Project Management

Uncertainty Calls for Agility, Courage, Strategy — and Some Fun, Say Experts at the PMI® PMO Symposium

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Extraordinary, unprecedented change in the business world requires bold new thinking -- with project management offices (PMOs) helping lead the charge, according to opening day speakers at the PMI® PMO Symposium 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

High uncertainty and constant change is the new normal -- and it's here to stay, declared featured speaker Roch Parayre, PhD, teaching fellow at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. "We live in a world of high uncertainty."

Yet organizations still plan for the predictable -- and then are unprepared for what actually unfolds. Instead, organizations should stick with their core, but always have a "portfolio of micro-investments bubbling away on the back burner so you're ready for changes," he said.

Procter & Gamble, for example, may try out a new scent, but it won't roll it out to its megabrands until it's been proven on its secondary lines.

"Strategy is about balancing commitment with flexibility," said Dr. Parayre.

That delicate balance may require some painful decisions, however. PMOs must be willing to act like venture capitalists, absolutely ruthless about quickly getting rid of projects before they invest too much. "Our inability to kill things is probably the number-one barrier to adapting to change," he said. "Every organization should have a VP of killing stuff."

Dr. Parayre pointed to 3M, which actually honors its failed projects at a ceremony, with winners based on how much learning came from the failure.

For truly breakthrough projects and programs, organizations must have the "courage to try risky concepts" backed by a belief they will succeed, said keynote speaker Burt Rutan.

A pioneering force at Virgin Galactic, Mr. Rutan is also the man behind the legendary Voyager, the first aircraft to circle the globe nonstop without refueling, and SpaceshipOne, the world's first privately funded spacecraft.

Yet just pouring funding into a program doesn't ensure innovation. Teams must know that "confidence in nonsense is allowed" -- that they can try things that may not work.
Mr. Rutan also suggested:

  • Set a really difficult goal. "Half the people should think it's impossible."
  • Let the innovator decide what risks to take
  • Leave teams alone and let them have fun
  • Reward achievement of the goal
Innovation also requires inspiration. Mr. Rutan credits the courage of visionaries he was exposed to while growing up for pushing him toward new ways of thinking.

"It's not enough for kids to look forward to an iPhone with new features," he said. "We need to look forward to real adventure and real discovery."

And even in an understandably risk-averse business climate, Mr. Rutan said organizations can't just issue "flowery words" about innovation. "They won't have breakthroughs unless they're willing to take in-your-face risks," he said.

Organizations must be able to respond to market shifts -- and PMOs can be the enablers of that organizational agility, said opening speaker Mark A. Langley, PMI president and CEO.

"All strategic change happens through projects and programs," he said.

Yet despite wider adoption of PMOs, CEOs remain confused about projects and programs. PMO leaders must speak the language of business; instead of focusing on the activity, talk about the outcome.

Mr. Langley also called for new thinking on talent. There will be an average of 1.2 million project management positions open annually through 2016, according to the Anderson Economic Group. The result is a massive talent gap that will demand different approaches to talent management. And that should include a willingness to build the next generation of business leaders from the project portfolio management space.

Mr. Langley also announced a new seminal research project on PMOs, with the results to be revealed at next year's symposium.
Posted by cyndee miller on: November 14, 2012 05:25 PM | Permalink

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Interesting piece - and perspective.

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