I was in a group roundtable discussion at the last PMI Tulsa Chapter meeting in which we discussed the various “generations” that are presently in play in the workforce, and the implications that this wide variation of working styles has for project work.  One project manager brought up his work with virtual teams on projects.  While he had formed an opinion of his team members’ expertise through their virtual collaborations via email and instant messaging, he found that once he encountered his team members on Facebook, and understood their backgrounds and their interests, he formed a more “informed” opinion and a greater appreciation for their competencies.  His team members’ Facebook profiles allowed him to see them in the real context of their everyday lives, including their extended interests, passions, and purpose.  The combination of the virtual team’s collaboration, and the team’s interactions on Facebook, allowed a more complete picture of the team’s capabilities, which contributed to the team’s current and future project success.

Several other roundtable participants, however, chimed in that they believed that the interest in “social media” would die down and be less of an influence in project work.  There were about as many different opinions of the role of social media in project management and the modern Program Management Office (PMO) as there were people at the table.

I am certain all of us have had similar discussions in recent months because the project community cannot escape the fact that “openness” now rules the collaborative nature of our daily interactions and our lives.

The role of social media and “opennness” continues to unfold every day with new forms and branches of social media being utilized by the general public in a variety of ways.  To the extent that more and more of the public embrace and use social media, it will find its way into more facets of our everyday lives.  It will become a necessity just as “personal communications” using phones and blackberries will be an assumed vehicle of existence.

So, what will be the role of social media (and open L\leadership) in the modern PMO?  Well, it depends.

It depends on the mindset of your PMO’s leadership with regard to the use of any form of media to connect your PMO’s employees and processes with the external environment and the PMO’s stakeholders. 

Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at The University of Toronto, has stated the problem in this way: 

“The struggle in balancing openness and control is a universal human problem.  While most leaders agree that greater transparency and authenticity can lead to significant benefits, many remain paralyzed by the risks involved in opening up the lines of communication with their stakeholders.  Tapping into the power of social technologies isn’t about mastering the latest shiny technologies, but instead having a clear idea of the relationships you want to form with your stakeholders.”  (From the introductory pages of Open Leadership by Charlene Li.)

How the PMO’s leadership sees itself in this new social environment is very important to the types of decisions that the PMO makes as to how it will employ these new social technologies.  In fact, in her new book, Open Leadership, Charlene Li of the Altimeter Group has used the phrase “Social Leadership” to focus on how organizations will development to handle these new social technologies.

Social leadership is defined as having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitments from people to accomplish goals. 

First, if your PMO is still in the mode of looking at itself as a “cost center”–as many IT PMOs generally see themselves these days–then your approach to social media will probably be to see it as a drag on employee productivity and a cost increase item due to the linkage with the external environment and stakeholders.

But, if your PMO sees itself as a strategic partner with the other business/functional groups in the organization, then you will probably approach social media as an “opportunistic” and “value” addition vehicle.

The fact is, the PMO is like any organization.  It develops a “culture” over time which, in essence, is “the way things get done here.”  Key processes constituting organizational culture are information and communication flow, decision making and authority flow, and human resources flow. 

Organizational cultures tend to exist on a continuous spectrum between “closed” and “open” systems.  Once a culture is established, it is difficult to change.

This observation comes from experience.

When I worked for ConocoPhillips, the corporation was a “member company” of a group known as the Information Technology Research Institute (ITRI) of the Walton School of Business at The University of Arkansas.    Other typical “member companies” were Tyson Foods, Dillard’s, Walmart, Federal Express, J.B. Hunt , and Dell

The ITRI “member companies” sent representatives to meetings at U of A several times a year to discuss Information Technology and Project Management issues as they impacted the work of the various member companies.  I was often a participant in these discussions, and even facilitated a PMO Roundtable meeting. 

Each year, the ITRI identifies a “Top Ten List of IT Issues” which they believe will impact the member companies’ IT and business strategies in the near future.  It is always interesting to look back at how this list has changed over the last ten years to see what hot topics have risen to the top of the list.  Project Management and PMO operations, for example, have steadily risen on the list.  Innovation and Business Intelligence have appeared and moved up the list. 

During the 2008-2009 year, the Top Ten list was expanded to Twelve issues because of the emergence of two additional issues–Value Management and Social Networking.

The new ITRI Social Networking topic has the following description: 

“The explosive adoption of tools such as Twitter and Facebook have created new modes of personal and mass communication in the last 18 months, but business remains unsure of its benefit within the corporate walls.  Citing potential productivity decreases and the need to control corporate messaging, many companies have adopted a wait and see approach to this rapidly evolving phenomenon.”   (from the ITRI 2008-2009 Annual Report)

Now, keep in mind that this is a group made up of “member companies” who have embraced the evolution of the use of the Program Management Office (PMO) as a key delivery tool for project value to the organization. 

Professor Puneet Manchanda of the Ross School of Business at The University of Michigan conducts ongoing research in social interactions, social networking and social media.  

Manchanda recommends that companies pursue both “active” and “passive” strategies with regard to social media.  In the “passive” mode, organizations will gain valuable information about their particular subject by monitoring what others have to say about their day to day tools, methods, and practices. 

For example, evaluation of new tools, methods, and practices for Project and Portfolio Management will be played out in social media by those whose interests are in either (1) using the tools, methods and practices in their own business context or (2) those who wish to advance the use of such practices in the community at large.  A PMO can gain valuable insights by merely monitoring the “conversations” taking place in that community and taking action accordingly.

Alternatively, an organization can take an “active” role in social media as it shapes the landscape for tools, methods, and practices of its discipline by taking particular positions that would advance its own particular way of doing business in its culture and context.  The various “stakeholders” which a PMO serves could then be kept in tune with the latest thoughts and actions of the PMO and, in many cases, could be asked to participate in the development of new tools, methods, and practices. 

This would be a powerful approach; it would build that all-important element of “commitment” which every PMO needs from all stakeholders.

Charlene Li in her book Open Leadership identifies four major themes in the transformation of an organization such as a PMO to an open, social media organization:

1.  Values drive the vision

2.  Leaders set the tone and the example for others to follow

3.  Extending the old culture into the new–if culture is made up of norms and values, the organization must define new processes to define how these relationships will work.

4.  Systems and structure sustain the transformation–supporting the new culture are new incentives and recognition systems, as well as revamped processes and procedures that govern interactions both internal and external to the organization.

Let’s take two examples of how this might operate in a PMO which “actively” uses social media. 

First, you may recall from a previous blog post that I advocated gathering project lessons learned at major break points in the project or, as some of you might say, at various stage gates.  The project manager could solicit project feedback from team members, sponsors and other stakeholders using social media such as Twitter.  A key to this change in the business process would be how this feedback is collected, reviewed for common themes, documented and shared with all project participants.

Second, let’s assume an example where a design point has been reached in a project where a potential scope change might occur depending on the tradeoffs and decisions that need to be made jointly between the project team and the stakeholders.  Once again, social media such as Twitter could be used to “inform,” “solicit feedback,” and “facilitate” the decision and sign off of the resulting scope change if necessary. 

You can see how both of these examples require certain norms, values, and beliefs to be supported by and in turn support the essential business processes. 

Trust and commitment are assumed ingredients supporting the scenario of Open Leadership.

Are there organizations that we can examine as case studies in how to structure processes, incentives, rewards, values, and beliefs in order to support the new open reality of collaboration? 

Cisco and Proctor and Gamble are two such organizations cited in Charlene Li’s book that Project Managers can study for clues our own PMO transformation. 

Make no mistake!!!  This does not have to be a major upheaval of existing processes and relationships.  But its success does rely on trust, authenticity and a willingness to approach control of key organizational processes in new ways.

This will certainly be a topic for discussion for many years to come as PMOs and social media tools and approaches advance. 

I would be interested in your insights about how you think PMOs will be impacted based on your experience working in a PMO environment.

Be Sociable, Share!