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Apr

Internal Projects – (Not) A Problem for Project Managers!?

 

Even the term by itself makes a lot of people sweat: internal project. In this blog post, you can find out why that’s the case and what you can do about it.

In the beginning of 2016, during my career as a project manager at TEAMWILLE, I took the lead of the internal project “Quality Management@TEAMWILLE”. It is characteristic for internal projects that they are initiated by sponsors from inside the company and that internal resources (human capital and material costs) are spent for them (Gabler Lexikon).

The project I took over was of high strategic value and it caused tremendous change inside the firm. Its goal was to introduce a new quality management system in order to achieve the ISO 9001 certification – a subject that was at the time new to the organization and resulted in high efforts for the whole company.

Generally, an internal project is like any other project. Period. However, while we apply the whole range of project management tools with client projects, we tend not to with internal projects. Why? Because we see ourselves as professional project managers and therefore try to use shortcuts. My advice: Forget the shortcuts. Indeed, you’ll need to take a few detours.

Typical Challenges in Internal Projects

The team for my internal project was quite heterogeneous as it consisted of junior as well as senior consultants, regular employees as well as members of management. Flat hierarchies did not make things easier as everybody had to find his or her place in the project. Furthermore, the team still had to accept me as their new project lead.

An enormous challenge for the project team was the parallel involvement in internal as well as external (client) projects at the same time. That’s a characteristic issue for all internal projects. “Customer first” as they say but what if you are your own customer?

How to Avoid Frustrations

As project leader, you have to analyse the initial situation before you actually start planning. Which internal and external factors will influence the project? How is the internal project perceived inside your organization? This way, you can assess the basic conditions necessary for success.

In my case, the insights I gained through this analysis proved crucial for the project’s success:

– Management had to authorize and provide the necessary resources.

– The organization had to perceive the internal project as equally important as client projects. – A stakeholder analysis and a communication plan were essential as the organization was facing huge changes. – The detailed timeline and the work packages had to be designed and approved prior to the start as a final deadline was defined for the end of the project. – A specialist with an according professional background had to be included in the project. This person could also serve as sparring partner.

By conducting this analysis, I was able to define necessary measures in advance and get my client’s approval.

The Power of Soft Skills

In addition to common project management tools like a stakeholder or risk analysis, a project charter, and a timeline, soft skills proved crucial. Another article in this blog already highlights the importance of communication for a project’s success. I would like to stress the significance of communication for internal projects as well. Don’t make the mistake to think that all aspects are understood and that everybody supports your internal project! Sure, everyone should be well aware of the project’s advantages … not! Here too, you might have to face insecurity and resistance.

Thus, I would like to underline two tools that greatly influence an internal project’s progress and success.

The Stakeholder Analysis:

Even if the project is absolutely necessary and your colleagues support it, you have to be aware of the stakeholders’ influence. Assess the stakeholders according to their opinions and their influence (power). This way, you can adjust your communication measures individually. The simple fact that you know the people you’re working with doesn’t mean that you can foresee how they will act in a project environment.

The Communication Plan:

The communication plan determines the people that have to be informed about the project’s progress. It also describes the media and the frequency in which these persons are to be addressed. Keep in mind that you own co-workers have a need for information, too. Disappointment and frustration can endanger the entire project.

Conclusion

My internal project, Quality Management@TEAMWILLE, was a success as my firm gained the ISO 9001 certificication. This wouldn’t have been possible without my colleagues’ collaboration and open-mindedness. From a project management point of view, the project was a complete success. However, this was only doable because we never tried to take any shortcuts by not following the proper path project management. So NO problem for project managers.

Do you have experience with internal projects yourself? If the answer is yes, it would be great if you could share them with me. You never stop learning!

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