Surviving PMO Success — The Process Maturity Trap

One of the unexpected challenges in our PMO journey has been that success can make an enterprise-level PMO appear less relevant.  A PMO must transform its approach to stakeholders or it won’t take full advantage of the improvements it fostered.  One manifestation of the problem unfolds thusly:

  1. An enterprise PMO composed of PM thought leaders executes a PM improvement program that delivers methodology, training, tools, and change management initiatives to its stakeholders (e.g., regional, local, unit PMOs).
  2. Those stakeholders [largely] adopt those initiatives and transform their project operations in significant and measurable ways.
  3. This transformation creates a new set of PM thought leaders, who often surpass the knowledge and hands-on experience of the original enterprise PMO.

The business problem has reversed; the enterprise PMO now becomes the organization that needs to change to reflect the new reality.  Deliverables that were relevant in moving from low maturity processes no longer work with a more sophisticated audience.  This issue is compounded by the difficulty in recognizing the changed environment.  Who wants to admit that he/she is no longer automatically at the vanguard of knowledge? 

In other words, the challenge for a successful enterprise PMO is: “Who will change the change agents?”

PMI CEO’s perspective on the stimulus package

I forgot to link to this Greg Balestrero post (here) on the US stimulus package (then still in debate).  He asks a lot of great questions about whether Congress and the Obama administration have thought through how to make this portfolio most effective.

I’ll focus my comments on Greg’s first two PM-oriented suggestions for the plan (#3 is to accelerate the spending):

First, get the people who know how to manage complex change initiatives — these are not career politicians but are experienced project professionals — who can manage change portfolios… that can get results.

Agreed, but one of the challenges with current legislative practice is that large swaths of the portfolio are fixed by the legislation itself, at least at the Federal level. Some of the more interesting work is happening at the state level. In a recent radio interview, the RI Director of Transportation sounded like he had his portfolio ready to go. In fact, he was ready to pounce on funds that other states would forfeit because their transportation portfolio process wasn’t as smooth.

Second, emphasize the competency of project management, like they have begun to do in many of the governments around the world. But they should not allow “pockets” of excellence to prevail. On the contrary, the governments should leverage the pockets of excellence to develop an enterprise discipline in project execution.

While enterprise-wide initiatives are great, I always wonder how deep they really can go. My experience is that in any organization of substantial complexity, it is hard to cover any but the most generic PM needs at the enterprise level. The differences in line of business, agency, etc. drive variation that’s hard to reconcile effectively.

Jerry Manas on the Virtual PMO

Finally got a chance to meet one of my fellow bloggers in meatspace… Jerry Manas (from The Marengo Group and PMThink!) and I presented at the PMO Summit put on by The Performance Institute.  Excellent conversations, as Jerry relates.

I’ll post later on some key points of my presentation later and the rest of the day I attended, but for now here’s a link to Jerry’s thoughts on the virtual PMO.

Building an SAP PMO — Webcast

Keith Johnson — the VP of SAP’s North America PMO — hosts a webcast on Achieving Operational Excellence Through a Project Management Office.  The webcast is free, though you’ll have to register in advance (registration form here).  Registrants will receive a complimentary copy of the SAP Consulting Solution Brief: Program and Project Management Services.  Here’s a little more on the webcast:

[Y]ou’ll discover how a well-structured PMO can help ensure the success of your next project – whether it’s a new implementation, an upgrade, or a rollout of new functionality. For example, you’ll discover:

  • How to leverage a PMO to achieve operational excellence
  • How to establish the critical link between the steering committee’s goals and the project team’s activities

In addition, Keith will be joined by an SAP customer — Johns Manville — which will discuss how it has leveraged its PMO to reduce costs, lower risks, and focus on proven methodologies.

Effects of the economy on projects and portfolios

Josh Nankivel at PM Student posted the results of a recent survey he did on the Impact of the Economy on Project Management.  I’ll be curious to see Josh’s comments on the survey.

I did notice that while there were answers about cutbacks, staff reductions, and increased financial scrutiny, I didn’t see any comments about changing priorities.  It would have been nice to see that the current economic turmoil is prompting at least some firms to take a nuanced look at their project portfolios.

Have any of you all gone through a project portfolio “rebalance” in response to the economy?

PMO effectiveness: survey results and tips

NOTE: updated title to reflect the post is about results, not a survey itself.

Elizabeth at the Girl’s Guide links to a survey on PMO effectiveness (here) that provides some interesting, if not wholly unexpected,  insights into the attributes of a strong PMO tick.  The only false note was what the study apparently represents as the main objective of the PMO:

to provide a group dedicated to supporting and integrating operations across organizational boundaries.  This is accomplished by providing services that either mitigate or directly address the root cause of the challenges being faced.

Does such an objective and approach make sense to you?   Maybe it’s out of context — I haven’t downloaded the entire study — but does that objective and approach correspond to how your PMO sees its main objective?  I guess that IMO and in our case, the role of a PMO is simple: make strategy happen.

PM Standards are not Holy Writ

Andrew Meyer at Inquiries into Alignment provides a useful corrective to the faith that we project management types put in our industry standards and frameworks (post here).   He hits on a lot of topics that are only alluded to in our project management “bibles”:

[P]rojects often pull people from different departments together to work on a project. While that is what the project requires to be successful, what does that mean for the people pulled from the different departments? Is the project of primary importance to them or is what’s happening in their department of primary importance?

Now, I believe Andrew that has set up a bit of a straw man here.  I’m not sure that it is the responsibility of the PMBOK Guide or PRINCE2 to elaborate some of these topics fully (I’ll leave Agile aside for the moment).  At least in the case of the PMBOK Guide, it is only a guide to the project management body of knowledge.  While a guide should reference the need to ensure business alignment, only so much content “meat” can be expected from such a guide.

My take is that firms should not count on generic standards to cover some of these topics —  one’s firm-specific methodology should elaborate the questions Andrew suggests (and more):

What is the business environment your company is working in?
How is that environment changing?
What is happening inside the business?
What is the state of the project?
Where does it need to go?
What needs to happen to get it there?  

Podcast on barriers to successful IT/CRM

Michael Krigsman over at IT Project Failures hosted the first in what he hopes will be a regular series of “Town Hall” podcasts (here)  It was originally supposed to be a meet-up, but the weather was dodgy at best so the session went virtual. 

Anyway, Paul Greenberg moderated an excellent discussion that covered a lot of ground.  As Michael notes, Paul’s CRM background focused the conversation

…on issues drawn from customer relationship management. CRM brings together core business functions — how a company interacts with customers — with technology intended to streamline and improve those relationships. Since these goals are business-oriented, CRM offers excellent examples of non-technical failures connected with technology implementation projects. For example, one participant noted corporate managers sometimes deploy CRM hoping to control end-users, who in turn reject the system in a predictable failure. 

Be warned… I jump in at about the 30 minutes mark!

“Change gap” from 2008 Global CEO Survey

This result from the 2008 IBM Global CEO survey (intro here) illustrates the suddenly yawning gap between what executives see as their needs/expectations for change and their firms’ demonstrated ability to do so.

change_gap_ibm2008globalceosurvey

Two thoughts came to mind once I saw these numbers:

Sorry, but in this case... two out of three is bad

Sorry... two out of three IS bad

  1. The success rate for “change” could suggests a perceived success rate for initiatives (e.g, projects and program).  While ~60 percent is better than other numbers published re: project success rates, it is sad that even this optimistic figure wouldn’t merit a “D” in school.
  2. How quickly we’ve gone from complacency to urgency.  IMO, much organizational wankery that was tolerated — and even rewarded — a few years ago isn’t likely to survive.   At least not in its current form…

The headline shows how big SAP has become

The other transition” is quite a headline for this piece on the pending accession of Léo Apotheker to the CEO role.  Pairing the SAP transition with the inauguration of Barack Obama says a lot about where SAP is today.  The piece itself is perceptive and worth a read, especially about how SAP has avoided concocting

a recipe for cloning the head of a corporation so the body can stay the same. But SAP, which has practised this type of “smooth” transition in different forms since it was founded in 1972, has so far avoided this pitfall. Each of its bosses has been quite different from the previous one, as the firm’s needs have changed. 

There are a few other points in the piece that warrant comment:

  1. At SAP, succession planning is done about as well as I’ve seen it anywhere.  While the succession role may not materialize per the original design, I’ve found the process useful in planning my career, as well as helping my team plan theirs.
  2. Léo is very keen on an “internationalist outlook.”  Global perspective and experience has become a prerequisite for SAP executives.
  3. Many of SAP’s current and pending organizational changes are all about executing against the goal highlighted in this line from the article: “[M]aking real money from all the new products it has developed.” 
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