In this high-demand/low-availability labor market, we all have to start re-thinking about how to staff one of the increasingly most pivotal roles in large, complex technology delivery: the program PMO lead.
In the past 10 or so years, we have all seen the size and scale of delivery dramatically increase as the business and technology landscape becomes more complex with multiple solutions, architectures, geographies, suppliers and organizations—and enabling layers such as cloud platforms. For new technology solutions as well as transformations, program delivery leads now spend more time than ever navigating this highly complex landscape—which leaves less time for traditional program management activities.
This situation has put an increased premium on the PMO lead role, which typically was portrayed as more of an administrative function. Ever more frequently, the PMO lead role has become closely integrated with the program delivery lead role in terms of guiding the trajectory of delivery…to the point where they resemble an adjunct delivery function to the program delivery lead.
The common dilemma today: Where does one find a PMO lead that can oversee the typical delivery operations activities such as risks, issues, workplans and tools—as well as assist the program delivery lead with critical delivery assurance efforts? In addition, how can we fill a PMO lead role with the right person in a timely manner as not to impair the mobilization progress of a delivery program?
As opposed to the traditional approach of trying to staff at the last minute when demand arises for a PMO lead role, the most effective path is to have the next generation of PMO leads on hand before you need them. Keep these three points in mind:
1. Recognize that large, complex and transformation PMOs require a unique mix of leadership skills. Programs are typically known to be a collection of delivery projects that directly fulfill a unified set of business needs. However, the landscape of programs has changed over the years where they now have to be implemented in a highly integrated, more complex technical and business environment. In addition, there can be transformative enablement capabilities such as value realization, organization change management and dependency management.
Given this landscape, PMO leads that solely oversee the execution of serial recurring PMO processes will not be successful. The PMO lead of today needs to have skills that transcend pure administrative execution by serving as a broker of conflicts, predictor of delivery volatility, as well as an organizational enabler of progress. In addition, to do so PMO leads now engage at a much higher level in an organization.
To achieve success, PMO leads need to have prior experience with complex delivery leadership, senior executive engagement as well as an ability to quickly grasp the delivery “big picture” in order to take action in a proactive manner. Traditional administrative backgrounds are not enough to prevail in today’s delivery environment.
2. Domain and local knowledge is highly valuable. In addition to delivery leadership, executive engagement and the ability to sense prevailing conditions, it’s very helpful to have additional knowledge in the areas of business domains, as well as localized organizational characteristics.
For example, the learning curve of a PMO lead that spent most of their career in healthcare would have to be enormous to grasp the terminology and concepts of energy exploration; the converse is also true, when an energy exploration PMO lead serves on a healthcare program. In addition, organizational entities in companies may differ between regions and product lines.
There are a few methods to help ensure that domain and local knowledge needs are fulfilled. Where possible, prioritize PMO leads that have prior business experience in a specified domain area. To assist with understanding the organizational entities, consider the PMO lead shadowing the overall program delivery lead in recurring leadership meetings.
Where there are no available PMO leads with the necessary business domain nor local knowledge, consider providing business domain training as well as conducting immersion sessions for the prospective PMO lead in advance of their start of their role. It’s much quicker to take PMO leads with the right mix of modern-day competencies and incrementally bring them up to speed in these areas than it is to try and instruct a business domain lead on complex delivery.
3. Rotational PMO lead roles build more effective delivery leaders. In order for PMO leads to stay ahead of the game, their role needs to start in advance of delivery activities. In today’s complex environment, any delay in staffing a PMO lead will be detrimental. The best way to avoid this problem is to make the PMO lead role a rotational staff function. This enables it to be a training ground for future delivery leaders.
In the military and other organizations, the notion of a rotational staff assignment is quite common. In addition, it is highly prized given the visibility it provides—as well as the ability it creates to foster further career growth (which might not be found in a traditional assignment).
Current delivery leadership that needs to gain experience with more complex delivery, as well as experienced new joiners, are both examples of candidates for modern-day PMO lead roles. In addition, standard PMO lead training should be designed, built and deployed. Organizations that identify, groom and deploy PMO leads in a timely manner are already starting out ahead of their competitors. This model is not limited to employees of an organization; performing the same function with suppliers is also valuable to reduce the chance of late PMO lead fulfillment.
The function of a program management office has been both an integral and essential component of complex industrial delivery for almost 100 years. Over the past few decades, technology delivery leaders—as well as stakeholders—have gained a similar level of appreciation for the importance of the program PMO lead.
As demand continues to increase with no end in sight to the shortage of capable PMO leads, it’s best that companies start to build their own cadre of future PMO leads; this is essential for both staffing this role in a timely manner, as well as to ensure the growth of delivery capability.
I welcome any comments on what others are doing to help both staff program PMO roles, as well grow this function in your own organization.
Building Team Synergy and Resilience
Human Aspects of PM,
Categories: Agile, Benefits Realization, Best Practices, Career Help, Change Management, Complexity, digital transformation, Facilitation, Human Aspects of PM, Human Resources, Innovation, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Mentoring, PMOs, Portfolio Management, Program Management, Roundtable, Stakeholder, Strategy, Talent Management, Teams
By Peter Tarhanidis, PhD
As the pandemic stretches on, work-from-home programs continue to keep teams working virtually. During this time, we have performed courageously to deliver our strategic and business outcomes. Here I will share a select review of advice from industry experts as they explore how to build a post-pandemic response strategy.
According to McKinsey (2022), organizations have pivoted to deliver sustainable and inclusive growth toward building a better world. And Harvard Business Review (2020) notes that all types of companies have navigated the pandemic by pivoting their business models in the short term to survive—becoming more resilient in the long term.
Yet not all pivots generated an improved business outcome. Three trends in particular can help ensure a successful pivot:
PWC’s Global Crisis Survey identified three key lessons that businesses can adopt for long-term resilience:
An opportunity, therefore, exists to consider how to prepare your team’s competence in driving synergy and resilience in order to lead post-pandemic growth strategies—and simultaneously pivot from those same strategies.
Here is a shortlist of what leaders can do to prepare for a post-pandemic recovery and support an organization:
In the end, the teams that are ready to execute and can pivot as necessary will be ready for the post-pandemic competitive environment.
Let me know if you have uncovered additional successful strategies—or any pitfalls to avoid—in building team synergy and resilience.
AI To Disrupt Project Management
Education and Training,
Human Aspects of PM,
Nontraditional Project Management,
Categories: Career Help, Change Management, Cloud Computing, Complexity, digital transformation, Education and Training, Ethics, Facilitation, Generational PM, Human Aspects of PM, Human Resources, Innovation, IT, Leadership, Leadership, Nontraditional Project Management, PMOs, Portfolio Management, Program Management, Stakeholder, Strategy, Talent Management, Teams, Tools
By Peter Tarhanidis, PhD
Technology has demonstrated tremendous benefits and efficiencies (many of them unstated) over time. The technology lifecyle enhancements that started with our initial computers, software programs and the internet of the past have given way to the modern-day cloud, Big Data and artificial intelligence.
Throughout this maturing landscape, technology has affected all industries—especially how we collaborate. According to Peng (2021), here are some key impacts to consider:
Project management has benefitted from the overall technology lifecycle, either by implementing aspects of it or by being a user of its collaboration outputs. Yet project managers are at the doorstep of being part of the next wave of AI disruption.
What a PM organization must consider is the methods and concepts used in managing past programs and become proactive in shifting to an AI-enabled PM organization. There is no doubt that the role of PMs and our methodology will be augmented with AI-enabled assistance.
PwC identified five areas of AI disruption and decision making in project management:
To prepare for these changes, project managers should:
In order for these changes to emerge, there are a few considerations that may hold one back from the changes—such as organizational readiness, employee skills assessments, and the state of technical tools.
PwC outlines a change approach to assist in the transition that relies on updating project management strategy, leveraging technology investments, integrating digital and AI, and a comprehensive communication plan to generate awareness through adoption by the future project management workforce.
What other approaches have you used—or should be considered—to manage AI disruption in project management?
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?