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?”

Methodology Scaling/Selection Outline

Or maybe I should say “Methodology Scaling/Selection Graphic”… Glen Alleman’s recent post on PM and Agile (here) reminded me to post this picture (click to enlarge) of a slide we use when discussing which methodologies to use for which project.  Note that we do not directly oppose “Agile” vs. “Waterfall” in our continuum.  Sure, SAPScrum is pretty pure agile, but that doesn’t mean that ASAP doesn’t contain agile concepts (e.g., emphasis on iteration short cycles during the Realization phase). 

methodologyscaling

Also, we’re emphasizing that initiative leaders must be comfortable combining philosophies when implementing solutions, which is why we’re driving program management knowledge out to our general PM community (as implied in the bottom box).

Bridging the PM/Management Gap

I like the title of Sanjay Saini’s post on the lack of communication between project managers and senior management — “Make the Effort.” One can quibble with his specific suggestions, but his exhortation to communication more regularly, frequently,and transparently is right on:

Reviewing progress and profitability should not be something that waits until year’s end. Instead there should be some monthly or quarterly checkpoints in between. This regular communication should also include client feedback–both good and bad.

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.

Glen Alleman’s Mission to the Agilests

Dont I look like I should be the patron of desperate situations?

Don't I look like I should be the patron of desperate situations?

I don’t know why I think of Glen’s efforts to reconcile agilests and PMs in religious terms. Maybe it’s because many in both camps see topics as either/or — either you’re with us or against us. Or maybe I worry that it’s a hopeless cause (which is why St. Jude graces this post).

There’s not much I can add to Glen’s latest: If I’m Doing Project Management Right am I Agile?  To me, this question is not either/or, it’s both. The worst misconceptions are around planning (especially the schedule), per Glen’s comments on the Agile Manifesto tenet”Responding to change over following the plan”:

The notion that plans (schedules actually) are developed and then fixed is nonsense on any practical project. There are no doubt projects where this is the case. But it’s still nonsense. Anyone suggesting this is good project management practice is either selling you a bridge or seriously misinformed about how projects are managed.

Plans – the strategy for the successful completion of the project, and the schedule – the sequence of work needed to fulfill the strategy are subject to change for every imaginable reason.

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.

Still looking down in checklists?

Just saw this article of the power of checklists in medicine (here) which reminded me that I had forgotten to include a link in an earlier post (here).  Atul Gawande wrote a long piece in the New Yorker a little more than a year ago simply entitled “The Checklist“.  It is far too rich to summarize effectively — please read the whole article — but below are a few snippets

[I]t’s far from obvious that something as simple as a checklist could be of much help in medical care. Sick people are phenomenally more various than airplanes… Mapping out the proper steps for each is not possible, and physicians have been skeptical that a piece of paper with a bunch of little boxes would improve matters much.

In 2001, though, a critical-care specialist at Johns Hopkins Hospital named Peter Pronovost decided to give it a try. He didn’t attempt to make the checklist cover everything; he designed it to tackle just one problem, the one that nearly killed Anthony DeFilippo: line infections…. These steps are no-brainers; they have been known and taught for years. So it seemed silly to make a checklist just for them. Still… [i]n more than a third of patients, [doctors] skipped at least one. 

The results were so dramatic that they weren’t sure whether to believe them: the ten-day line-infection rate went from eleven per cent to zero. So they followed patients for fifteen more months. Only two line infections occurred during the entire period. They calculated that, in this one hospital, the checklist had prevented forty-three infections and eight deaths, and saved two million dollars in costs.

Still think your project is too complicated to benefit from a checklist or two?

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