, dictate the success of any organization. It is on their experiences that business assets (people, process, technology, and information) must be focused to realize long-term success. Projects are predicated on the acquisition and improvement of these business assets. Therefore, the Project Professionals employed to establish and execute projects should have the leading role in experience design.

Experience design, if done right, is a multi-disciplinary, multi-stage system that relies upon a number of frameworks and methodologies that are currently often employed individually and within organizational silos. Individual application of frameworks and methodologies such as Six Sigma, systems thinking, lean start-up, business architecture, change management, communications models, design thinking, hypothesis testing, product development, and feedback loop lead to disjointed solutions that may never address the key issues in our relationships with our customers. However, when brought together in a single system, these frameworks and methodologies can create more value for an organization than would be realized otherwise.

The aforementioned frameworks and methodologies, among others, including their associated tools and techniques are necessary for proper experience design. The foundation, from which all of these frameworks and methodologies is strongest, is project management. The project management discipline naturally incorporates many of them. There has always been a learning cross-over with project management and other disciplines, but in more recent years, Project Professionals have been continuing their education well beyond the traditional curriculum — agile project management is a great example of this. Project Professionals are invaluable. With such a rich and wide array of education and skills, it is reasonable to conclude that Project Professionals are the key to great experience design. We have a long way to go in exercising them in this way, though.

Under-utilization of Project Professionals does not mean that we do not give them enough work to do. I and others I know are actually quite busy handling millions of dollars in potential savings and investments every year. The under-utilization I am referring to has to do with their knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs). Project Professionals often are not consulted when strategic decisions are being made, but there is no lack of these roles in most industries. There is still a disconnect between the importance given to program and project management roles, and the level of understanding in the value they can provide. We obviously believe they are capable and important, but we are not properly considering them when planning and executing for long-term success.

While their KSAs make them uniquely qualified for supporting organizational successes, Project Professionals are also uniquely connected all parts of the organization, making them a hub for information and collaboration. Projects are established to do something with one or more business assets — people, process, technology, and information. That ‘something’ usually involves the acquisition or improvement of the asset, with the aim of realizing some type of value — financial, technical, informational, or personal. A typical, high-potential project will touch multiple functional areas in an organization. As a byproduct of their work, Project Professionals build knowledge and relationships associated with these functional areas, which can provide insight and influence that others cannot. With their organizational connections and focus on business assets, Project Professionals are the thread that draws together the fabric of an organization, including the multiple cloths of customer experience.

By now, we understand that organizations cannot depend solely on the delivery of quality products and services to achieve and sustain long-term success. With global competition and a customer’s ability to research and access products and services virtually anytime, anywhere, organizations are being forced to think differently about how to make their products and services stand out. That differentiation lies in the customer experience. Customer experience will surpass cost and product as brand differentiators. As organizations in every industry develop their ability to create and execute strategy around the customer experience, where, or more importantly with whom, their experience design discipline resides will be critical to its success. Organizations have historically placed the responsibility of customer experience planning and oversight with roles such as product managers, engineers, brand managers, and user interface designers. The principal challenge with these assignments has to do with the day-to-day focus of these roles — they have a specific job to do in a specific area, with a specific skill set aligned to that job. Those roles are not as well connected throughout an organization, as they operate in functional silos. Likewise, their skill sets do not fully align to the needs of experience design. Project Professionals, in contrast and by necessity, have a wider range of KSAs and connections within an organization. Both, of which are necessary for great experience design.