by Cyndee Miller
Project leaders aren’t exactly known as rebels.
And Luke Williams pulled no punches on why that needs to change, calling out project and program managers as frequent barriers to anything beyond incremental change. Too often, he said, they stick to established systems.
“Project management can exacerbate this path dependence,” the New York University professor said in his closing keynote at PMO Symposium. “You’re the ones enforcing this path.”
There’s far too little emphasis on delivering discontinuity, he said, which puts most organizations in a bad spot: Complacency is literally the most dangerous attitude in business.
So go ahead, chuck the best practices and traditional success measures and embrace your inner rebel. Forget reasonable predictions. Go for unreasonable provocations, Mr. Williams told attendees.
In his eyes, that’s the biggie: The most important thing a project leader does is manage the organization’s ideas.
Not every idea is going to work—there are bound to be some spectacular flameouts. So he encouraged project leaders to give themselves and their teams permission to be wrong.
That mindset can admittedly be a wee bit unsettling. But if you're going to commit to disruptive change, he said, your job is not to make everyone happy—it’s to make everyone uncomfortable.
The upside, according to Mr. Williams: Truly unexpected ideas have less competition—which means a longer lead time for execution and a stronger chance of success.
Who’s ready to embrace their inner rebel?
by Cyndee Miller
Disruption isn’t just change on steroids. It signals a fundamental shift in an organization’s DNA and how it sees itself—like say, when Australia’s largest telecom Telstra set out to become a world-class tech company.
It was a bold move—that was fizzling. So after an external assessment revealed 30 percent of Telstra’s capital investment projects were missing the mark, the company created a central PMO. Fast-forward about five years: 100 percent of its benefit KPIs are on track—and Telstra is named the 2018 PMO of the Year.
It certainly didn’t happen overnight, said Rob Loader, PMP, as he accepted the award at PMO Symposium with Peter Moutsatsos, PMP, the company’s chief project officer. The PMO had to transform the entire company culture, introducing a enterprise-wide gating model and creating a team of engaged sponsors.
“It’s been five years of blood, sweat and toil but also tears of joy and satisfaction as well,” said Mr. Loader.
But he also acknowledged that the PMO will need to “continue to evolve in a very different world both for telecoms and for project management.”
Kudos to Telstra and other two finalists that deftly navigated disruption in their own right:
Financial services companies, cutting-edge innovation—now there are two phrases that rarely go together. But Sloenvian insurance company Triglav Group knew a tech transformation was the only way to address changing consumer habits. To avoid the failures it had seen with past large-scale digitization projects, Triglav elevated its PMO giving it a direct link to the C-suite and the board of directors. Already one of southeastern Europe’s largest financial institutions, Triglav is now in a prime position for future growth, with the PMO’s digitization efforts helping the company post a 160 percent jump in online sales—and a 15 percent drop in operating costs.
PMOs are fairly de rigeur in just about every sector at this point, but a PMO in a school district definitely got my attention—especially when I saw the results. Tacoma Public School District serves more than 30,000 students in the U.S. state of Washington, but educators were struggling to keep kids engaged. With the PMO’s help in running innovation projects, though, the district saw graduation rates jump from 55 percent in 2010 to 86 percent in 2016. And they did it with hyper efficiency, raising the project completion rate from 10 percent to 90 percent over four years. With those kinds of numbers, the PMO is turning into a model for other school districts—and has spurred an interest in project management among administrators, teachers and even students
Or perhaps your PMO is ready for the spotlight? Check out how to apply for the PMO of the Year Award here.
by Cyndee Miller
That digital disruption all the experts and thought leaders have been hyping for what seems like decades? It’s here.
I know, I know, dear readers. You’ve heard it before. From me. And I’m sure many of you would be content to never hear the D word again.
There’s simply no disputing that disruptive technologies—the internet of things, 3D printing, robotics, artificial intelligence—are infiltrating our lives. And that means every project leader at every organization in every sector better brace themselves for some serious change. Attendees at PMO symposium seem quite aware of the situation.
JPMorgan Chase’s Noel Smyth said big data, cloud, blockchain and mobile technology are all changing project management at the financial services giant—all while it’s contending with a slew of fintech upstarts.
Even government agencies (not exactly known for their bleeding-edge habits) are no longer watching from the sidelines.
People demand the corporate crowd keep up with the latest social media platforms or cashless payment options—and expect the same from the public sector, said Joanie Newhart of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. And all too often, they’re disappointed.
One prime indicator project leaders are out to change their modus operandi comes from the U.S. Census Bureau. For the first time ever, the 2020 count will be conducted over the internet. Now that’s saying something, given the inaugural census was taken in 1790.
But the agency isn’t just tapping into digital delivery.
It’s digging deep into the data it collects about the country’s 300-million-plus residents. With that analysis, the Census Bureau can learn more about the people it serves, from their commuting patterns to the best ways to evacuate during an emergency, said the bureau’s Laura Furgione, PMP, during the PMO Symposium executive fireside chat.
To not just survive, but thrive, project leaders must have a curious mind—and be willing to think across projects and programs, said Linda Ott, PMP, of the U.S. Department of Energy. The public-sector project leaders of tomorrow need to stay wide open to what’s happening, even as they focus in on their particular mission.
Even with the best of efforts, though, some organizations are falling behind. And across various sessions, a consensus was building that PMO leaders should be the ones helping their organizations embrace the changes brought on by disruptive technology.
“[Organizations] are really not adapting and changing fast enough,” Melissa Eckers of Accenture Technology said in a panel discussion of the PMI 2018 Thought Leadership Series released at symposium. “There’s an issue with how effective we’re being with managing change.”
What’s the problem? Attiya Salik of Capgemini Government Solutions sees a trust gap between stakeholders and PMOs when it comes to change management. “Stakeholders see it as waste of time,” she said. “[We] have to educate stakeholders on what change management really is, what its impact is going to be and how it will facilitate the implementation process.”
PMOs themselves must also contend with their own change patterns: Sixty-six percent of the 529 PMO directors surveyed say disruptive technologies are affecting their PMO, according to Capgemini’s The Next Generation PMO, one of three reports in the series.
“The PMO of yesterday isn’t the PMO of today,” said Rebecca Sanchez of Accenture Technology during a panel dicsussion.
Has the disruptive revolution really begun? And how is all this cutting-edge technology changing how you manage your projects or your PMO?
by Cyndee Miller
Talk all you want about the “critical elements to business success.” What people—including me—really want to hear about is failure. We want the spectacular flameout. And we want all the gory details. Some of this is just human nature. But it’s more than that. Tales of failure are also wildly educational. Would the story of Steve Jobs be nearly as compelling—or informative—if he wasn’t fired from his own company? I think not.
Yet as a reporter, I know most people don’t like to discuss their mistakes. So imagine my delight when former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo told attendees at PMO Symposium® that failure isn’t just an option—it’s an option that should be exercised frequently.
As one must suspect, that shift has to start at the top. “By getting in front of your team and pointing out when you make a mistake, they start to get it and will start taking more courageous risks,” he said.
That will most likely lead to some dissent, which Mr. Costolo also said it’s perfectly acceptable.
“The goal isn’t social cohesion, it’s to get to the right answer,” he said. “Open debate toward the right answer is a good thing.”
But once a decision is made, Mr. Costolo expects the full team to fall in line.
The contrarian in me loves to see common business wisdom upended. But his advice also just seems inevitable in today’s fast-paced, disruption-happy environment.
Slow and steady doesn’t win the race. There’s a fresh urgency to execution and that means leaders need to be willing to try new things.
“In any organization as it grows, the default answer to any question increasingly becomes no,” he says. “What we developed inside Twitter was a common saying: bias to yes. There have to be many paths to yes inside the company for any idea. Any function is not allowed to tell a different function, ‘You’re not allowed to do that.’”
Taking Mr. Costolo’s lead, Twitter slashed the time it took to get new ideas in front of users from months to days.
At that pace, mistakes happen. But what we’re hearing over and over again at symposium is that that’s okay. In the very first session, self-proclaimed project management nerd Jonathan Gilbert, PMP, challenged project leaders to think fast, learn fast, fail fast.
Jan Musil, chief product owner at SAP America, took it one step further, saying project leaders shouldn’t even think of a project misstep as a failure. It’s continuous improvement.
How are you helping your teams fail, er, I mean, “continually improve”?
A great emphasis is often placed on the selection of a project manager. Much has been written about the need for training, credentials, experience and ability to engage with stakeholders as the keys to a successful project.
But, I have not seen a similar level of attention paid to the selection of project team members. In fact, I believe many project stakeholders think there are only two roles on a project: project manager and everyone else. It’s often thought that project managers can surmount every difficulty a project may encounter—and that other team members are less of a consideration.
In reality, the selection of team members is as important as the selection of a project manager.
Here are some techniques I use to make good choices as I put together a project team:
Every project has a dynamic driven by the urgency of completion. This dynamic varies by the rigidity of the finish date, required project duration and the number of outside dependencies. Examples of projects with high levels of urgency include regulatory compliance, merger and acquisition and internal corporate mandate projects. Projects with lower completion urgency tend to be longer in duration, but also often are quite complex in nature—think transformations, large system integrations, etc.
The dynamics around urgency of completion help shape the selection criteria for project team members. For higher urgency completion projects, I tend to go with people who exhibit high creativity and the ability to deal with high uncertainty. For lower urgency completion projects, I typically select people who are more measured in their actions and show consistent execution over long periods of time.
I also try to select one person for the team who has the opposite social style as others to serve as a counterpoint, which can be very healthy for a project. This ensures that a balanced perspective is being employed by the project team to resolve issues.
2. Look for Learning Experiences
When selecting team members, I ask them to share the greatest learning experiences they’ve had on past projects. These learning experiences can take the form of working on troubled projects, handling issues with project team members or managing adversity in their personal lives.
These learning experiences build confidence and character that is desired not only for the person being selected for the project, but also for mutual growth with other people on the project. Effective project resources tend to exhibit strong performance in the face of adversity. Project team members with these skills are essential to building a strong, synergistic project team.
A lack of learning experiences tends to indicate a more narrow range of capabilities, which would not contribute to building a strong project team.
Project managers are often pulled in many different directions, which can slow a project’s progress.
To remedy this situation, make one of your team members your second-in-command on the project. They can backfill in times of high engagement to help resolve issues and keep the project team going.
The other benefit to having a second-in-command is the valuable development opportunities the role provides. He or she gets to experience active project management while having the safety of the project manager for guidance. I have found over the years that people who perform well in second-in-command roles perform extremely well when they become full-fledged project managers.
I once had a senior project manager tell me, “Your team is only as strong as your weakest link.” Picking the right team is as important as selecting the project to manage. A rush to staff team members quite often leads to a re-staffing exercise that consumes precious time and energy, not to mention being disruptive to the team. Considerable care and patience are required to build an effective project team.
What good and bad choices have you made when selecting team members for a project? I’d like to hear about them.