A Project Management Culture

two executives at table with charts and graphs
Ancin Cooley, CIA, CISA Photo
Synergy Credit Union Consulting

4 minutes

Having one can help tie project results to strategic plan goals.

We hear a lot about corporate culture these days. There are sales cultures, customer-focused cultures, employee-centered cultures and combinations of all of the above. Another, less-talked-about, but meaningful type is the project management culture.

Project management is the application of knowledge, skills and techniques to execute projects effectively and efficiently. Put another way, it’s a tool or methodology for reliably delivering desirable outcomes.

A project management culture is defined by how well a credit union as a whole embraces project management, and uses this tool to improve and achieve strategic goals. Having a project management culture can be considered a strategic competency for credit unions, enabling them to tie project results to strategic plan goals—and, thus, better manage risks and compete.

A concrete reason I think having a project management culture is worthwhile is that knowing how to run specific projects—with defined objectives and expected outcomes—can provide a mechanism for you as a leader to test different ways for your employees to communicate and interact with each other. If a particular practice is deemed effective, it can be rolled out to the entire organization.

Other project management culture benefits include making your CU more flexible, effective and better able to manage costs. For example, having a project management framework in your organization makes you fully ready to put together an effective team to deal with an unexpected regulatory change or to roll out a new product. Project management—together with an organizational culture that embraces it—is an excellent vehicle through which such goals can be achieved.

Project Management Tools
Mind Maps

A mind map is a diagram used to visually organize information. In a project setting, it allows team members to brainstorm and visualize information. The blog post at describes five mind mapping tools.

Gantt Charts
These illustrate the start and finish dates of the terminal elements and summary elements of a project. This tool, pictured in the main art for this article, provides team members with a visual way to manage deadlines.

Tele-/Videoconferencing Software
Virtual conferencing allows team members from multiple credit union locations to collaborate effectively in real time.  Having video allows individuals to see each other’s screens, makes team members feel closer and facilitates collaboration.

Setting up the Culture

But before you can reap the benefits of having a project management culture, you have to establish one. Here are some things you’ll want to tackle if you’re building the foundation for a project management culture in your shop.

Get buy-in and lead from the front. As a leader, you—backed by your board—must communicate clearly to employees that getting on board with the project management train is not optional, but expected. This is achieved through good, repeated communication and getting managers involved from the beginning.

Set up project management as an opportunity, not a punishment. Most credit unions can’t afford to hire or to allow a person just to manage a portfolio of projects. We recommend that you use projects as an opportunity to provide individuals with an opportunity to lead and learn about other areas of the organization.

Help your team pick low-hanging fruit at the beginning. We recommend you select smaller, less complicated initiatives initially. This will allow for your organization to develop confidence in this new culture.

Document and proclaim successful projects early and often. To entrench and solidify project management into your institution, you as the leader must acknowledge and reward strong project leaders and team members.

Project Management in Action

Common goals of project management include offering a product, changing a process or solving a problem. In the next few paragraphs I’m going to apply the project management process to something a CU might actually work on: improving loan documentation.

Project: Loan Documentation Protocol Improvement.

Business Need/Case: The LDPI project has been created to improve the knowledge of our loan administration personnel in the area of loan documentation.  

Business Objectives: The business objectives for this project are in direct support of our corporate strategic plan to reduce problem assets.

  • Create standard loan documentation requirements for each loan type in the next 60 days.
  • Continue training of loan administration personnel on standard loan documentation.
  • Reduce the number of loan documentation errors.
  • Integrate a loan documentation check into our audit process.
  • Success Criteria: To achieve success, the following objectives must be met within the designated time:
  • Develop standard, “fool proof” methodology for determining which documents to use to secure different types of loans within the next 20 days.
  • Create checklists for each loan type for use by loan administration staffers within 45 days.
  • Develop an evaluation/testing process for loan administration personnel.
  • Introduce, via half-day training, the standards and checklists to loan administration within the next 60 days.
  • Test loan administration personnel on commercial loan documentation.
  • Add loan documentation to annual internal audit schedule.

So what elements of a project management culture are already in place
at your credit union? Which ones could you implement easily?

When you approach work in project format, you can gain many benefits and efficiencies, positives you can pass along to your members.

Ancin Cooley is president of Synergy Credit Union Consulting

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