I wish I had me when I was you...

This title expresses precisely how I feel each time a project manager or PMO leader tells me a story about their frustrations encountered while trying to create effective and sustainable change, build (or fix) a PMO or deliver projects successfully. I always think to myself…I wish I knew then what I know now. I’ve made it my mission to share with you everything that I have learned while creating change and building PMOs in both large and small organizations for the last 20 years. Change isn’t easy, but it CAN be done and done well without pulling your hair out! Projects can achieve their intended outcomes leading to satisfied stakeholders. PMOs can become an integral part of your organization's high-impact outcomes. The keys to my success and what I've seen in others is not necessarily what you think. You won't find the answers in the project implementation methodology. The answer is not in the templates you use. It's in how you engage with people and bring them through the process with you. Do change with them, not to them. I’m hoping these articles help you along your journey as you continue to evolve and develop skills and techniques to be the high-impact leader you are meant to be. Please let me know what you think and how I can support you along your journey. Found out more at ImpactbyLaura.com

About this Blog


Recent Posts

Are you owning the project management process, or are they?

Fight, Flight or Freeze – Resistance to Implementing PM Practices

“Be More Strategic”

Telling the PMO Story

If You Want to Be a Leader, Stop Doing

Are you owning the project management process, or are they?

Have you ever heard a stakeholder on your project say, “I’m completing the template you guys asked me to complete?” Or maybe you’ve heard, “I’m completing the steps in your process.”

Do you know what’s wrong with both of those sentences? They didn’t say “our”, they said “your.”

Sometimes we think we’ve done a good job of rolling out great project and change management best practices. We feel like they really “get it” and then they throw this “you” and “your” stuff at you.

Watch out…the minute you aren’t looking, “your” process is going to fall apart. Why? Because it’s your process. It should never, ever be your process.

The key to sustainability in project and change management best practices is ownership.

THEIR ownership, not YOURS.

Many times, leaders in organizations will put one person in the organization in charge of creating best practices for the organizations. OK, so that in and of itself is not an issue. What that person does next is what will determine ultimate success or failure of the implementation of these practices.

When we are tagged as “the one” to put all this stuff in place, it’s important to remember that you are accountable, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be a one-person show. You MUST get others involved and find a way to give them a stake in the outcome of the effort. If you don’t, you run the risk of a few things happening:

1) They make you out to be the “bad guy” trying to “make” them change the way they have “always done things.”

2) They ignore you.

3) They only behave when you are watching.

4) When you are off to another assignment, the whole thing falls apart.

5) Your leadership starts to wonder if you can handle this effort or sees you as ineffective.

6) …and many others.

So, how do you avoid these issues?

You make it THEIR process from the beginning.

Although you are the one charged with making the changes, it doesn’t mean that you must do it in your tiny workspace huddled over your computer by yourself. Get out there and engage others. YOU don’t necessarily know what will work best in the organization (and if you think you do, you are probably wrong, at least partially). Start pulling together stakeholders to LISTEN before talking. Ask questions about what’s working for them and where they have pain points. That discovery process will help you do a few things:

1) Engage them in the process, making it “our” instead of “your” process.

2) Help them feel heard and understood.

3) Develop a more robust solution that incorporates the real world they are working in.

4) Give you a chance to tie their desires and pain points to the process you want to roll out.

5) Give them a chance to be a part of the solution development (fyi, this is how you build early adopters and change champions).

6) Ensure the process becomes ingrained in the way they operate, as valued and engaged stakeholders.

7) Show your leadership team that you are a leader not just a doer and you can engage others successfully to implement change (watch out world, here comes that bigger assignment).

8) …and many others.

And if you still need more convincing…

This way also helps you share the workload with others. You can engage a group of stakeholders in the process of interviewing others to get their input, gathering examples of things that work, developing prototype process or templates and tools, and ultimately make the process of rollout MUCH easier because it’s a team of people that are all early adopters doing it with you.

The morale of the story with creating any change is to do the change WITH them instead of TO them to ensure that it because THEIRS and not YOURS.


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Posted on: October 30, 2017 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Fight, Flight or Freeze – Resistance to Implementing PM Practices

Have you struggled with getting your PMO setup or with getting PM practices in place in your organization?

It may not be the best practices themselves, but the way you are going about implementing them that causes the problem.

In a recent article, I talked about a concept I call “boiling the ocean” when it comes to implementing a PMO and PM best practices. The idea is that you take on too many new things at once, because you are excited about the future of the organization you are creating and are eager to make a big impact. However, you start hitting change resistance along the way because it’s more than people can handle at one time.

Love the enthusiasm and so do many others…until it comes time to start using everything. Then it all starts falling apart.

In the field of Psychology, there is this concept called the Stress Response. It’s how your body and mind react when you are in a stressful situation and is usually characterized by three different behaviors:

Fight – You start to see pushback on the changes you are trying to make. People aren’t using the tools and templates you have established. They will fight you even when their boss says they have to do it. This is the more aggressive response, but easy to spot because you know how they feel.

Flight – They run. Fast. Have you had trouble getting their attention? Are they acting like you don’t exist? This one is a little more difficult to spot because – You may see this in the form of passive aggressive behavior – they say they are going to comply, but do something totally different the moment they step out of the room. You may not know this is happening right away, but overtime, you notice they are running in the opposite direction when they see you coming!

Freeze – They just don’t take any action at all. They seem stuck. It seems like they have no idea what they are supposed to do. Nothing gets implemented and you feel like you are saying the same things over and over again…your face is turning blue.

So what do you do about it?

Fight – Don’t fight back, but be firm. Going slowly doesn’t mean that you are letting people push you back to the dark ages of chaos. It means that you are standing your ground and continuing to press forward. Keep making progress, but avoid creating a firestorm. A battle will only distract you and your leadership team from forward momentum. And, by the way, if you do go into battle, you won’t win even if you win. A defeated opponent is not one that is likely to cheerfully implement your process or tools in the future. They will just bide their time until the next battle or apply the freeze or flight approach.  Either way, you lose.

Flight – Persistently stay engaged. Don’t give them the opportunity for flight. Do change with them, not to them. Make sure that you are taking every opportunity to allow “them” to engage in the process of designing, development and implementing the best practices and tools with you. When you let them become a part of the change process and let them have a say in what gets implemented and how, you create the opportunity for collaboration. That opportunity will blossom into them having a stake in the outcome. Now they want it to be successful. Isn’t that so much easier than chasing them around or fighting them constantly? You will have to make compromises to get there, but 80% of what you wanted to implement by compromising is a lot better than 0% of doing it your way.

Freeze – Stop making things so complicated. When people are frozen, it might be because they think it’s harder than it is.  Making it less complicated is not dumbing it down, it’s smartening your approach. Break down the work. Break down the change. Take baby steps. Implement the changes slowly.

A couple of thoughts for you to maintain your sanity…

Don’t take it personally. Understand that their response is simply a natural response to fear triggered by change. That’s right, change can trigger fear. Why? Because it’s pushing people into the unknown.

I know you are thinking to yourself, “But this is change that’s good for them!” Yes, I know. I get it. But they don’t. Remember, you are in charge of delivering this change to them because you are the expert. They are not. They may not have seen all of the benefits you have in implementing best practices. They may not know how much their lives are going to improve, even if it’s obvious to you. So, go slow. Understand that you need to bring them along in this process with you.

Practice patience. I often joke that it wasn’t motherhood that taught me patience, but building PMOs and creating change for 20+ years that did it. I joke, but it’s actually pretty accurate. You will need to figure out how to be patient with the process or you will drive yourself crazy. Sleepless nights over templates and best practices just sounds silly, doesn’t it? 


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Posted on: October 23, 2017 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

“Be More Strategic”

Have you ever been told that you need to be more strategic? Did you think to yourself, “Geez, I thought I was being strategic!”

What the heck does it mean to be strategic, anyway, and how do you know if you are doing it?

Recently, I was facilitating a workshop on inspirational leadership with my client and they were charged with transitioning from a tactical function to a more strategic business partner for the broader organization. The conversation was swirling around what it meant to be tactical vs. strategic and how they must make the transition to being strategic in order to survive. The leaders gave descriptions of what it meant to be strategic, the mid-level managers said, “but I think we are doing that.” After we went through a few broad descriptions, I got them very tactical…about what it meant to be strategic. 

In order to have a good conversation about this topic, we need to make sure we are all speaking the same language on strategy and tactics…

OK, so what is strategy?

I like the Wikipedia definition for strategy:

Strategy is a high level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty.

Hmmm…sounds like every project I’ve ever managed! 

If you are managing projects, you are implementing strategy…a plan to achieve one or more goals. You don’t have to necessarily be the one defining the strategy to “be strategic.” You simply need to be able to articulate the strategy, a.k.a. be able to talk about the business value of the project and help ensure alignment of that vision with the goals of the project.  (And NO, I do not mean Earned Value here when I talk about value. EVM actually has nothing to do with business value and return on investment (ROI). It simply tells you about the performance of your project according to the constraint. See this post for more on that topic.)

Now let’s look at the definition for strategic (the adjective we are all being told to be):

Relating to the identification of long-term or overall aims and interests and the means of achieving them.

Hmmm…sounds a lot like being able to bring your stakeholders with you through the change (a.k.a. project) to me.

So, in order to be strategic, we need to be able to relate to the long-term strategy and tie our project and all communications about that project to that strategy. We need to bring people with us through the change process, always keeping the shining star of “why are we doing this” front and center in our thinking and communication.

So that means that to be “strategic,” we need to be good change leaders…

Project managers that are successful are not just good at project management. They are also good at bringing people through change. They help stakeholders understand the “why” for the project and connect the outcomes they are achieving to the overall business objectives and strategy for the project.

Make sure you know how to help bring others through the process of visualizing and aligning with the strategy your project was intended to create and you will be acting in a “strategic” manner.

Many times as a project manager or PMO leader, you are in the role of strategic advisor. You are positioned to help the organization figure out how to best invest their organizational assets in a way that gets the highest return on investment possible. Now if that isn’t strategic, I don’t know what is!

OK, but how is that all connected to tactics? Don’t we have to be tactical, as well, to be good project managers? Don’t we need to know the details?

Let’s look at this Wikipedia clarification of strategy and tactics:

The terms tactic and strategy are often confused: tactics are the actual means used to gain an objective, while strategy is the overall campaign plan, which may involve complex operational patterns, activity, and decision-making that lead to tactical execution.

Tactics is the means and strategy is the beginning and the end. What I see in this clarification is that all strategists need tactics and all tactics should be a part of a strategy (otherwise, why are you doing them?). It also tells me that as a project manager, you need to be competent in both. You need to be able to carry the team through the strategic process (and speak that language) and you have to be able to execute the tactical details required to get the day to day tasks done.

Being strategic doesn’t mean you can’t also be tactical. Tactics are simply the breakdown of a strategy into its executable parts. It’s the project plan or the PMO plan or the how are we going to get all of these projects done plan!

OK, so I think I’m doing that, so why am I being told to be more “strategic”?

When you are being told to be more “strategic”, what they probably mean is that they need you to think bigger. It doesn’t mean you aren’t smart. It just means that once we have taken that strategy and turned it into its executable parts, the tactics, we need to remember to come back out of the weeds and see the bigger picture.

It might also mean that you need to speak the language of the “strategic” ones in your organization. If you talk tactics to the strategists, you will lose them. If you are unable to talk about the big picture impacts of the work you are doing, such as speaking to them about the return on investment for the project or the business shift that will happen as a result, then they won’t know that you can think bigger and be strategic.


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Posted on: October 16, 2017 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Telling the PMO Story

Whether you are trying to make the case for the PMO for the first time or giving an update on the progress of the PMO, it’s extremely important that you tell a compelling story of both pain and progress. The story needs to take your audience on the journey from where they are today to a brighter future, addressing the challenges they have in getting projects completed under the current environment.

For the last 18 years, I’ve been making the case for the PMO, both as the sole person responsible for creating it, like many of you, and as a consultant guiding organizations through the process of finding the right size and fit PMO for their organization. I’ve discovered a process that works well to make that case for the PMO and it requires that we give a little thought to our audience and clearly define the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) for each stakeholder before you start “selling” them on the concept of a PMO. Then, by the way, DO NOT start selling! Instead, focus on bringing them with you so that it is a natural progression from where they are now (and the pain they are feeling) to a much more productive and effective way of getting projects done.

Here are some tips for creating a high impact presentation about your PMO, your vision, the plan for progress, and most importantly, how you will get to high IMPACT quickly. (And by the way, this applies to ANY project, not just the PMO.)

1) Keep it simple and short – no more than 5 slides. You want to grab their attention, but also make sure they know you can speak to them in executive speak – short, clear, to the point – Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF). If you make it too long, you run the risk of losing them in the process. Remember, you eat, sleep and breath PMO and project management – they do not. Keep it clear and straight forward and speak to them in a language that will resonate with them.

2) Leverage the industry perspective – get some good data (pmi.org has pulse of the profession studies you can use, as do many other organizations like CEB and Gartner) to tell the industry story about PMOs and projects – why they fail and how they succeed. Use that data to make a connection between your organization and what the industry sees. This gives them a “we are not alone” feeling when frustrated about project failure. You can also point out data that shows what successful companies that have higher project success rates are doing differently. This also shows them that your company is really not all that different. We all think our company and our PMO is so unique and different. Yeah, not really. They all have a lot of the same challenges and the same opportunities because they are all run by people who are all trying to solve problems (many times in different ways). When you can help your leadership team see that they CAN be successful just like some of the other successful companies out there, it helps them see what’s possible.

3) Show the short and long term plan – I would highly recommend you start small in your size and scope of the changes/services you want to implement for your PMO. You can read more about that here: Don’t boil the ocean (when creating a PMO). For the purposes of the presentation, you can list the services you want to implement now and then the ones you think you could implement down the road. Setting expectations that you are going to deliver a ton of services right away will show them two things: 1) you are taking on more than you can guarantee success on and 2) you are ready to solve all problems at once before you really have had time to see what the organization really needs and can digest. Instead, show a PMO services roadmap of what they get now and what you believe will be the next set of services you could deliver down the road once phase 1 is complete and proven successful. The key is creating alignment and focus for your stakeholders. As far as what to do first, you should NOT be starting with a tool or templates. For more info on why, keep reading.

4) Give them their WIIFM by explaining the “so what?” – Connect the services you believe will benefit the organization with the value it will create for each for your unique stakeholder groups. For example, if transparency on projects has been an issue, highlight how having a project portfolio perspective and a mechanism for reviewing that information regularly will help to draw out issues early and often and make sure that everyone is on the same page with project progress. This is also a place where you can use any successes you have had to date to help make the service real for them. Have you had a project success or project turnaround you or your team was responsible for that you can use to say “Let me give you an example of where we have had success with X” to make it personal and easy to connect to? What about an example of a project that has not gone well that you can say how your services could prevent that from happening in the future?

5) Clearly show the high impact you will have quickly – Start by doing something where you can show immediate impact and solve an immediate business problem. The business problem is never “we don’t have enough templates” because that’s just not a business problem! The business perspective is far more likely “our projects are taking too long to get done” or “our projects are costing too much” or “our projects aren’t delivering the value they were intended to deliver” kind of problems. Those business problems are not SOLVED through a tool or templates. Those problems are solved by doing better project management – planning and execution. So what could you do to help improve the project planning and execution? Is it more training for the PMs? Is it more experienced PMs? Is it coaching from some senior PMs in your team or elsewhere in the organization? There are so many ways you can create high-impact quickly, but you have to understand the business problem to do so. It might even be best for your team to take on a troubled project and rescue it. I’ve used my PMs to do this first in an area where we didn’t have a lot of buy-in. We go rescue their failing project and THEN they are willing to talk to us about engaging the PMO. That PM never went in with templates blazing, they just went in and got the problems solved, the project moving and the stakeholders aligned. There will be plenty of time to do templates later, but you have to build credibility first. Go solve a problem.

6) Do a dry run with someone – Get an outside perspective from a friend or colleague in the industry or at least in another part of the organization. You want someone that is a strong supporter of you that will be fair and honest about where you stand and what will need to be improved in order to make it fly in your organization and with your leaders. This should be someone that cares enough about your success to be honest, but will also offer suggestions on what you can do to improve or give you tips to help you tell your story in a stronger way to get to the heart of what matters for the business leaders in your organization.


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Posted on: October 09, 2017 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

If You Want to Be a Leader, Stop Doing

Do you feel like you can’t ever catch up? Do you feel like you have countless meetings on your calendar and that leaving on time is an oh so distant memory? Maybe it’s because you are doing instead of leading.

We are doing too much doing. As managers, we find ourselves filling all of these roles we believe are necessary to manage our teams and get the work done. The challenge is that as a manager, your job is not actually to do all of the work. We believe that it’s our job to be the one they come to, the one to fix everything, the one that makes the team’s lives easier so they can focus on getting things done, right? Well, maybe not. Instead, you should be providing direction, coaching, and leadership for your team.

Are you actually doing your team or yourself any favors when you are their superhero? Maybe you need to take a step back and reevaluate your role…unless you really want to ensure job security at this level for the rest of your career and never climb the next rung of the ladder…if you aren’t replaceable, they can’t ever let you go on to bigger and better things!

As you think about how you spend your time each day, consider that you may not be as productive and helpful to your team as you are surely trying to be. What do I mean?

Here are some thoughts to consider:

  • Nonstop meetings: Whenever I speak on this topic, I ask the crowd how many of them spend all day in meetings. Almost the entire room raises their hand. Sadly, I used to do this, too. I thought I had to always be “in the know” of everything going on in the organization to be effective in leading my team to get their work done. We often feel it is our job to go to meetings and “protect” our resources or fight for the things we need for our project. Instead, it might be a more effective use of your time to enable and empower your team members to step up and take ownership of their area of responsibility. If you aren’t rescuing or protecting them constantly, you can let them step up and take responsibility for representing themselves or their project within the meeting. Figure out which meetings don’t actually require your input and spend less time there and more time coaching and supporting your team.
  • Manager as firefighter: Do you feel like you are spending your day putting out fires for your team? Do you find yourself bragging (or complaining) that you got to “fight fires” all day long? Do you enjoy the thrill of being able to fix things? I get it. I used to spend my entire day running from fire to fire. However, by fixing everything, my team wasn’t learning how to solve their own problems or put out their own fires. I thought I was being helpful to them and carrying a burden so that they could get other work done. However, I was left exhausted by running around and fixing things for people and they never learned the valuable skill of being able to solve their own problems. A leader will coach team members through the process of fixing their own problems so that they then have more time to lead the team instead of running from fire to fire.
  • Answering questions vs. asking them: Does your team come to you all day long asking you countless questions? Are you the “expert” on the team? If so, your team has been trained that they don’t have to figure things out for themselves, but just come to you and you will give them the answers to their questions. I know it feels good and that you are valuable to your team by answering the questions. However, they are missing a key opportunity to figure things out for themselves both now and in the future. Instead, how about delegating the answering of questions or coaching your team to figure things out themselves? Empowering your team to become more self-sufficient will free you up for thinking about the future. Instead of answering questions, ask them. Questions like, “What do you think should be done?” or “How could this problem be solved?” will help them learn to think for themselves.
  • Never letting your team fail: I used to think my job was to protect my team from failure. This was especially hard for me in the PMO space where we weren’t always appreciated or understood. However, by never letting my team fail and protecting them all of the time, I was actually limiting their opportunity to grow and develop their own leadership skills. In order to lead, you must fail (and then learn from it). Are you taking the opportunity to let your team figure out how to recover from their failures? If your team becomes super comfortable with you protecting them all of the time, you are limiting their opportunity to grow.
  • Short term vs. long term thinking: Because you are spending all of your time answering questions, solving problems, and attending meetings, you don’t have any time to think beyond today. You have a constant backlog of things you should be doing or planning for and it all gets shoved to the far edge of your calendar, only to become your weekend or late night work. That will burn you out and prevent you from ever getting caught up. It’s a vicious cycle. Instead, consider scheduling time to think. This doesn’t mean you don’t spend all your time alone, but maybe find more efficient ways to move your team forward while also getting time to move forward your own planning. Consider the One Hour Manager blog post for some ideas on how to do this.

If any of this is resonating with you, don’t worry, most of us have been there. I know I was there and it took a while to figure out how to get out of it. That’s why I share these topics with you…I wish I had me when I was you and I want to save you the time and frustration of learning things the hard way and fast track you to being the leader you were meant to be! It’s very hard to detach from a mode that feels like it’s working in the moment. Consider, however, that the things that are helping you move forward in the moment may actually be limiting your long-term goals and aspirations, both for you and for your team.


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Posted on: October 02, 2017 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

"Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names."

- John F. Kennedy