The Increasing Importance of Project Management in the Hospitality Industry
By Timothy Flohr Program Manager, University of Memphis - Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality and Resort Management | September 02, 2020
When you hear the words "project management", what is the first thing that comes to mind?
Many people immediately think about information technology (IT) or the construction industries – while some envision complex Gantt charts and any one of the hundreds of project management software and apps that are in existence.
When most people think about the hospitality industry, their first thoughts are generally about operations and not project management. My research has shown that this mindset is not exclusive to those outside of our industry. As a matter of fact, an overwhelming majority of hospitality industry managers and executives don't realize how much the discipline of project management is used daily in their work.
I can still remember the sage advice that I received from some of the mentors that I had early in my career. I clearly remember them saying "get involved with as many projects as you can" in order to "move up the corporate ladder more quickly". I heeded their advice, but I have to admit that I had absolutely no idea what that meant.
As we all know in the hospitality industry, the hours can be dreadfully long, so wanting to get involved in extra projects that are not in your job description would lead most rational people to think that you are out of your mind. However, since I had a hard work ethic and I was determined to be successful in my career, I dove headfirst into any project that I could find in hopes of quickly ascending the illustrious corporate ladder.
Was it hard work? Definitely.
Was I compensated extra for it? Absolutely not.
Was it worth it? Yes, without a doubt.
It goes to show, not all things of value are "paid". Sometimes the payoff takes time. It certainly did in my case.
Over the course of my career, I would volunteer to work on all types of projects within almost every sector of the hospitality industry. New store openings and closings, construction and remodels, menu rollouts, IT-related projects, process improvement projects – you name it, I did it. While my title was never "project manager", I became someone that my supervisors could rely on to "get things done" when needed.
I would love to be able to say that every project turned out great, but the reality is that some were complete and utter disasters. However, whether the outcomes were good or bad (or disastrous), through my insatiable desire to make progress and to always be the "best version of myself", I remembered to fine-tune my approach to each new project and always strive for continuous improvement.
I was 15 years deep into my career before I decided to pursue formal project management training. I had referenced so many project management books and training resources throughout the years that I was nearly embarrassed when a colleague suggested that I obtain certification in project management.
How could I have overlooked this? It's because project management isn't an area that is generally mentioned when discussing professional development in the hospitality industry.
When I went to formal project management training/certification class in New York City, I can still remember when we were made our introductions to the class on the first day. If I were to take an educated guess, I would say that 90% of the class were in IT (manufacturing, engineering and architecture), 5 % were in a construction-related industry, 4.99% were in the financial services industry, and I was the other .01%. As we started our five-day deep dive into project management, I could see how every principle that we were learning was applied – or should have been applied – to each project that I had been a part of in the past.
I was amazed at the amount of overlap between the principles that I was learning and the material that I had previously learned in both my MBA program and Six Sigma training. I cannot even begin to count how many "aha moments" that I had during this training. I left the training invigorated and determined to help grow project management as a tool within the hospitality industry.
In project management, one of the first things that you learn is the difference between "operations" and "projects". Though this may seem intuitive, it is especially important in the hospitality industry because most of what we do is operations based. While operations are indeed the core of our business, it is also imperative to take into account the importance of projects in our industry.
To start with the definition of a "project", the Project Management Institute® defines a project as "a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result... is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources". While this seems straightforward enough, it is a really important distinction that needs to be understood. Once the differences between projects and operations are understood, we can finally start to see how much of our time is spent on project management.
In a nutshell, if you are involved in an activity that isn't part of your normal operations – and generating revenues, then it likely fits the definition of a project. The goal of this recurring column for HotelExecutive.com is to delve into some of the project management tools and resources that will help manage projects more effectively so that you can deliver projects that meet goals both on time and within budget.
Seeing what defines a project should provide all of you with the "aha moment" that I had years ago. Project management is a huge discipline that spans across many different industries and requires a wide range of skills. Project management tools and techniques are used to make managing projects easier and more effective regardless of the industry they are performed in - so while all project techniques are used to solve the same specific issues or outcomes, they are easily transferrable between industries.
In the upcoming Post-Coronavirus Era, project management is going to be critical to operators in the hospitality industry as we reopen operations. Since many of your operations are currently either scaled back or closed due to COVID-19, many of the tasks that are currently taking place are likely classified as projects. According to the Project Management Institute® (PMI), statistics show that organizations and firms that undervalue project management report and average of 50% of their projects failing. Conversely, organizations that embrace project management methodologies, tools and techniques, are overwhelmingly better at meeting scope, quality standards and expected benefits, meeting budget, and completing projects on schedule.
While some my upcoming columns will discuss various software packages that you can use to help manage your projects better, I will be focusing more on providing you with project management tools and techniques that can be used in virtually any sector of the hospitality industry. There are hundreds of different project management software packages and apps in existence, but your success in managing projects will be greatly enhanced if you have a firm understanding of the foundational framework involved with planning and executing projects.
For this reason, we will take a software-agnostic approach as we perform our deep dive into the world of project management. I am a firm believer that people need to have a firm foundation in the principles of project management instead of errantly assuming that a software package will be sufficient enough to manage their projects for them. This approach will benefit you more as a project manager by allowing you to more easily transition from one company's software package to another without it impacting their ability to successfully manage their projects.
Some people think project management is purely science, while others think that it is purely an art. However, most (like me), take the approach that project management is multidimensional and is both an art and a science. While there are certainly formulas, metrics, and practices outlined in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK®) that are scientific, it may surprise some of you to learn that the vast majority of a project manager's time is spent on communication.
According to the PMI®, somewhere between 75- 90% of project manager's time is spent communicating. As a project manager, dealing with human behavior and interpersonal relationships is critical to a project's success. As part of this recurring column, I am going to focus on both the art and the science of project management; both are essential components in a project manager's repertoire and critical to a project's success.
While researching the current textbook that I am co-authoring with Dr. Catherine Curtis, Associate Professor from Oklahoma State University, and Bill Duncan, one of the world's leading experts on project management and the primary author of the original (1996) PMBoK®, I learned that over 93% of hospitality management organizations have dedicated staff with "project managers (PMs)".
Firms of all shapes and sizes from across the globe have project managers managing a wide variety of projects in all sectors of the industry: lodging, food and beverage, travel & tourism, entertainment, and timeshare. Regardless of whether or not your title is "Project Manager", it is important to have a firm grasp of project management principles; hospitality professionals at every stage of their career will benefit from growing their skill set in this discipline.
For this reason, our upcoming textbook – Project Management for the Hospitality Industry – will be the first textbook to focus on project management in the industry, and it will be bundled with both a computer-based simulation that reinforces project management concepts and a self-paced training program to prepare students for the globally-recognized IPMA® (International Project Management Association) Level D certification. Our goal is for future generation of hospitality professionals to enter the workforce armed with a skill set that will help them to overcome all of the challenges of the 21st century.
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