Recently, I have been thinking about the relatively recent role of the Chief Project Officer in organizations. How do they stack up against other CxO's and how do they assist organizations provide real value to customers compared to a CIO or CTO? To answer these and other questions, I went in search of a senior project management professional who holds that CPO title for a major organization.
Peter Moutsatsos, Chief Project Officer for Telstra, Australia's largest telecommunications company, joins us for a very revealing and fascinating Q&A session. Please welcome Peter to our Scrumptious blog.
1. Why do some organizations need a CPO?
When you consider the accountabilities that all other C-suite executives hold, there is no single accountable person who is on the hook for successful project delivery. Sure, most CEOs, COOs and CFOs are accountable for the outcomes of major projects, especially how these projects contribute to the financial performance of the company. However, the delivery of these projects and the advancement of professional project practice are the lead indicators that ensure these successful outcomes are met. That’s where the CPO can add a lot of value. The CPO can focus exclusively on successful project delivery, developing project talent, and effective project sponsorship. A CPO helps an organisation to shine the light on project delivery as a critical skill within an organisation. CPOs know that corporate strategy is achieved through the execution of successful projects. A CPO can make sure that the right people have the right tools and skills to work on the right projects that will maximize strategic outcomes.
2. What sets a CPO apart from a CIO/CTO?
I have met and spoken with a number of CIOs on this topic. The main differences are subject matter expertise, their strategy lens and their place in the corporate value chain. A CIO/CTO tends to be more upstream in a value chain. They are mainly accountable for information technology strategy and defining the future information and technology architecture of a business. The CIO/CTO role has become increasingly complex over the years as more companies struggle with accelerating advancements in technology, digitization and cyber-related challenges. This has meant that their focus has had to change in order to be effective in navigating these challenges. This involves a certain level of strategic thinking, information technology know-how, global connections and technical skills in order to be successful. A CPO tends to be downstream from the CIO/CTO. The CPO’s contribution is to work with the CIO/CTO to frame project alternatives, select the right projects, help prioritize programs and projects, identify and develop key talent to lead major technology initiatives, develop and maintain project methodologies and to provide quality assurance over project delivery. This way, the CIO/CTO does not need to worry about delivery sufficiency and project management competency.
3. How does a CPO differ from a head of Portfolio Management?
The difference between a CPO and a Head of Portfolio Management is more complex to define. This is because most companies have a Head of Portfolio Management before they create a CPO. The main difference between the two roles would be separating genuine portfolio management and planning from project portfolio delivery. The different roles would emerge because a business has grown large enough to warrant the Head of Portfolio Management to focus on optimizing the corporate portfolio, balancing trade-offs and priorities within each business unit and ensuring that the right mix of projects are funded. These high stakes trade-off and portfolio re-balancing activities would detract from the same person also focusing on how well each of the funded projects are performing. In companies that have many projects in-flight at any one time, the CPO becomes a critical function to monitor the delivery aspects of these projects, without also having to be concerned with optimizing the project portfolio.
4. Is Agile one of the skills a CPO needs in their toolkit?
I know there is a lot of debate at the moment about agile. I like to frame the debate as being about agile as a mindset vs agile as a method. I believe a CPO needs agile as a mindset in their toolkit, not so much agile as a method. Of course, knowing about all project methodologies is very useful for any executive to have. However, a CPO, or any project professional, will be more effective if they can demonstrate flexibility and agility in how they approach a particular project. Methodology alone is not that important. What’s more important is knowing how to be an effective leader, understanding your customer and knowing which combination of tools in your toolkit will get the best outcome.
5. How do you see the future growth of CPO's?
I believe every decent sized organization needs a CPO. I feel that there are quite a lot of CPOs out there at the moment, however, they are probably operating under different role titles. As these people start to become more valued in their organizations for their ability to advance project delivery and to drive successful outcomes, we will see their roles relabeled to CPO, which will give the impression of a sudden increase in this critical function. The same thing happened in the mid 90s with CIOs. Before CIO became mainstream amongst the C-suite, they were IT Managers. The IT Manager role elevated to CIO when these IT managers started to have a greater say over company strategy and technology became an increasing factor in strategic objectives. The same will happen with the growth in CPOs. Increasing digitization across all industries, disruption from an increasing number of start-ups and greater pressure on CEOs and Boards to deliver greater returns to shareholders will result in new strategies to combat these challenges. These strategies will be achieved through successful project delivery, so you will see more projects in future and hence a growing need for a CPO.
You may be asking what does the role of the CPO have to do with SCRUM? I am happy you asked. The answer may exist in one of the answers from Peter himself. One of the key competencies in the CPO's toolkit is an Agile mindset, and while he stresses mindset over method (quite rightly so), most organizations apply a framework for delivering Agile projects. The most popular framework being SCRUM of course. In fact, Telstra adopts SCRUM which I guess is the cherry on top.
So fellow Scrumians, thank you for reading this latest blog post, and a personal thank you to Peter Moutsatsos (LinkedIn profile) for his great responses and contribution to the project management world.
Thank you for your interest in the Scrumptious blog. If you have any ideas for Scrum topics, please message me here. Until next time, remember, projects can be Scrumptious!