Project Management

All Things PMO

Discussions about what makes PMOs valuable to the business.

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What we have here is a failure to communicate!

Evolution of Project Management

The New PM Triangle and the Value of Project Management

What is Value?

What is the purpose of a PMO?

What we have here is a failure to communicate!

During a recent poll of "What is the main reason that projects fail?", poor communication seems to be a leading culprit. But what is good communication, and what techniques and tricks can the PM employ to help ensure it? I spent many years in the technical and business communication business, but I am always surprised at how easy it is to NOT communicate and how often we get it wrong. But I'll give this question a shot anyway.

There are so many forms of communication, speaking, conversing (not the same as speaking), writing, plus all the forms of digital communication. Here is my list of characteristics of good communication.

  • Be a good listener - the most important skill required in communication
  • Be aware of body language
  • Provide proper feedback
  • Know your audience, whether it's one person or many
  • Provide understanding, empathy
  • Make sure your message is clear and concise
  • Just the facts, maam, just the facts - stick to the facts
  • Ask for clarification when necessary - often
  • Praise when appropriate
  • Be positive in your communication

Some tips
Beware of email. It's one of most poorly used forms of communication and studies have confirmed this. Email is best used as a confirmation and documentation tool. Don't try to communicate important or complicated information solely through email. Don't use email for critical and time sensitive communication. Treat email like you would a written letter. If you have to use email for more than this, make sure it is well written, clearly articulates your message, and is complete. Don't just dash something off. Have it proof read, just like you would a written document. Remember email can be used in a court of law.

Face to face communication is still the purest and best form of communication. Use it whenever possible. There was a time when Management By Walking Around was actually taught in management school. MBWA is still highly effective so use it when possible. If you can't go to the person, use video conferencing or use a phone. Talking with someone is usually more effective than email or written communication. You can use email as a follow up communication, restating what you heard in your conversation.

Don't talk to people. Talk with them. Communication is not a one-way street. and be respectful of their thoughts, ideas and opinions. Recognize that there is value in them. Always be open to and ask for input from others. Someone might save your bacon.

Communication is a crucial skill for anyone, including project managers. Unfortunately, it is rarely taught anymore, either in school or in business. Both oral and written communication has become an afterthought in both our educational system as well as in business.

Posted on: April 25, 2013 09:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

Evolution of Project Management

I have been involved in some rather heated discussion on another site regarding Mr. Langley's proposed New PM Triangle and the need for our profession to be more business focused.

Mr. Langely is not the first one to advocate change in the way we need to approach project management. In his book "Value Driven Project Management, 2009" Harold Kerzner has said basically the same thing. Here are some quotes from this book.

"Today's projects are not necessarily as well defined and understood as projects in the past. ...As a result, the traditional theories of project management may not work well when applied to these new types of projects. We may need to change the way we manage and make decisions about projects. Business decisions and requirements may very well override technical decisions and requirements."

"Project management has evolved into a business process rather than a project management process."

"Today's project manager must be knowledgeable about both the business processes and project management processes to make the most appropriate and effective decisions in the best interest of the company and project."

I believe the point of both of these experts in the project management profession is simply that what worked in the past is no longer sufficient in today's business world. Both have recommended that we must do more that the traditional project management of the past. The types of complex, adaptive, non-linear projects, and increasingly complex nature of business require that the profession evolves to meet these demands. Our clients expect it and we need to meet the expectations of our clients.

Mr. Langley has not advocated that Technical Project Management, AKA, the "PM Triangle" scope, budget, and schedule be eliminated. He is advocating that this is no longer enough and should become a point on a more encompassing triangle, including business acumen and leadership.

These ideas are not the isolated thoughts of one or two experts in the profession but they come from the well of outcries from our constituents. It is the result of much research and information gathering focused on discovering what our constituents expect from us.

This is about bringing the value the business is now demanding from the project management profession. And if we do not meet their needs and their expectations our profession will go the way of the dinosaurs. Thinking we can continue to do business as usual isn't a viable option. And that is the point of Mr. Langley's statement:

"If we only speak the language of project management as in scope, time, and cost; then project management as a profession will fail today’s businesses..!"

The only objections I hear about these proposed changes in the profession are from project managers. Why are we not leading the charge on this? Why are we not looking to make ourselves as valuable as possible, our services indispensable to our constituents? We have just experienced a time when the preponderance of businesses are cutting back or eliminating their PMOs and project managers. I for one do not want our profession to be seen as overhead or an obstacle to success. And before everyone here jumps me on that, surveys show that this is the predominant view our constituents have of our profession.

I fail to understand why there is so much push back and at times, animosity, towards evolving our profession the meet the stated expectations and needs of our constituents, thus making our profession more valuable and desired.

Posted on: April 01, 2013 11:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

The New PM Triangle and the Value of Project Management

Mark Langley, CEO of PMI has proposed a new project management triangle. Instead of the points Scope, Time, and Cost, the points of the triangle should be Business Acumen, Leadership, and Technical Project Management (the old PM Triangle).

Here is a quote from Mr. Langley:

"If we only speak the language of project management as in scope, time, and cost; then project management as a profession will fail today’s businesses..!"

Mr. Langley is not advocating that the triple constraint of scope, budget and time, be replaced but that it is a small triangle (technical project management) on a larger triangle of TPM, Business Acumen, and Leadership.

I agree with him and others that have said that managing scope, budget, and time is the basics of project management. It is the LEAST that we do. But in today's world and for our customers today, it is not enough. It is not the value add that project management can and should bring to our customers.

We should not think that our customers do not know what they find as valuable or that we know more about value than they. Like beauty, value is and always will be in the eye of the beholder. Project success always trumps project management process. The project owners, the customers, define what project success is, not the project manager. Our focus as PMs should always be on project success. We work within some set of parameters (usually including scope, budget and time and others) that we manage in order to ensure project success. The point is that my customer's definition of project success may not include the triple constraint. And that is just fine because it's their project, their money and their time. So I better be managing their project in manner that is consistent with their definition of success and in a manner that meets their needs. I will do so, of course, using the tools of my profession to the best of my ability and as appropriately as I can. But my goal is to meet their definition of project success. I work for them after all.

That doesn't mean I am going to chase every whim or suggestion they make because sometimes my job includes providing guidance to help them make good decisions. I will use that bias' of scope, budget, and time plus other information to explain consequences of their change requests and other decisions. But they own the project and have every right and responsibility to act as they own it.

In order for me to act as a good steward of their project, I need to bring (or obtain) a knowledge of the business to the project. Since nearly all projects involve teams and people who don't report to me, I must be a good leader. And I need to be good at using the tools of my profession (project management). I must be good at all points of this triad in order to fully serve my constituents. I bring the most value to my customers through servant leadership as I act as a good steward of their project. I bring value by being a problem solver, flexible and adaptive as needed.I bring value by working to ensure that the objectives of the project are met and I bring value when I do all that I can to ensure the benefits of the project are met.

The project objectives and the realization of project benefits are the elements of project success. These are the reasons projects are undertaken and where the value lies. There is no value in the project itself, only in the results of the project. So I believe it is my responsibility to manage to the results, using the appropriate tools of my profession. This is what my customer expects of me.

As I have said before, I have often heard, from project managers, "the business doesn't understand project management," well there is no reason they should. It's why they hired us. To me what is more troubling is how often I hear "project managers don't understand my business." If we don't understand the business, we run the risk of not making the appropriate project related decisions or of taking the wrong actions.

Sorry for such a long winded post. But I believe this is such an important topic because it is indicative of the need for our profession to be more customer centric in our focus.

Posted on: March 22, 2013 10:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

What is Value?

I am doing research for a book. I have been talking with various executives about value and what value they expect from a PMO. A common theme is "soft value" is of no value to me. What I am hearing is that executives are rejecting or severely discounting soft value claims like projected labor savings and potential cost savings due to increased efficiency. When asked why, the typical response is that these value claims rarely come to fruition. Secondly, they are only real if you actually eliminate a FTE. Most companies are already operating with the minimum number of FTEs now.

What executives want is measurable value, such as increase in revenue, real decrease in costs, to become more competitive, to increase market share, etc. They expect their PMOs to be an active contributor to these values.

What are your thoughts?

Posted on: March 19, 2013 09:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

What is the purpose of a PMO?

For the past three years, I have had the privilege of speaking with groups around the country about PMOs, the challenges many of the PMOs and their staff face, as well as how business leaders view their PMOs. Repeatedly, some version of the same set of challenges and perceptions will surface. Common challenges and comments include:

  • Lack of understanding of the purpose of the PMO
  • Lack of demonstrated, quantifiable value
  • Lack of focus
  • Dissatisfaction in results
  • Perceived as a burden – sometimes a detriment to success
  • The business doesn’t understand the PMO, project management
  • The PMO doesn’t understand our business

Further investigation usually reveals that these PMOs do not have any identified mission, vision or measureable objectives. In many cases, the PMOs were established for all the wrong reasons. 

PMOs have regularly been setup as compliance organizations, focusing on processes, people and tools. The mantra has long been:

  1. Pick a model
  2. Develop processes – along with all the templates
  3. Hire people
  4. Select tools

Truthfully, this is a recipe for failure because it’s backwards. How can we do any of that without knowing what the purpose of PMO is? The answer is we can’t.

We must identify the purpose of the PMO, identify the mission and vision, and define the objectives to be achieved before we know what kind of processes and tools to implement or what type of people must staff the PMO. Without this knowledge, the likelihood of failure is high.

So what should we do? First we must keep in mind a simple truth.

The purpose of a PMO is to assist its constituents to successfully achieve their objectives and execute their strategy.

In other words, we must meet the needs of the business. We must, with the active and complete participation of the business’ executive leadership, develop a mission for the PMO, create its vision, and define its objects. Then, we in the PMO, can begin to develop the strategy needed to fulfill the mission, reach our vision, and meet our objectives. Just as with any other department in the business, this is not a one-time event. The mission and vision should be reviewed regularly. The objectives should be reviewed as part of the annual strategic planning activities. At all times, the PMO’s strategy and objectives should be aligned with the organization’s strategy and objectives.

We must be active in assisting our customers solve their problems, implement their strategy, and achieve their objectives. We do this by ensuring our PMOs are aligned with their strategy and objectives and we meet their needs.

The success of the PMO is derived exclusively from the success of its customers.

Posted on: February 14, 2013 11:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

"The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up."

- Mark Twain