How Sophisticated Project Management Capability saved IBM

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Lee Lambert, one of the 5 founders of the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional Certification Program, looks at how IBM developed Project Management capability which resulted in dramatic increases in project/market success.


In 1993 Lou Gerstner was selected to “save” IBM, when some projections suggested an $8 billion loss that year.  Gerstner had no obvious background in project management during his tenures at American Express and RJR Nabisco, yet early on in his efforts to “turn IBM around” he proclaimed that there were far too many projects being undertaken and that IBM had lost control of their ability to manage them. The ability to focus on those projects that would return the highest value was missing and managing projects had become somewhat of an ad hoc process. Lou declared that a rigorous enterprise-wide PPM approach would be implemented. He established the IBM Project Management Center of Excellence under the direction of Carol Wright. The Center of Excellence is equivalent to what we now typically refer to as the Project Management Office.

Developing Project Management Capability

Gerstner often stated: “Project management will provide the thread that holds the organization together.” During this project management system implementation I had the pleasure of providing PPM training to hundreds of IBM project managers. We learned without question the importance of having the right information at the right time. Decision makers were asked what information was needed to enable them to be successful in meeting the demands of the rapidly changing marketplace. Using the answers, IBM created an enterprise PPM system that was the envy of its competition. IBM’s Project Management Center of Excellence became, and remains, the world’s benchmark for PMOs. In the next nine years, under Gerstner’s reign, the comprehensive integration of corporate and the project information system (IBM Information Management System) enabled IBM decision-makers to receive timely reports that allowed them to be much better informed. This resulted in dramatic increases in project/market success through the establishment and evaluation of key performance indicators (KPIs). Without an enterprise approach, the ability to manage this complex, multi-faceted global organization would have been impossible. Gerstner was a pragmatic leader who took action based on good, timely, quality information. Without a properly developed enterprise PPM system, his success would have been impossible. In today’s automated environment every organization has the ability to have an enterprise PPM system as good as, or even better than, IBM’s. The challenge is not having the system. The challenge is being able to ask the right questions to identify and capture the most beneficial, decision support information for each specific organizational application. So, ask not what you can do for your enterprise PPM system. Ask what your enterprise PPM system can do for you!

Moral of the story:

“Size doesn’t matter!”  The comprehensive capability of today’s automated information systems can overcome any challenge to providing decision-makers throughout the enterprise with the most complete and timely critical information necessary to support the achievement of organizational objectives.

Want to learn more from Lee Lambert’s 50 years of Project Management experience?

Watch Lee’s Webinar where he shares his “5 Golden Rules to Adopt When Buying a PPM Solution. Learn more about Cora Systems Enterprise Portfolio Management Software here. Tune in to our most recent Project Management Paradise Podcast episodes available on Spotify and Apple.

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