Driving Real Change across an Enterprise
I’m going to wrap up this series by going back to the beginning. Alignment with what matters means that you master both the art and the science of establishing a PMO. First, you have the right people, doing the right things, the right way. Then, once you have those fundamental building blocks in place, you must focus your energy on creating change and aligning your PMO with the needs of your business.
In the first post of this series, we learned how to ask the right questions to understand how to be the “go to” resource for your leadership to manage change. Once you figure out how to become relevant to your business leaders, you must figure out how to stay relevant if you want to be an invaluable solution to your organization. Keep talking, engaging, and asking questions. Continue to look for the places where changes need to be made. Continue to look at where the C-suite is spending their energy. Continue to improve your PMO capabilities to stay in touch with the needs of your stakeholders.
According to the Economist Survey: Why good strategies fail – Lessons from the C-suite, 61% of executives admit that their firms often struggle to bridge the gap between strategy formulation and its day-to-day implementation. The C-suite sets organizational direction, which is realized through strategy implementation. The challenge is that many of those brilliant visionaries don’t know how to get the changes implemented. That’s where the PMO comes in. They need you even if they don’t know it! You must be the strategy navigator for your organization.
How does your PMO become the strategy navigator? It starts with earning your seat at the table during strategy definition. Don’t just assume that they will know to invite you in or that you have the right to be there. Bring a needed skill or value to the table. The PMO can be the facilitator of the strategy definition process. Offer to schedule the meetings, take the notes, and facilitate the process of getting the appropriate subject matter experts together to define the business strategy. Do whatever it takes to get you in the room. Once you are in the room, you are a part of the conversation. Once you are a part of the conversation, you now have a firsthand look at the challenges the company is facing and what they are doing to solve them. You will hear what really matters and the thinking behind getting to where they want to go. You are now in the know.
Once the strategies are defined, the PMO is the natural place for those changes to be managed. You have the experts, the tools, and the methodology that is necessary to deliver on the strategies. By earning your seat at the table during the strategy definition process, you are now also their trusted advisor and partner on executing the strategy implementation plan.
Finally, with the right portfolio management solution at your fingertips, you are now the place that the executives will go to find out how their initiatives are doing. This makes you an invaluable resource to the leadership of the organization. When they need to know how things are going, they are coming to your PMO. That’s exactly where you want to be.
Now let’s focus, once again, on people. Where you have your people aligned says a great deal about what you, as a PMO leader, value. Make sure you are aligning your talent against the portfolio of initiatives according to their strengths, where relationships already exist, and where they have subject matter expertise. You must use the right person for the job. Just like every tool in the toolbox solves a different problem, each change initiative will need a change leader with different strengths. Don’t forget the post on PMO Talent in this series. It is crucial to hire
correctly so that you have a team of change leaders that can fit the various types of business changes you will need to manage.
The PMO is, and should be, a constantly evolving organization. You will learn new things every day about the organization, the people, the culture, and what it takes to be successful in meeting the stakeholder needs. Be aware, ask questions, and make sure your PMO remains agile so that you can respond as the needs shift. These techniques and an appetite for success are the key building blocks you need to build an effective and sustainable PMO.
Change management is essentially about three things: The project, the people and the people. What does that mean? The project is about the work that needs to get accomplished. Essentially, we are talking about the scope. Getting this work done, by the way, is also about the people. In order for any project to be successful, you need that talent we discussed earlier driving the changes within the organization and they must bring along those stakeholders that are a part of the change.
Secondly, successful change management is about the people side of change. That means that we must have a good change management strategy in place that looks at what needs to change (the project) and how that change is going to be implemented (through the people). There are many methodologies out there that help you figure out how to create a great change strategy. One of my favorites is Prosci’s change management methodology.
Above all, though, it’s about the people. What do I mean here? I am talking about the sponsorship of your change. The number one reason that change initiatives fail or succeed can be clearly tied back to how active and engaged the sponsors are on the change initiative. Sound right? Think back to any change projects you were a part of or are a part of right now. Are your sponsors engaged? Are they asking the right questions about how they can help and removing barriers for you to be successful? If not, you are going to feel like you are pushing a boulder up a hill with others simultaneously pushing it back down the hill. Why is that? Because they are!
Change is tough. Not everyone is going to be onboard with the changes you are creating in the organization via your PMO. So, what do you do?
First, you start with change agents.
Following the principles outlined in hiring the right change agents in your PMO, you should be on your way to solving for the PMO as change agents. They are the champions for change and the ones driving the changes within the organization. Once you’ve got them on board, you then focus on those that are likely to work with you to drive change within the organization. They are the stakeholders on the project that are eager to roll up their sleeves and help. They are activists for the change and they are vocal about wanting to see progress. LEVERAGE THEM.
These groups of change agents in your PMO and across the organization can be organized and leveraged in a way that lets them provide a leadership from the bottom up approach. Work with their passion and give them the information they need to act as vocal supporters of the changes you are creating within your organization. You should also empower them to hold others in your organization accountable for the change they need to participate in. Leading by example and asking the right questions is a quick way to get the positive reinforcement your change initiative will need.
Secondly, you must engage your sponsors.
This is a big one. I remember being relatively new to an organization and watching what happens when sponsors don’t know how to engage. I was hired to build a PMO, but before I was there, they had hired several program managers and said, “OK, now you are a PMO”. They brought me in to help teach these program managers how to “be program mangers” and to build a PMO to manage some transformational change the company was about to undertake. I quickly observed that, yes, the PMs did need some education, but you know who was really in need of some training? The sponsors.
No one had taken the time to explain to them their role in the changes they were responsible for implementing. They would stare at the PM in a sponsor update and just wait for the PM to report on and then provide solutions for the problems they were facing. So, one of my first and most important acts was to pull all of these sponsors together and teach them what it meant to be a sponsor. They need to feel responsible for the changes because, oh by the way, they are responsible for the changes! They are the business unit leaders that are supposed to be creating change in their organizations. They are leveraging the PMO as a facilitator of that change, but they are ultimately accountable. Help them learn this and tie this accountability to their professional success and you will be on your way. Look for a separate article specifically on the roles and responsibilities of a sponsor in coming months!
Once you have educated your sponsors, you have to keep them actively engaged. You do this by giving them access to all of the information they need on a regular basis to make educated and informed decisions, remove barriers, and champion the change. When you give them this information, you then tell them what they need to act on and the impact of any decisions they make. This will help them accomplish a shared objective. You will make them look good while they are getting done what you need to get done for the changes to be successful. As they are driving results, they are now seen as someone that can make real change happen in the organization and, oh by the way, they are becoming a huge advocate of the PMO in the process…everyone likes someone that makes them look good.
For the last 17 years, I feel like I have been in constant hiring mode. Actually, I HAVE been in constant hiring mode. Building, transforming, rescuing, and running PMOs requires a constant focus on talent management. I constantly had resumes on my desk and have looked at thousands of resumes and conducted countless interviews. What I have found in that process is that there are definitely things to look for in the resume and in those early phone conversations, but you have to be able to spend time with this person face to face to see if they are going to have what it takes to drive real change for you.
So, what characteristics do these super stars have?
First…they usually do have at least one certification. Whether it’s the PMP or another continuing education certification or degree, I’ve noticed that the people that are really into the profession and the kind of people that like to continue to grow and further their careers all have some type of designation or credential. Not only does this show that they have a leaning toward their own career development and improvement, but it allows your team to have a common language when they communicate. That saves a lot of time in translating when you are asking them to share information or help each other with a project. With that said, that only gets your resume in front of me. It doesn’t determine whether or not I will hire you. In my book, that’s simply table stakes.
Certifications matter, but only so much…
So, what does this talent look like? Sure, they have PMPs and they have experience managing projects and programs. In order to be competitive and the kind of person I want to hire, they have to have really sharp communications skills and have the ability to influence anyone to do anything. As silly as it sounds, they also have to be…well… likable. I’ve seen some of the sharpest minds lose an entire audience by not being able to reach them on a personal level. Where the rubber really meets the road is on the soft skills side.
It starts with communications and expectations management. One of my super stars was helping me interview and the candidate asked him what I was like to work for. He said, “That’s easy. Just do what you say you are going to do. Manage her expectations! She’s savvy and will know if you aren’t being straight with her. Be realistic, ask for help when you need it, but set the bar where you think you can reach it. Setting the bar too low is just as bad as setting it too high.” This is what the right talent knows. Expectations management is, above all, the best way to manage up. They know they have to keep me engaged and informed so that I can come to the ready immediately when they need me. My job is to provide them air cover. The rest of the time, my job is to support them, be available to brainstorm ideas, and then get out of their way! Good talent needs the creative freedom to solve problems and manage the efforts the way they see fit.
The type of resources you want in your PMO are change agents by lifestyle, not just job title. These people are the ones that can and do handle change well on an ongoing basis. Not just project change, but these people are continually growing and evolving in their personal lives and know how to “live” change. They are the ones that have some kind of regular development and interests outside of work that give them that well rounded and looking to keep changing/growing kind of approach to life. Who better to sit with your customers and help them live through a change than those that do so continually?
A pattern that has emerged for me in the super star talent is related to the ability to show empathy. This talent needs to be able to meet the customer, client, project team member where they are, not where they’d like them to be. The right talent inherently knows this and constantly puts themselves in the shoes of their stakeholders, addressing their needs before those stakeholders even realize they have the need. The ability to get into someone’s head and understand what their motivators are and how you can leverage individual motivations toward common project goals is truly an art.
This talent becomes a chameleon of sorts, by remaining flexible to the different demands of stakeholders. They know who they need to be for each audience. The executive wants to know the bottom line. The project team wants to know that they have someone watching their back. The customer wants to know that they are going to get what was promised. All of this goes into how this kind of talent will interact with their stakeholders and who to be to whom and when. The PMO leader wants to know that the stakeholders are all getting what they need and that the projects are getting delivered. The good ones are going to have an inherent sense about what needs to get done and how to get it done in a way that keeps everyone happy and productive.
You have to find them and then you have to keep them…happy.
Leverage the super star talent you already have to help you interview these candidates. Good talent knows good talent when they see it. And speaking of good talent, make sure you are hiring for diverse strengths. You need a diverse set of skills in order to apply different types of people to different situations. Since they will be very diverse in their strengths, they will also likely need to be managed differently. Know how to give them what they need to be successful by having a flexible management style. The kind of resources you want are going to need to be constantly challenged and engaged.
I’ve been fortunate enough to find this talent in my career and when I do, I find ways to work with them again and again. Who wouldn’t want to have these people on their team? They meet with their stakeholders, rally them around a goal, keep everyone moving and feeling good about it because their own personal needs are being addressed, and get things done…on time and as expected.
With the kind of talent described above, you can safely let go of the reins and trust them to get the job done. Isn’t that what we are all looking for?
The bottom line on tools is this…if you aren’t using it as it was designed and/or have chosen to customize it so that it barely looks like what you started with, you are slowly going to degrade the functionality and usefulness of this tool to the point that it will lose the ability to give you good quality information you can rely on. All of the major tools companies out there claim to solve many of the basic project management objectives, but for the more advanced users, one tool isn’t going to be perfect for you no matter how much you customize.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen what can happen when companies look to make the tool fit their process instead of considering that the other way around might actually be more effective. This doesn’t apply just to project/portfolio management software, as many of you realize. People will take that bright and shiny tool out of the box and transform it into something that they swear they needed in order to get any value from the tool. Then, years go by, and you’ve put so many customizations on top of the tool that it is barely recognizable as that off the shelf product you purchased many years prior. The vendor will be telling you that you can get so many of those customized features in their newer version of the software. You are finding that you need to put fix on top of fix to get the software to work the way you had hoped three changes ago. The executives in your organization don’t see the real business value in the tool (where are their fancy dashboards with reliable data?), so you are having a hard time convincing them to invest another hefty sum of money in upgrading or replacing the tool. Any of this sound familiar?
Assuming you can convince leadership to invest in replacing the tool or for those of you that are making the investment for the first time, below are some recommendations for getting it right.
Your best bet is to start with the best future in mind, not your current state. What is it that you are hoping to produce as an ultimate outcome of using this tool? Is your focus resource management? Is it cost management? Is it fancy dashboards that the executives can use? Figure out what matters to you, as the owner of the tool, and also to your stakeholders. It is in your best interest to take the time to figure out what each of your stakeholder groups needs in order to feel a part of the process and to make sure that they are getting real, tangible value from the tool. Otherwise, you will have a disaster on your hands when you implement something (customized or not) that doesn’t meet stakeholder needs. No one will use it, or if forced, they will find the path of least resistance, which equals least amount of valuable information.
In addition to gathering requirements from stakeholders (Software Development 101, right?), you also need to take the clean sheet of paper perspective for your processes. Put aside what your tools or processes do for you today and think about what you ultimately want to deliver. Once you’ve done that, you may realize that your current business processes don’t actually fit where you are headed with your new set of requirements. That’s OK. Change can be your friend here. You can either scrap all of your old processes in favor of your new ones or take advantage of this opportunity to align new business requirements with some of the lean and six sigma strategies for process improvement applied to your existing processes. Either way, you are still only looking at requirements and the processes. The tool doesn’t yet come into the picture. There is a reason for this. If you engage with vendors before you’ve done your homework, you will have them all “helping” you define your business processes in a way that suits their tool, specifically.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you need to get into very specific details of your processes before tool selection, but you need to know what you want. Figure that out and then you can be clear with vendors about what you want when you engage with them. The more you know about what you want as an outcome, the more the vendor can help you achieve success. The vendor will be able to tell you how to best achieve your desired outcomes with the tool they are pitching and they will be able to make some best practice recommendations to your processes to get to the most efficient results. That’s a very different role than having them define all of your processes for you, some of which will only be there because that’s how their tool works instead of what you actually need to run your function.
Upon reaching agreement on the business requirements and business process, it’s time to start looking at your tool options. Vendors will fall all over themselves to help you with your project management software needs. There are the primary companies that create the software and then there are third party implementers that will implement the software of your choosing. Your best bet is to do your research here and look at what other companies of your size are using. This is easy enough. Google searches and actual conversations with people will get you everything you need. There will be many war stories from companies that have implemented the software packages or web based/Saas model tools. Some will be great, but more will not be so great. Some people will claim that a certain tool is amazing and others will say that that same tool is horrible. Neither of them is right and both of them are right. It’s all about the experience that they had in implementing and using the tool in their organization, how much they customized the tool, and what they were looking for as outcomes. My experience has been that those that didn’t follow the suggestions in this article will have the worst experiences to share with you.
There is one very important consideration with all of this and that is that you must keep the people engaged in the process of defining the requirements and get real agreement to engage in the use of the tool once it is implemented. The primary reason that a project management tool is put into place is to help in managing and leveraging the project data to make decisions. Those reports that you and your executives want will only be as good as the data put into the tool by the project resources. Bad data in equals bad data out. Do not underestimate the time and effort required to educate, train, and build structure around the users of this tool and how they interact with this tool. This user management process will be an ongoing communication and training effort that must be planned for when considering implementing project management software.
One final note…
No tool will be perfect. Pick the one that most closely aligns with your already defined objectives and key business processes. My advice…use the 80/20 Rule. Expect the tool to meet 80% of your needs through no customization (even if this means modifying your processes to meet the tool instead of the other way around) and then look to make modest customizations or find mechanisms outside of the tool to meet your last 20%. Any more than that and you will be paying for it for years to come!
In my mind, there is a difference between implementation methodology and project management discipline. They can work together quite seamlessly, but aren’t the same thing. Looking at the PMI Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®), you will see the various “Whats” that need to be considered as a project manager. Those “Whats” are the knowledge areas and are primarily focused on the things the project manager must do, from the perspective of the project manager. As with any methodology, you should look at it as a toolbox of potential tools that you can pull out to accomplish a task. You don’t need every tool, all of the time. However, to be successful, you have to know which tools are at your disposal and when and how to use them. As a 10 year PMP, I can say that I highly recommend becoming familiar with these “Whats” of portfolio, program, and project management via the PMBOKs.
As far as the “Hows” of getting projects done, there are many different implementation methodologies you can choose from for your organization. Implementation methodologies are focused significantly on the building part of a project, where the sausage is made, if you will. Agile, SDLC, Spiral, Waterfall, etc. all look at the roles for each of the players on the team and how they must all engage for the work to get accomplished. Each of these implementation methodologies has strengths and gaps in ability to help you manage your projects.
As with project management discipline, look at the various implementation methodologies as options you can choose from to accomplish your priorities. Some require more rigor and discipline in applying the components than others, but all are aimed at getting your projects completed, while balancing the triple constraint.
Now, let’s take this to the entire portfolio level. As PMO leaders, we need to be mindful that a key to our success is being able to build trust with our business partners. To do this, we need to build highly reliable techniques for managing our portfolio of work so that we can deliver consistently. Doing what you say you are going to do, on a regular basis, will show your customers and business partners that they can count on you. It’s that simple.
So, how do you maximize your available resource capacity and throughput on projects to get to a high quality and optimally delivered portfolio? To answer that, let’s look at a methodology that leverages the pros of a few different implementation methodologies in a way that creates hyper-productive teams and significantly increases your total portfolio success.
I’ve personally seen the details of this framework, attended the full day workshop and feel that this guy is really onto something big. As stated above, having all of the best tools at your disposal and knowing when and how to use them, is one of the tops strength for project managers. Now, take that a step further and leverage those components in such a way that your entire portfolio is optimized and you’ve hit the sweet spot for PMO leaders. You have fully leveraged the “Whats” and the “Hows” to maximize your entire portfolio throughput.
ACCLAIM™ is a portfolio management approach based primarily on Critical Chain Project Management, with some project-level methods borrowed from Agile and Lean. It stands for Advanced Critical Chain Lean Agile IT Management. This methodology takes 6 proven techniques for dramatically improving the throughput and reliability of IT Project Portfolios, and introduces a 7th technique that allows both Agile and non-Agile projects to co-exist harmoniously within the same portfolio. ACCLAIM is focused on addressing the three primary objectives of any IT PMO:
1) Get more done (improve throughput of project completions)
2) Get it done reliably (minimize risk of project failure)
3) Use the right tool for the job (apply Agile when it makes sense, and other methods when they make sense)
Four of the techniques—Project Staggering, Single Tasking, Elimination of Task-Level Commitments, and Lean—are designed in combination to boost the throughput of project completions by as much as 8x, while boosting reliability.
Two of the techniques—Project Buffering and Buffer Management—are designed to maximize the probability that all projects in the portfolio are completed within the original budget, schedule, and scope.
The last technique—Time-Based Buffering—converts Agile’s scope buffers into time-based buffers, offering an “apples-to-apples” view of all project buffers in the portfolio.
Finding a methodology that works for you is highly dependent upon your environment, culture, aptitude of the staff expected to use it, and the organizational appetite for standardized process. With that said, there are ways to maximize your entire portfolio so that your PMO becomes a trusted partner in delivering the results that the organizational leaders need.