The importance of projects have been underrated. There are a number of reasons why projects and project management can be crucial in helping an organization achieve its strategic goals. David Cleland, a noted project management researcher, suggests that many of these reasons arise from the very pressures that organizations find themselves facing.
- Shortened product life cycles. The days when a company could offer a new product and depend on having years of competitive domination are gone. Increasingly, the life cycle of new products is measured in terms of months or even weeks, rather than years. One has only to look at new products in electronics or computer hardware and software to observe this trend. Interestingly, we are seeing similar signs in traditional service-sector firms, which also have recognized the need for agility in offering and upgrading new services at an increasingly rapid pace.
- Narrow product launch windows. Another time-related issue concerns the nature of opportunity. Organizations are aware of the dangers of missing the optimum point at which to launch a new product and must take a proactive view toward the timing of product introductions. For example, while reaping the profits from the successful sale of Product A, smart firms are already plotting the best point at which to launch Product B, either as a product upgrade or a new offering. Because of fierce competition, these optimal launch opportunities are measured in terms of months. Miss your launch window, even by a matter of weeks, and you run the risk of rolling out an also-ran.
- Increasingly complex and technical products. The world today is complex. Products are complicated, technically sophisticated, and difficult to produce efficiently. The public’s appetite for “the next big thing” continues unabated and substantially unsatisfied. We want the new models of our consumer goods to be better, bigger (or smaller), faster, and more complex than the old ones. Firms constantly upgrade product and service lines to feed this demand. That causes multiple problems in design and production as we continually seek to push the technical limits. Further, in anticipating future demand, many firms embark on expensive programs of research and development while attempting to discern consumer tastes. The effect can be to erroneously create expensive and technically sophisticated projects that we assume the customer will want. For example, Rauma Corporation of Finland developed a state-of-the-art “loader” for the logging industry. Rauma’s engineers loaded the product with the latest computerized gadgetry and technologies that gave the machine a space-age feel. Unfortunately, the chief customer for the product worked in remote regions of Indonesia, with logistics problems that made servicing and repairing the loaders impractical. Machines that broke down had to be airlifted more than 1,000 miles to service centers. Since the inception of this project, sales of the logging machinery have been disappointing. The project was an expensive failure for Rauma and serves to illustrate an important point: Unless companies find a way to maintain control of the process, an “engineering for engineering’s sake” mentality can quickly run out of control.
- Emergence of global markets. The early twenty-first century has seen the emergence of enormous new markets for almost every type of product and service. Former closed or socialist societies, as well as rapidly developing economies such as Russia, China, and India, have added huge numbers of consumers and competitors to the global business arena. The increased globalization of the economy, coupled with enhanced methods for quickly interacting with customers and suppliers, has created a new set of challenges for business. These challenges also encompass unique opportunities for those firms that can quickly adjust to this new reality. In the global setting, project management techniques provide companies with the ability to link multiple business partners, and respond quickly to market demand and supplier needs, while remaining agile enough to anticipate and respond to rapid shifts in consumer tastes. Using project management, successful organizations of the future will recognize and learn to rapidly exploit the prospects offered by a global business environment.
- An economic period marked by low inflation. One of the key indicators of economic health is the fact that inflation has been kept under control. In most of the developed Western economies, low inflation has helped to trigger a long period of economic expansion, while also helping provide the impetus for emerging economies, such as those in India and China, to expand rapidly. Unfortunately, low inflation also limits the ability of businesses to maintain profitability by passing along cost increases. Companies cannot continue to increase profit margins through simply raising prices for their products or services. Successful firms in the future will be those that enhance profits by streamlining internal processes—those that save money by “doing it better” than the competition. As a tool designed to realize goals like internal efficiency, project management is a means by which to bolster profits. These are just some of the more obvious challenges facing business today. The key point is that the forces giving rise to these challenges are not likely to abate in the near future. In order to meet these challenges, large, successful companies like General Electric, 3M, Apple, Sony, Bechtel, and Microsoft have made project management a key aspect of their operating philosophies