Project Management

The Meaning Of (PMO) Life

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Modelling Business Decisions and their Consequences

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The Meaning Of (PMO) Life

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Why are we here? I mean, not existentially, but what do we PM-types believe is our ultimate function in the business world? I’ve heard many opinions on this question, generally bin-able into the following categories:

  • To change the corporate culture to one that’s more amenable to PM,
  • To change the behavior of those in charge of Projects in order for them to be more successful,
  • To advance the capability maturity of PM within the macro-organization,
  • To force upper management to see the value of various PM techniques, so as to broadly implement them.

To which I say,

  • No,
  • No,
  • No,
  • …and (blank) No.

One of Hatfield’s Incontrovertible Rules of Management (Number 28) says that the ultimate point of the PMO is to put into the hands of decision-makers the information they need to make the best decisions.

Period.

That’s it.

Of course, the believers of the first set of bullets above will not be persuaded just because I said so, so let’s dive in to each, to uncover why they are misguided at best, and PMO-breakers at worst. I’ve known many very (otherwise) intelligent managers and executives who will adamantly maintain that the purpose of PM practitioners is to “change the culture.” To be fair, it’s not just PM-types. I’ve heard this often from those seeking a more robust safety record, among others. But here’s the thing: corporate culture cannot be directly altered. Culture is downstream from success. If there’s a particularly successful manager in an organization whose business model hasn’t become hopelessly ossified, and that manager either scrupulously follows or bends a policy or procedural rule or two, that person will affect the behavioral manifestations of that organization’s culture more than the less successful managers who have obeyed every single stricture to the tee. One of the clearest displays of this effect can be seen in sports teams, where head coaches will scale back (or avoid altogether) the discipline due to their star players, no matter how egregiously they have violated team rules.

As for this changing-the-behavior business, yeah, that’s not gonna happen. Those in charge of Projects got there by using a certain set of strategies, strategies that aren’t going to be abandoned because some know-it-all has published a guidance document that says that the PM has to do things differently. Oh, they very well may give verbal assurances that the new way of doing things will be observed, but it will be all for show. They’ll churn out (or have others churn out) the exhibits and documents of the intruder philosophy, but that’s a very different thing than actually altering behavior, which Human Resource specialists will tell you only happens after a “life-changing event” (think George Baily in It’s A Wonderful Life). Besides, what techniques are to be used in this behavior modification program? Does this PMO Director have the authority to fire those who don’t exhibit the desired change? In most cases, no, so the PMO Director is reduced to attempting to claim the managerial expertise high ground, and from there hectoring the others into compliance.

I have never seen this work.

And attempting to use the two previous strategies within the framework of a Capability Maturity Model doesn’t magically impart to them effectiveness. You would only be seeing your failure(s) charted against a series of not-attained organizational behavior and performance milestones.

As for the fourth bullet-of-futility, the obvious question is can one ever really force someone to understand something? Two axioms pop to mind, one a supposedly ancient Chinese saying, that you can’t awaken a man who’s pretending to be asleep. The other is a snark, I forget the source, that’s essentially “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.” The conceit that a PM practitioner is uniquely equipped to persuade senior management to alter significant portions of the macro-organization’s business model, based solely on this practitioner’s claim to have mastered an advanced management science codex – well, it’s common, but far from justified from observable outcomes.

It's been my experience that pursuing these objectives wastes time, energy, talent, and, perhaps most important of all, budget. So, let’s take a closer look at my idea of the purpose of the PM practitioner and, by extension, the PMO, that of putting into the hands of the decision-makers what they need to make informed decisions for their Projects, Programs, and Portfolios. Another one of Hatfield’s Incontrovertible Rules of Management (Number 3) is my take on the Pareto Principal, that the 80th percentile best managers who have access to only 20% of the information needed to obviate a given decision will be consistently out-performed by the 20th percentile worst managers who have 80% of the information so needed. If we assume this is true, then it follows that the dependent variable in managerial success is the availability of accurate, timely, and relevant information – not culture change, and not behavior modification. And even if GTIM Nation would like to have the debate about whether or not the PMO can influence capability maturity or corporate culture, there really can be no debate that the PMO is in an outstanding position to generate crucial information streams on Project cost and schedule performance.

So that’s what we should be doing.

Posted on: June 22, 2024 10:47 PM | Permalink

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