The Walking Around PMO

Jonathan Becher (@jbecher)—SAP’s Chief Marketing Officer—has an excellent, longstanding blog named “Manage by Walking Around.” I could not help but think of Jonathan as I heard another former colleague’s presentation at the 2015 PMO Symposium. Lou Pack from ICF International (@ICFI) served with me on PMI’s Global Executive Council. He gave a talk today on a PMO’s Role in Mergers & Acquisitions and Other Organizational Transformations.

Lou made many great points. His bottom line is that PMOs have a rare opportunity to differentiate themselves by assuming a leadership role in these organizational transformations. In particular, Lou highlighted “making connections” as a key PMO function in an organizational transformation. This point engaged the audience, which crystallized an idea in my mind. If you’re not comfortable with managing by walking around, you will struggle in merger/acquisition leadership.

I have been through a couple of these—acquisitions and split-offs—and my experience is the typical barriers between vertical functions are multiplied in an organizational transformation. In fact, Lou used the vertical vs. horizontal metaphor to help us visualize what the PMO needed to do: work across the barriers to build connections among these verticals. Another set of verticals spring up in M&A: each affected organization has its own vertical. Even worse, many modern-day acquisitions involved an outsourced function or three, which multiplies the verticals again.

Let’s take one challenge: there is a ton of tacit knowledge to be surfaced when marrying or divorcing organizations. It will not get on a status report. The nature of the information is that “everyone just knows” what is supposed to happen, how something works, etc. However, this information is time, place, and yes, function-specific.

For example, by sitting in on meetings where I was not invited—I was not even really welcome– –I realized there was a big miss. At the same time that this integration streams asked me “what was I doing in their meeting,” other colleagues came up to me afterwards for informal chats over coffee. They could not tell me what exactly wrong, but the symptoms quickly made it clear. Our vendor and we had wildly different definitions of “done” in that function…and none of the principals realized it.

In other words, our vendor was claiming certain tasks were completed, so we could check them off as done on the status report. However, there were weird issues cropping up on other teams: e.g., we could not ping servers, could not find databases, etc. It turned out that the vendor considered a server ready when it was physically on the pad in the data center and power was available. Yes, the servers were not even powered up yet! Without a PMO leader “making connections” across teams, it would have been a long time before that mismatched “definitions of done” surfaced in a formal report.

And when it did…well, that was a meeting to write home about!

NOTE: This post was originally published on the PM College Blog.

 

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