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How to Bring an Integrated Approach to the Way You Manage Projects

Ron Ause
Ron Ause

Organization in business is hard. It starts with project management.

Over the last few decades, project management has gone from something limited to the construction and manufacturing industries to a mainstay of everything from creative agencies to IT departments.

While this has certainly helped more and more businesses bring efficiency and structure to their projects, it has also created a new problem: fragmentation.

Different departments within the same company end up developing their own project management best practices and methodologies. There is little communication across departments and teams, leading to a vast amount of PM knowledge that remains stored in silos.

The result is all too familiar: wasted resources, overwhelmed managers and derailed projects.

As your business grows, you have to think deeply about the way you organize your projects and the knowledge they produce. It’s not enough to follow the latest project management methodologies; you also have to integrate your approach across projects.


The need for an integrated project management approach

Think about all the projects you currently run in your company. Are they all similar in size, scope, and maturity? Of course not. Like any company, your projects will vary greatly in their size and scope. This difference eventually leads to a situation where different managers and departments end up developing their own methodologies for managing projects.

After all, you can’t really use the same approach to manage a two-week, $5,000 project as you would to manage a year-long, $500,000 undertaking. This essentially creates a vast amount of project management knowledge that remains localized within individual teams or departments. Your IT department might have its own PM (project management) approach, which might be completely different from the marketing department.

This leads to several problems:

  • As the number of projects increase, so does the number of best practices. Capturing all this knowledge and turning it into actionable insight becomes a massive challenge.
  • Different project management power centers emerge within the company, all of which jockey to push specific methodologies. This can lead to paralysis as managers debate which approaches to use, rather than actually running the project.
  • Since there is no integrated PM approach, projects remain isolated rather than being organized into portfolios. This makes it much harder to share resources across similar projects.
  • As the number of methodologies and best practices multiply, so does the amount of work project managers have to do to keep all involved stakeholders happy.

For instance, an IT project and a marketing project might encounter the same design problem. But if you don’t have a way to share knowledge across projects, you’ll never be able to collaborate across departments and come to a common solution.

In fact, a wide-ranging study conducted by the Hawaii East-West Center found that an integrated approach to project planning yields substantially better results. I understand that this might not seem like a big deal when you’re a small company, but as you grow in size, you’ll find that the huge number of projects you manage creates a tremendous amount of knowledge.

Unless you adopt an integrated approach, this can easily lead to resource wastage, poor communication, and mismanagement – all impediments to your growth.

How to create an integrated project management approach

An integrated PM approach essentially means combining and coordinating all the processes that go into managing a project. Your goal is to simplify and bring clarity to each process.

Take reporting as an example. Usually, a project manager might have to report to several stakeholders during the course of a project – IT supervisor, resource manager, project management office (PMO), etc.

Maintaining different reporting standards for all these stakeholders can get overwhelming very quickly.

With an integrated approach, you would:

  • Identify the stakeholder with the most complex requirements (in this case, usually the PMO).
  • Create reporting standards and templates based on this stakeholder’s requirements.
  • Apply the same standards and templates to all other stakeholders, removing details where necessary.

This way, instead of a project manager creating several reports for each stakeholder, the entire company can use the same integrated reporting standards.

The question now is, how exactly do you go about identifying and integrating all these processes?

Here are three tips to help you get started:

1. Identify and separate processes from projects

A project is a distinct, independent undertaking with a definite start and end. “Create a new website," for instance, would be a project.

A process, on the other hand, is a repeatable and reusable activity with no definite start or end. “Send a project proposal” would be a process since it’s something you would do for every project.

For an integrated approach to project management, you should be able to identify all the processes that make up your projects. For example, when developing a new website, you might have the following processes:

  • Send weekly project status report
  • Create a communication plan
  • Create and send creative brief

While the specifics might vary, each of these processes can follow the exact same template across different projects. By identifying and separating them, you can standardize all your process and add/remove them to individual projects as necessary.


2. Organize projects into portfolios

One of the core tenets of integrated project management is the sharing of knowledge and resources across similar projects. For example, you might have two projects that both need to use an expensive resource, such as a high-end 3D printer. If you were to run the two projects in isolation, you will have to hire the 3D printer twice. But by grouping the projects into a portfolio, you can organize them in such a way that they can use the 3D printer at the same time, saving you time and money.

This grouping together of different projects is called a portfolio. Each portfolio can be managed by a single manager who can take steps to better utilize resources across all projects within the portfolio.

Try listing down all your projects. Identify what’s common across them. Some ways to organize these portfolios are:

  • Based on size or budget (Under $10,000 projects, $10,000-$50,000 projects)
  • Based on the intended result (Grow website traffic, capture more leads)
  • Based on business impact and importance (High-margin projects, prestige projects)
  • Based on the core handling department (Marketing projects, design projects)
  • Based on growth or performance (High market share projects, high market growth projects)

This study published in the International Journal of Project Management outlines an integrated approach to project portfolio selection.

3. Break down your projects into distinct phases

How exactly do you start your project planning? Do you jump straight to the planning phase, or do you invest resources to first fully understand the requirements? The former approach is fraught with risk. You might jump straight to creating the project plan only to find that the stakeholders are not in agreement, or the objectives aren’t clear to all parties.

This is why you should adopt an incremental approach where you understand the scope and vision over time, building consensus over time.

With this approach, you would:

  • Start by creating a project charter. This is a broad “vision” document that identifies the project’s core objectives, intended outcomes, and the tentative project team.
  • Expand the charter into a project scope plan. This plan identifies the measurable goals of the project, what it must accomplish, what’s included in it (and what’s not).
  • Grow the scope plan into a project plan. This plan will list the activities you will undertake to meet the goals and objectives outlined in the project scope.

At each stage, consult stakeholders to ensure that they’re all on the same page. This way, if there is any conflict about the project’s goals and expected outcomes, you’ll be able to spot them before you even start the project. This can save a ton of resources, particularly when you’re handling complex projects.

Do your best to stay organized

As your business grows, you will find that it’s increasingly difficult to keep all your projects organized. You might end up underutilizing some resources and overextending others. At the same time, you produce a ton of knowledge, all of which remains isolated instead of being shared with everyone.

An integrated approach to project management solves all these problems. By integrating your processes, breaking projects into smaller phases, and organizing everything into portfolios, you will find it easier to share resources and knowledge.

The result is more savings and less wastage.

Image Credit: George Rudy/Shutterstock
Ron Ause
Ron Ause Member
Ron Ause is the co-founder of Workamajig, a management system used by 25% of Fortune 500 agencies. As the premier partner to some of the world's largest digital agencies, Ron has unique insight into the way agencies operate and organize for creative excellence.