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

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"I wish I had me when I was you..." That 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 24 years, many of those years as an employee in the "hot seat" responsible for building internal capability. 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. Learn more at ImpactbyLaura.com

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What to Look for When Hiring a PMO/PM Consultant

 It’s hard to know where to start when you are tasked with building or optimizing (and yes, sometimes rescuing) your PMO or PM practice in your organization. Maybe people will turn to consultants, and for good reason, they are the experts at this, right? Well, maybe. It depends on who you hire. But how do you know you are making the right investment and that this company will be the right one to partner with you on your journey to build or evolve your PMO or PM practices?

Here are some things to look for when you look for a consulting firm to help you:

  1. Beware of the cookie cutter approach. A good consulting firm that does this type of work regularly should be able to talk to you about the system they follow to successfully support you in building or evolving your internal PMO/PM capability. That’s different than having a cookie cutter implementation approach that they just rinse and repeat in every client organization. I’ve seen this way too many times. When I was on the inside building and running PMOs, consulting firms would come in and just plop down the same thing they just did for another company without any regard for if that solution would work for us. It always ended in disaster.
  2. Insist that they have proven experience doing this. One of the common ways that consulting firms get bigger is by bringing in newer staff to learn the ropes by doing. During the sales process, they will introduce you to the experts with the knowledge and expertise to help you successfully implement the changes you are trying to make. Unfortunately, after the contract is signed, the actual boots on the ground are staff that haven’t done this before or they only know how to follow the cookie cutter approach. You will need people that can think on their feet and break outside of a process or checklist they are supposed to follow and help you actually solve YOUR business problems in YOUR organization.
  3. Ask them about similar challenges. Make sure you ask them about how they have done what you are asking them to do. If they are there to help you rescue your PMO, they should be able to give you examples of where they had to rescue a PMO that was failing. Get specific on what they did in that organization to get things back on track.Ask them to talk to you about things they wish they would have done differently. Everyone should have some learnings, some lessons from prior experience that have shaped how they provide services now. These are good points that will tell help you determine if this firm is willing to be honest with you and that they make a conscious effort to learn from mistakes and continue to improve.
  4. You still need to run the show. It’s absolute ok to leverage consultants to help you by providing industry perspective, but you must still run the show. When you turn things over to the consultants completely, you could risk them taking the team in a direction that is not in alignment with your overall strategy. You also run the risk that things fall apart the minute they leave. Great consultants can help you put systems and processes in place to ensure continued evolution and sustainment for your PM organization.
  5. Leverage them as your voice. Have you ever noticed that when you say something as an employee of the organization it didn’t carry as much weight as the highly-paid consultant they brought in that said the exact same thing? This used to drive me nuts! Until I learned how to leverage this to my advantage.

    Instead of fighting the natural human tendency to connect, place the highest value on what you pay the most for, why not work it to your advantage?

    Once I realized that the consultants I was working with were in sync with my goals, I would bring them into my office and talk about the outcomes I was looking to achieve and the messaging that the executives needed to hear. We’d walk into the meetings perfectly in sync and the consultants heard, “Wow, what a great idea!” and I got what I wanted, which was the ultimate solution to move us forward. Let go of your ego of having to be right or having to be the one with the idea and focus on the outcomes you want to achieve…then get the consultant to make it their idea. They win, you win.

     

  6. Make sure they teach you how to fish. Good consultants can show you what to do, great consultants will make sure you can stand on your own when they leave. It’s a policy in our company that we build in capability development of internal staff into every engagement. Our business is built entirely on referrals and reputation. That means that we will only be successful if our clients are not only happy with us while we are there, but long after we are gone.Make sure that you build capability development of your internal staff into the contract and then ensure that key resources are partnered with any consultant staff to watch and learn from them. The staff should be more senior folks that have learned to coach and develop people so that they can explain to your team what they are doing, how they are doing it, and why it is important.
  7. Leverage them for industry expertise. You want to know what the best in your industry are doing in terms of PMO or PM capability? Leverage a consulting firm that keeps their ear to the ground on what is going on or that works with clients in the same industry. You want them to have seen this movie before and tell you about all the pitfalls you need to avoid, as well as the tried and true techniques that have worked in similar organizations.

Consultants can be a valuable resource for you to Get. It. Done. with your PM organization if you know what to look for and how to get the most value from them. It’s about driving the biggest IMPACT for the investment. The right partner can make all the difference.


Thanks for taking the time to read this article.

I welcome your feedback and insights. Please leave a comment below.

See you online!

Warmly,

LauraBSignature_black

Posted on: December 04, 2017 07:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Why You Shouldn't Outsource Your PMO

In the consulting side of my business, I'm often called upon to help build or rescue a PMO for an organization. Sometimes, the CEO that calls me says they are considering outsourcing the company's PMO. While this might be the dream situation for many consulting firms out there, I'll tell you why, as a consultant, I'm against it. While there is certainly more revenue for a consulting firm in being able to hire all of the staff for the PMO and run the organization, there are far greater risks to the organization (and eventually the consultant), ultimately making it a lose-lose situation.

Before I was a consultant, I spent 17 years as the PMO leader and executive looking to improve project and program delivery, as well as overall governance and portfolio management for the organization I was working in. I know, first hand, how hard it can be to drive change in an organization and build the kind of PM capability necessary for sustained improvement in project delivery. Even in organizations where you don't hit much change resistance, there are still challenges when you are transforming the way an organization functions. If you are going to make an investment in improvement like this, you will want to give that improvement every possible opportunity for success. For many organizations, when you don't have that capability internally, it can seem appealing to turn it over to a consulting firm that can just "handle it" for you. While that certainly is appealing to let an outside company "handle things" for you, especially when you have so many other priorities, there are some serious risks to the ultimate success of that endeavor that must be considered.

Here are some things to consider before outsourcing your PMO...

  1. You will lose some control. When you outsource your PMO, you are giving up some control in areas where you may not want to have your hands tied. Ultimately, you will not be able to control things like staffing changes and how important this effort is for the team running the PMO. When it's owned and run by internal resources, the organization will have greater control over the priority and resourcing.
  2. Strong relationships can be more difficult to foster. So much of the PMO build out and operation is dependent upon building key relationships with all stakeholders that interact with the PMO. When those resources are external, it can be a little harder to forge strong bonds among the PMO staff and the internal stakeholders.
  3. It won't be their idea. It's one thing to leverage consultants to bring in new ideas or help you in articulating the ideas you would like to execute in your organization in an industry data backed kind of a way, it's another to turn over the ownership of implementing those ideas to a third party. By outsourcing your PMO you risk alienating all of those that are responsible for interacting with the PMO. It's someone else's idea, agenda, or plan and the people internally won't necessarily have a sense that they can provide input into the process or that they can call it their own. You will need the internal staff of the organization to ensure your PMO is effective and sustainable and by bringing them into the process early and often to develop the approach and participate in the execution, you are positioning the PMO for the best possible success from the start.
  4. There will always be someone else to blame. One sure way to prevent driving accountability in an organization is to give it to a consultant. If you want your team to truly embrace the PMO and interact with the organization, build it internally, as a team. You can certainly leverage consultants to support the effort, but the main driving force and those that are truly accountable for the delivery should be well-respected internal staff with the proper authority to deliver the results expected.
  5. You could have an us and them mentality. When you outsource the creation or operation of your PMO to an outside vendor, you risk the organization treating it as an "outside" thing that they don't really have to be a part of. Some service organizations can be outsourced with some good success, but a PMO is so integral to the execution of the business strategy of the organization that outsourcing it is putting your company's future in the hands of an outsider. Once you do so, you position those in the organization to treat the organization as a separate entity that they can distance themselves from, therefore setting the PMO up for extinction from the start.
  6. You aren't building capability internally. You may have heard of the saying, "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime." I believe very strongly in teaching the people in organizations how to fish for themselves instead of doing the fishing for them. In fact, I insist on it in every consulting engagement we do. Every good relationship will someday come to an end. Meaning, that for many different reasons, some of which may be the above, you may want to take over the management of your PMO. If you have not invested in building that capability internally, you will essentially have to start over.

From the consultant's perspective...the above is just a sampling of the scenarios that could lead to overall PMO failure, which means the consultant fails. If the PMO isn't effectively delivering the benefits as expected and the organization is not sustainable, the client is not getting what they bargained for. This can lead to payments not being made, reputations being ruined, and lost future business. When the client wins, the consultant wins. How do I know? Our consulting business has been built entirely on referrals and reputation.

Consultants CAN be a huge help.

Can you effectively leverage consultants to help you set up or rescue your PMO? You absolutely can, and in some cases, should leverage a consulting firm to help you. However, I would highly encourage you to build a partnership with the consulting firm, maintaining ultimate ownership and a hands-on interest in the PMO development and operation to ensure the long-term success of the PMO. This is ultimately better for you and for the consulting firm because the PMO is being setup for success from the start. Everyone wins.

Consultants can often help in areas such as:

  1. Providing external industry perspective
  2. Helping you establish the best PMO framework and services for your organization
  3. Interviewing internal stakeholders and assessing your current environment
  4. Defining best practices and approaches that have been proven in your type of organization
  5. Education and resources to help you build your own capability internally

These are just some of the benefits to partnering with the right consulting firm to establish or run your PMO. Just make sure they've done this before. In next week's article, I will share with you the things to look for when hiring a consulting firm to partner with you to build, rescue, or run your PMO. Stay tuned!


Thanks for taking the time to read this article.

I welcome your feedback and insights. Please leave a comment below.

See you online!

Warmly,

LauraBSignature_black small 90

Posted on: November 27, 2017 07:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

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.

 


Thanks for taking the time to read this article.

I welcome your feedback and insights. Please leave a comment below.

See you online!

Warmly,

Posted on: October 30, 2017 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

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? 

 


Thanks for taking the time to read this article.

I welcome your feedback and insights. Please leave a comment below.

See you online!

Warmly,

Posted on: October 23, 2017 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

“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.)

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.

 


Thanks for taking the time to read this article.

I welcome your feedback and insights. Please leave a comment below.

See you online!

Warmly,

Posted on: October 16, 2017 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)
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