By Mario Trentim
There's an old saying: "A fool with a tool is still a fool.” And I’ve heard many project management professionals say that best practices and good methodology are more important than project management tools and software.
Do you agree? By the end of this article, you might change your mind.
A Brief Story of a Failed Methodology
I've been working as a project manager since 2001. In my early days, as an engineer, I was responsible for the technical and managerial aspects of projects. In 2010, as I moved up the ladder in my organization (the Air Force), I was assigned to implement and operate a Project Management Office (PMO). Considering that we didn't want to make large investments up front, my focus was on creating a methodology, developing templates and designing and delivering training. To my surprise, only a few of my recommendations were implemented, even though abiding by the PMO guidelines was mandatory.
I started investigating the reasons. It turned out that it was not that people didn't know the methodology, nor that they did not want to follow it. It was just too much work.
You know the drill: A project manager is assigned to a project, searches the intranet, finds the PMO site, then reads the "project management manual" and any other supporting documents for the methodology. Finally, the project manager copies and pastes files from a shared folder, and starts filling in all the templates (scattered in different files and different formats).
Truth be told, the project managers usually started on the right foot. The problems appeared as the project progressed, because it was a huge effort to keep all files updated and integrated in a coherent fashion.
Although I am talking about experiences from 2010 to 2014, many organizations unfortunately still find themselves in a similar situation today.
Productivity goes down. Project failure rates go up. And as the organization demands more training, it creates more controlling processes, auditing and extra reports—resulting in even more work.
When I first came across Project Portfolio Management (PPM) and Enterprise Project Management (EPM) software in 2003, I didn't think it would be a big deal. By 2010, I was convinced that you cannot increase portfolio and project management maturity without software.
To be able to implement a standard toolset across projects, the PMO usually starts with paper-based or Excel-based approaches. The risk is that they settle for less by not evolving into using enterprise-level business applications.
Is adopting a particular tool or software a requirement to project management success? No. But the use of project management tools increases maturity.
People often say that they will acquire a corporate project management tool once their organization is "mature enough." Going back to the beginning of this article, I am very aware of the fact that a tool is useless if you don't know how to use it. However, once you already have basic knowledge and processes, a tool can speed up the learning process—skyrocketing productivity.
As an analogy, imagine that you already have basic knowledge in math and finance. When should you buy a financial calculator, such as HP-12C? Only after five years of calculation amortization by hand? I doubt this would be the smartest choice. After all, you don’t have to become an expert bike runner before you can buy a bicycle.
In project management, some of the foundational concepts can be taught by using flip-charts, sticky notes and simple Excel spreadsheets. But you cannot teach people how to create a solid and realistic schedule and cost baselines without project management software. It is just not feasible. It is not that it is impossible. Actually, in the 1960s and 1970s, the Polaris and Apollo projects were planned without the help of software tools (nonexistent at the time). But planning for those projects took a long time.
Today, we live in a modern world in which the project life cycle is shorter. We manage multiple projects at the same time, and there is more volatility and uncertainty. Project managers have to evolve as well.
How to Implement PPM and EPM Tools
Project Portfolio Management or Enterprise Project Management is a corporate platform to manage portfolios, programs, projects and resources enterprise-wide. The PMO is ideally positioned to lead project management tool selection because it understands the big picture from different project managers, team members and business units. When assessing specific project management tools, take into consideration:
Depending on the size of the organization, you might prefer to execute a pilot before rolling out the tool to the entire organization. It is important to keep stakeholders engaged and informed by sharing:
A word of caution: Do not underestimate the effort needed to implement a project management tool enterprise-wide.
In the meantime, please leave your comments and questions below.
By Kevin Korterud
The definition of a successful PMO has changed over time. Today, a highly complex delivery ecosystem is the norm in most organizations. So PMOs that serve primarily as a “back office” function, providing only operational support services, are not seen as adding value. They are viewed as a means of reducing costs by assisting project, program and product managers with operational tasks.
The same can be said for the PMO lead in today’s modern organization. Organizations are turning to their PMO leads to share insights, impart predictability and strive towards the preservation of business value. Today, leads need capabilities that to a great degree mirror their project, program and product delivery leadership counterparts. A highly visible leader with a broad perspective across both delivery and business operations is rapidly becoming a key role in a delivery organization.
Based on the changing PMO landscape, here are what I see as the three essential characteristics of contemporary PMO leads:
The inherent complexity of projects and programs continues to increase as more of the business landscape is automated. In addition, there is growing opportunity for technology and process innovation. Projects and programs can morph into persistent and recurring product development, which in turn creates an environment where delivery is continuous.
PMOs over time have also matured in lockstep with delivery complexity and persistency. PMO service groups have mechanized and industrialized PMO processes to support this growth. In concert, the charter of a PMO has shifted from being just a pure service function; it is now expected to serve as a predictor as well as an enabler of delivery.
These factors put a PMO generalist at a distinct disadvantage. With higher expectations, it’s key that PMO leads have project, program and product delivery experience. These delivery skills provide insights and observations that are more organic in nature and go beyond what is found in status reports; their delivery experience allows them to get to the “so what” insights as well as to realistically predict delivery trajectory. In addition, prior delivery experience makes them more credible as a PMO lead with their project, program and product delivery peers. This also gives them the capability to become an adjunct delivery lead where required.
2. Ability to Conduct Delivery Assurance Reviews
Organizations today can have hundreds of concurrent projects, programs and product delivery initiatives. In addition, the use of delivery performance metrics and other indicators can vary widely. While metrics have always been a useful starting point to determine the overall health of delivery, they don’t always reveal potential volatility in a timely manner.
Delivery assurance reviews go beyond the metrics to explore the factors behind the current trajectory of project, program and product delivery. These reviews are objective examinations conducted on behalf of an organization’s senior leadership to uncover potential delivery “surprises” not visible in status report metrics. The accumulation of delivery surprises over the entire portfolio can readily add up to a significant loss of value.
Leveraging their prior experience, today’s PMO leads are adept at conducting delivery assurance reviews. Enabled with a PMO charter that has been approved by senior leadership to mitigate delivery surprises, the combination of prior delivery knowledge as well as a value-driven mindset allows them to successfully execute delivery assurance reviews. Their organic ability to answer the questions “Where are we, where are we going and will we get there in time?” positions the PMO lead of today as a key team member within a delivery organization.
Today’s delivery ecosystem is a highly complex, fast-moving environment that demands a high level of people engagement. As a project, program or product delivery leader, the ability to seamlessly connect with organizational leadership, stakeholders and suppliers has proven a key factor in delivery success. The same can be said about today’s PMO leads.
In the past, PMO leads and their respective teams were viewed more as an accessory to core delivery activities. Their services were employed directly to a project, program or product delivery lead; they rarely interacted with senior leadership, stakeholders or suppliers. However, today’s delivery ecosystem can tax the capacity and capability of delivery leadership. They need a peer partner who will help them achieve delivery success. To do so requires that the PMO lead understand both delivery and business operating models.
This new PMO interaction model requires that a PMO lead possess a persona that can credibly engage with senior leadership, stakeholders and suppliers. They need to understand both delivery and business operations; the latter coming about from either professional study or exposure through prior delivery experience. While a PMO lead cannot understand every facet of business operations at a deep level of detail, having this exposure makes for more efficient and effective engagement with stakeholders as well as suppliers who are also key contributors to delivery success.
The PMO Lead of Tomorrow
Not long ago a colleague told me they were going to take on a PMO role in an organization. When asked about their motivation to do so, they shared that there were no current project, program or product delivery lead roles open, so they thought this would be a good place to start in this organization.
Much to my delight, this person had a strong background in delivery, professional training in relevant areas of business operations as well as plentiful experience engaging with leadership, stakeholders and suppliers. I smiled to myself that although they had no prior PMO experience, they had all of the right skills to succeed as a PMO lead.
PMO leads need all three of these skills in order to succeed in today’s modern delivery ecosystem. For the PMO lead of tomorrow, they’ll require even more skills to deal with ever-increasing demands for project, program and product delivery. This will position them to play an even greater role in the delivery success of an organization.
I’d love to hear from you: What do you think makes for a good PMO lead?
By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP, MBA
As we close out 2019 at work, wrap up projects, and plan to spend time with our families for the holidays, sometimes we forget this is the best time to prepare for the year to come. Here are my five tips to get you in the mindset:
1. 2020 starts now.
The traditional thinking is that nothing happens from Thanksgiving to New Year’s since hiring managers and companies are preparing for the holidays.
The real situation is that everything happens at the end of the year. Companies are busy preparing for next year, and, from personal experience, November/December has been the busiest time for recruiting senior-level portfolio/program executives. Hitting the ground running starting Jan. 1 means that 2020 starts now.
Key questions for you to start your 2020 planning:
2. Ladder up your experiences and skills.
The traditional thinking is that a career ladder is about getting a new title at the next level with a higher salary.
The real situation is that building your career is about learning agility and building a repertoire of experiences and micro roles. If you’ve been in program or portfolio management for seven years or more, it may start to feel that you’ve “been there, done that.” To get to the next level of experiences, ask yourself: In 2020, how will you learn a new skill, gain a new experience or learn from someone?
3. Transformation must be visible.
The traditional thinking is that transformation is about organizational change management, which is mainly instituted through a variety of communication methods and channels (memos, town halls, workshops, staff meetings, etc.). In a recent viral stationary bike ad, the woman depicted before and after the transformation looked the same—many people had issues with the cognitive dissonance where she said that her life changed so much, but the change was not visible.
The real situation is that transformation is more than just communication. Instead of telling people what the change is, the approach should be to actively demonstrate the change so people can experience it. Transformation at the organizational level is about behavior change.
When I implement a large-scale organizational change, I personally lead up interactive training sessions to teach people about the change, as well as follow-up sessions where I’m hands-on in mentoring and coaching people on the new skills. It’s a great way to get real-time feedback about the change, and most importantly, to be seen as the expert coach within the organization enabling the change. This has been very effective in building trust and credibility in the organization.
4. Create space.
The traditional thinking is that when you see a good idea for a program, go implement it—quickly—to take advantage of speed to market.
The real situation is, just like a cluttered drawer that you keep adding to, a portfolio can be cluttered if not systematically managed. From a personal standpoint, I had to move recently, and I was surprised at how many things I found in the back of the drawer that I forgot existed. When I emptied it out and scrutinized every item, I discovered that 30-40 percent of the items were not needed or were no longer useful since they were damaged, broken or just plain outdated. By getting rid of items, I created space for new items and technology, just like in an organization.
The steps to portfolio management in an organization are:
5. Volunteer for your next role.
The traditional thinking is that your manager assigns you the next program or role.
The real situation is you are responsible for actively managing your next role. You should tell the right managers and other leaders what you would like your next program or role to be.
Don’t wait: What is your plan for starting 2020 now?
by Jen Skrabak, PfMP, PMP
Most people leave organizational cultures, not managers.
Organizational culture is defined as the collective behaviors, thoughts, norms and language of the people in the organization that signifies the "way of working." It represents the overall support system and resources of the organization.
For example, if employees regularly start meetings late, then the culture of the organization may be to begin meetings late ("it's just the way things are"). Newcomers quickly learn this unwritten norm, and adapt to the late meetings, further propelling the status quo.
It's important to understand that people leave organizational cultures because portfolios and programs can represent significant change to the organization—requiring new ways of working, behaviors and new operating agreements defined to support the change. However, if the organization is resistant to change—and the traditional ways of working remain—how do you change the culture?
First, let us understand why people leave the organizational culture and what we can do to model the right behaviors as leaders:
1. Misaligned Vision and Leadership
A common complaint is that there is "no perspective of where the organization is headed and not being able to see how my role fits into the bigger picture."
Leaders, starting at the top, must role model the behaviors they expect. Rather than simply talk about the vision or the strategy, they must roll up their sleeves to translate the vision very specifically and tangibly into everyone's work.
This is typically done through the strategic portfolio—employees identify with a stack ranking of strategic initiatives that communicate the most essential programs and projects of the organization. Each executive sponsor must then clearly translate the vision into day-to-day actions that the program or project is implementing.
The strategic portfolio represents the "better state" of the targeted culture— what are the behaviors, ways of working, thinking and norms that need to be in the future. This is codified typically through team charters, operating agreements, and ground rules so that everyone on a team follows the same rules and ways of working.
2. Compromised Values, Beliefs and Increased Toxicity
When employees feel they are being coerced into doing things that don't align with their values, they will find other places to use their talents. Behaviors that result during large scale change may be burnout, rumors, and change fatigue.
Mediocrity may have been accepted as good enough, resulting in high performers, leaving the organization due to lack of challenge and opportunities. However, for those that remain, it may be difficult to absorb change since they never had to.
As a portfolio or program leader, you don't need permission, budget or authority to start acting in ways that model high performance. Recognize and reward the right behaviors and call out the wrong behaviors.
Growth needs to be the focus—desire is a powerful emotion—more than the fear/doubt that is often the first reaction when encountering change. The first emotion is Fear/Doubt. Left unmanaged, this can spiral into water cooler conversations, negativity and constant churn.
However, having a growth mindset means that there are opportunities created from changing and learning new skills that can propel that organization to embrace new ways of working.
3. Organizational Structures and Processes that Create Stagnation
Not having structured processes that support high performance creates an environment that people leave. No one wants to stand out when something new is introduced—it's almost like a virus where the antibodies (the current organizational culture) start attacking it. There needs to be a core group of high performers that embrace and spread the targeted organizational culture across the organization.
High performers can't stand waste—wasted time in meetings, wasted use of resources, and wasted opportunities. Is the strategic portfolio management or program management office reporting to the executive leadership team level, or is it buried somewhere within the organization under a functional organization?
Growing organizations embrace change as a constant and adopt a growth mindset.
A growth mindset means that the organization is continually learning and sees change as an opportunity to learn new skills and gain new experiences. Rather than sit back and accept the status quo, we seek out how to design and build the change rather than be just the recipient of the change. Thoughts and mindset ultimately translate into behavior. Motivation and attitude are skills that are just as important as the technical portfolio or program management skills and can be developed over time.
How are you developing your growth mindset?
By Lynda Bourne
As you may know, any monitoring and control process has three components. The first is establishing a baseline that you plan to achieve, the second is comparing actual progress to the plan to see if there are any differences, and the third is taking corrective or preventative action. Corrective actions fix existing problems, while preventative actions stop problems from occurring in the future.
This post looks at the middle phase. Before taking action to bring performance into alignment with the plan, make sure the variance you are seeing in the control systems is real. Corrective and preventative actions take time and usually involve costs, and there is no point in expending effort where it is not needed.
The variance is the difference between two imprecise elements: the planned state and the actual situation. The plan is based on estimates and assumptions made some time ago about what may occur in the future. All plans and estimates have a degree of error built in; it is impossible to precisely predict the future of a complex system such as a project. Similarly, the measurement of the actual situation is prone to observational errors; key data may be missing or the situation misinterpreted.
So how do you decide if the measured variance is real and significant enough to warrant corrective action? I suggest considering the following:
1. Does the reported variance line up with your expectations?
2. Is the variance significant?
3. Is a solution viable?
Let’s explore these in depth.
Does the reported variance line up with your expectations?
Try looking at a couple of different monitoring systems, such as cost and time. Do the two systems correlate, or are they giving you very different information on the same group of activities? If they correlate, perhaps your expectations are misplaced. If they are giving you different information, there may be data errors.
Is the variance significant?
If the predicted slippage on the completion date for a key milestone over a series of reports is bouncing around, any single measurement within the noise factor is likely to be insignificant.
Trends, on the other hand, highlight issues. Sensible control systems have range statements that indicate the variance is too small to worry about if it is inside the allowed range. This general rule is modified to take trends seriously and to require action to correct negative variances close to a milestone or completion.
Is a solution viable?
Other situations are simply not worth the cost. There is no point in spending US$10,000 to correct a -US$5,000 variance. However, this decision has to take into account any effect on the client and your organization’s reputation. Cost overruns are generally internal, whereas late delivery and quality issues may have a significant reputational cost, affecting stakeholder perceptions.
Where a viable option exists to correct negative variances, corrective and preventative actions need to be planned, prioritized and implemented. There is no point wasting time on a controls system that does not generate effective controlling actions.
Second, implementing corrective and preventative actions requires the resources working on the project to do something different. Variances don’t correct themselves, and simply telling someone to catch up is unlikely to have any effect. Sensible management action, decisions and leadership are needed to physically change the situation so there is a correction in the way work is performed. This is a core skill of every effective manager.
I’d love to know: How do you deal with variances in your projects? Please share below.