As director of the enterprise program management office at General Motors (GM), Paul Checkowsky oversees program management offices around the world in different functionary areas like sales, manufacturing and supply chain. He took some time to answer a couple of questions about the state of the project management office (PMO) at the auto giant and throughout the world.
How has the economic downturn affected the PMO at GM?
From an economic standpoint, we've got to be a lot more careful about getting the most value for our money. A couple of examples:
In the past, we've focused a lot on quality assurance of the process--making sure that people are following all of the steps. That's very time-consuming and can be expensive. Now we've built the quality-assurance process into the steps. We no longer have checkers checking peoples' work. We basically built the quality into the process, so that at the end, we don't need to perform a final quality review.
We are also doing more backward planning rather than forward planning. We are making timing and content commitments to our business community at the beginning of the year and we are holding the project teams to those commitments. We then plan backward to determine what and when we have to do to achieve the commitments. Many project teams are not comfortable with this approach but it does force teams to get off to a fast start and forces them to resolve issues in a timely and efficient manner.
The other thing we've been doing is instead of being a policing organization, [the PMO] is now much more involved with mentoring upfront-- making sure the project teams are aware of the processes and helping them know where they might encounter bumps in the road.
Do you think more organizations are realizing the value of the PMO?
Actually, in the last six to 12 months, I've [received] a lot of feedback from individuals saying that this new approach--where the PMOs are actually part of the teams doing the work--is very effective.
[Organizations] themselves are finding ways to leverage these PMO capabilities and this expertise especially helping to identify and resolve integration issues, mentoring of enabling processes and eliminating deployment roadblocks. So I think it's been very positive, and I think it's here to stay.
Mr. Checkowsky says it's hard to say what is going to happen with GM's EPMO in light of the economic situation. At the time of this interview, news headlines speculated the organization's possible bankruptcy.
Overall, however, he says that "people are going to expect more with less. That's not going to change. We're going to have to do a lot more with fewer people, less money and less time."
Despite the challenges, however, he says there are exciting opportunities out there. "Because of the conditions that we're facing, this is really an opportunity for us to put some changes in place that we've considered in the past.
"Before, there wasn't a burning platform. Now, there is. So people are much more open to changes and new ideas--where in the past, they'd be, "This has worked for us all of these years. Why change?" Now people are realizing they do need to change. It's actually an opportunity to put some of these new approaches in place. We've just got to make sure that they're effective."