Last week another PMO practitioner in a related industry asked me the question “How do you know how mature your PMO is at any given time?  Is there a measure or gauge for maturity that you can use to determine your current state?”

This is an extremely timely question in today’s project and program management environment.  And I am sure there are many different answers to this question that might address some or most aspects of maturity. 

Before we tackle this question, however, let’s ask another question:  “Why does it matter?”

Those of you who work in software and hardware development organizations that supply the Government with products and services know that the standards established by the Software Engineering Institute’s Capability Maturity Model (SEI CMM) are used by the Government procurement functions to gauge maturity of the project management processes in those supplier firms.  So, in that context, maturity is relevant, adds value, and has a recognized measurement standard.

To those organizations who are not suppliers to Government, and therefore not subject to the application of SEI CMM standards, a slightly different measurement process is applicable.  In some cases, your PMO organizations may have chosen to use the SEI CMM framework as a “guideline” for gauging maturity.  And, if so, it is really up to the individual PMO to decide whether to implement plans to move up the maturity ladder a certain distance.  Indeed, it is really up to each individual PMO to decide whether it wants to move all the way to Level Five.  Business context and cost/benefit for improvements should be the gauge here.

Several years ago, PMI launched a survey study addressing the question “Is Project Management relevant or a Worthwhile Discipline for organizations to invest in along with their other business processes?”  After a great deal of study and review, the answer was that Project Management is worthwhile as long as it adds “value” in the business context in which it is applied.   This issue of “value” is key when determining maturity, and your organization’s pace of development as well.

There are many ways to address maturity.  The Software Engineering Institute, working with PMI, has developed an Organization Maturity Model (OMM) which uses the five stage SEI CMM model as a framework, and Categories of metrics such as People, PPM Processes, Technology, Financial Management, and Relationships.  Many companies have chosen to define a plan for improving their maturity level using the “typical behaviors and characteristics” in the matrix formed by the SEI CMM five stages and the Categories above.  This is an entirely acceptable method to use.

I would propose a slightly different method which can be tailored more to your organizational context and to your interpretation of activities and behaviors within your own project management processes.

Suppose, for example, that we define a very basic project management process as having four phases:  Initiation, Planning, Execution, and Close.  Compare your PMO organization’s PM process to this very basic model and make sure that it includes each phase.  Obviously, if you have a PMO in place, your organization has advanced its project processes to a point where there is probably a lot more detail than just these four phases.

Now, give your assessment of the “value” provided by your current PMO process, and gauge it by the value provided by the four step or phase process given above.  Think about how the performance of the process is measured, and the various portions of PMBOK that are included in your process.  Ask yourself the question “Is there any one area of PMBOK that is not providing the expected value?  If there is more than one area, then prioritize the work, giving highest priority to a plan to improve the PMBOK area most in need of upgrading.

Recall that the PMBOK Management areas are:


Time (Performance vs. Schedule)

Cost (Performance vs. Budget)


Human Resource


Risk, and

Procurement (including materials and vendor services).

For example, Project Controls usually encompasses such PMBOK Management areas as Time, Cost and Quality.  If the Project Controls aspect of the PMO project performance is not meeting expectations, then changes to the Project Controls area can be made to upgrade the maturity.  If the vendor services portion of Procurement is lacking, it can be addressed with initiatives focusing on the Vendor Management Process.  Signs for the need for upgrade often appear in Audits and Control Reviews of projects.  Stakeholder surveys are also another good source of feedback concerning what is going well and not so well with project execution, planning and delivery.

This type of maturity assessment and plan is more actionable than one derived from using the Organizational Maturity Model cited above.  Usually an organization will use benchmarking to assess its processes versus other recognized or accepted processes from other authoritative project references.  Also, organizations such as Gartner, Forrester or the Corporate Executive Board are excellent resources for determining Best Practices which can be applied the business context of a specific PMO.

If you apply this technique in your PMO, you will be adding more “depth” or layers of project management “processes” to your PMO PM process.  This “depth” can be added until you feel that the full “value” of the PM process has been reached.  From a continuous improvement perspective, every organization should continually be asking itself the question “What do I need to address to improve overall PM value to the organization and to the stakeholders?”

Where does this type of maturity assessment and plan come from?  It comes from my observations of a number of PMOs at various stages of maturity, each trying a different process of asssessing its maturity and then moving forward with appropriate plans.  What I have done here is synthesize a process whereby easy steps can be taken by most PMO members to move the PMO forward in maturity.

Try this assessment on your PMO either informally or formally and give me some feedback on its merits.

Ultimately, after all is said and done, I believe that we all are searching for “happiness” in our lives.  It’s that combination of emotions, activities and long lasting collaborations which bring us satisfaction and enjoyment from living everyday.

When my daughter was married six years ago, I gave a toast in which I addressed “happiness.”  I said that happiness really consisted of three different things. 

First, if you think back to the past to those things that you have shared with your loved ones, which have made you feel good and fulfilled, that was a first step to happiness. 

Second, if you think about the present day and those events and emotions you share with your loved ones which bring you special joy in the present moment, that is a second ingredient to happiness. 

Third, and most importantly, if you think about the “anticipation” of those things you will share with your loved ones in the future, and how you can work to enrich those experiences for each other, then that is the ultimate ingredient for happiness.  

Lou Tice has often said that “People move toward and become like that which they think about.” 

Thinking about and anticipating happy experiences in the future will help to bring them about and make them an integral part of your life.

My toast was very sincere and heartfelt.  I wanted to leave a lasting impression for my daughter and her husband to be to contemplate as they approached the future together.

Much the same thing can be said about project managers.  I believe that each project manager is seeking “happiness” in his or her own context of the project and the project community.  To really achieve “happiness,” a project manager must look back, examine the present, and anticipate the future.

As a project manager, where are you seeking happiness in your projects?   Perhaps you never thought about a project or a project team being a source of happiness.  But, if you believe my initial premise that all of us are ultimately seeking happiness in our everyday lives, then a project manager must really address his entire experience in–and out of–projects.


This past week was the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans.  The commentary on “Meet the Press” stated that it was the largest “man-made” disaster in U.S. history; not the largest “natural disaster.”  Why?  Because at some point in the past, a large (failed) project was undertaken to reinforce New Orleans’ levee system.  This project was supposed to reinforce the levees so that they could withstand the flood waters of anticipated hurricanes and storms.  Unfortunately, the levee system failed during Katrina. 

A new levee system is now being installed by the Army Corps of Engineers.  There are many lessons learned resulting from the previous levees’ failure during Katrina, as well as many years’ data from previous storms and from computer simulations.  These lessons learned are currently being addressed by the design of the new levee system.

What is the actual cost for failure to capture and share project lessons learned?  Aside from the human cost of storms like Katrina, what is the actual “project” cost that is incurred by not capturing, documenting, sharing, and institutionalizing project lessons learned?  How can we get a manageable and actionable handle on the real contribution of project lessons learned on “saving” future project cost?

The answer to this question obviously depends on many factors:  the complexity of the project, the number of systems impacted, the number of dependencies of project info with other like systems, etc.  How can we get a handle on this type of information, and of what value would it be if we were to understand and apply it?

I once studied with a professor whose favorite expression was “Analysis is the Essence.” 

It did not really dawn on me what that statement meant until I encountered some business situations where bad decisions resulted in a failure to meet objectives such as “on time, on budget.”  In these cases, it seemed to me that the logical sequence of events should be “analysis” followed by “rational thought” followed by “decisions to proceed” followed by “actions.”

We all know that while it is easy to recommend to others courses of action, or specific rationale, or well-thought-out research findings, it is very difficult for others to actually follow-up, and to take the recommended courses of action. 

Why is that?  I believe that everyone has a tendency to believe that if they did not think of an idea themselves, then that idea is not of value to their ongoing, daily processes.  And they may also be biased, and emotionally involved in the decision, so that their “rationality” does not shine through.  As is often said, you can clearly lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.  It takes motivation and capability.

People decide to take courses of action based upon recommendations from others based on the credibility that they attach to the advice-giver, and the usefulness of previous directions from that person.  Leaders become leaders because they continually disallow their own thinking in favor of the more qualified thinking of their peers and associates; they have learned over time that their own thinking provides merely one perspective of a scenario that really demands many viewpoints to assess, understand, and take action upon. 

So, how do you get people to embrace project lessons learned–first, as a logical step in the project management process, and second, as a rational, thought-based process to provide information for future decisions about project work?

In the course of assisting project teams and PMOs with developing project lessons learned, I have often encountered a resistance to take the time to develop and capture lessons learned, and to share this information with others.  Emotional entanglement–as well as a lack of motivation in the sense that no immediate reward will be forthcoming (and perhaps that negative consequences may ensue)–often dictates the action or inaction.  And I am sure, if you are actively engaged in project work in a PMO, that you have encountered the same.

So let me suggest another tactic.

There is a cost to be borne by the PMO for not capturing and sharing project lessons learned. 

To get a simple model for this cost, let’s assume a model that is often used to get across the point that introducing changes at various key points in a project introduces additional cost to accommodate those changes.

If a project has, for example, four distinct phases, and if a change is introduced during the first phase that costs $10, that same change may cost $100 if introduced during the second phase, $1000 if introduced during the third phase, and $10,000 if introduced during the fourth phase. 

Now, suppose that a project lesson learned is identified in phase four, and that project lesson learned could impact a change at that point, so that the original change in phase one would cost 0.001 times as much. 

Suppose two or three project lessons learned could be identified for every project.   Thinking in an integrative manner to identify where projects could have been improved at previous project phases can deliver real cost savings.  The point here that you should grasp is not whether the savings is 0.001 times the final cost of the change but that this perspective can yield significant savings to any project, no matter how complex or simple.   Train yourself as a project manager to think in these terms and you will always be able to find significant “opportunities” in lessons learned.

Hard dollar reductions are the result of project lessons learned.

What is the situation in your PMO?  Are project managers willing to share project lessons learned?  Does the organization have a process for documenting and sharing project lessons learned to future project teams? 

I would like your feedback on this subject.  Thank you.

In recent blog posts,  I have discussed how individual project and program managers can improve their capabilities and performance through some simple, yet very tangible and actionable, everyday tasks in the project process. 

I want to turn now to “benchmarking”, an area which can be applied to improve performance on several “scales”, whether it be overall performance of a PMO group, of an individual group within a PMO, or a single person’s performance.

Benchmarking is the comparison of a known state or condition of a group or process to another “defined standard” group or process which, in the eyes of  the benchmarker, represents a level of performance or activity that is desired in one’s own group, process or person. 

Benchmarking also introduces “innovation” into your organization.

Now what does this really mean?

In order to have a meaningful “benchmarking” exercise, you must first define an “as is” base case that describes the current situation with regard to a process, group, or person, and which adequately describes the level of performance.

Next, you must seek another “reference” group which, in your eyes, represents a “to be” state of performance which you seek to emulate within your own group  or process.

Where can you locate such a “reference” group?  Outside organization such as Gartner, Forrester, or the Corporate Executive Board  can provide a good starting point in terms of processes, the expected behavior and activities of these processes, and ways in which you could measure the performance of these processes.

If you are examining actual PMO processes, look at the standard-bearer companies like American Express, Marriott and Eli Lilly & Company   for your reference group benchmark.  Similarly,  if you want to benchmark in other processes, such as Purchasing and Supply Chain Management, look at the titans–Motorola, HP, and Deere & Co.

You can readily see the power of this approach–it can be applied at the total PMO organization level, an individual internal PMO group level, or even at the individual person contributor level within the PMO.

Benchmarking has been successfully employed by thousands of organizations, even when they had little benchmarking experience when they began the process.  The key to a successful benchmarking exercise is a desire to improve.  Once an individual or a group decides to get better at whatever the process or task of the group might be, the wheels of successful benchmarking are put in place.

You can be a leader in the benchmarking effort of your PMO.  It takes a desire to contribute to the improved performance of the group and a “capability” to perform.  As we have seen in previous blog posts, capability is enhanced with “education and training.”  You should seek out knowledgeable references on “benchmarking”, and other companies in the PMO field who exhibit good PMO performance characteristics.  Talk to your local PMI Chapter, or to a local PMOSIG group.  They can assist in your selection of appropriate PMO performance measures.

Good luck–I look forward to your feedback!

I have noticed recently, in the Discussion sections of  LinkedIn’s Project Managers, PMO, and PMO Bloggers Groups, that aspiring young project managers have been requesting advice from more experienced project managers and PMO leaders as to what steps they can take to enhance their ability to move forward in the “project community” and to advance their project management skills. 

From my point of view, having worked in several PMOs and IT Project Offices, as well as having assisted in the setup of several PMOs, I would like to offer the following advice, which follows from something I read by Jillian Michaels, the very successful coach of the hit TV show “The Biggest Loser“.

Jillian once said that individuals and organizations can accomplish anything they want to accomplish as long as they are sufficiently motivated and have the “capability” to succeed. 

My advice is focused on the aspect of “capability” because there is much that aspiring project managers can do to enhance their “capability.”  Capability means educating oneself and understanding the business context within which they are operating.

By aspiring young project managers, I actually mean project team members who are qualified to move up to managing projects but who haven’t found that right project to manage yet OR project managers who have just assumed a new project management assignment for which they must prepare themselves to fully succeed.

Here are five areas in which aspiring young project managers can enhance their “capabilities.”  These five areas will leverage your understanding of the project process, as well as increase your stature among other project managers in the “project community.”

First, volunteer to record the minutes at an important project status meeting.  Be sure to find or create a template that captures the participants, the date and time of the meeting, the agenda, the actions agreed to, the assignments for each participant as well as any completion dates, any issues that were not resolved, and the date and time of the next meeting.  Too many project teams lapse into keeping very poor documentation of their meetings and therefore, accountability for completing assignments is lost.  By volunteering for this assignment, you will provide a key document to the project team from which they can build on throughout the project.

Second, at the conclusion and documentation of the project requirements, survey the sponsor and the stakeholders to understand that they really know what requirements they have signed up for and the “commitment” that is required to carry out the project.  By doing so, you will have input into any “Scope Change” that may arise ahead of the actual requirements modification.  This will increase your understanding of the project process and your stature among other project managers.

Third, at the conclusion of the first major phase of the project, insist that the project team hold a “lessons learned” session.  They will thank you later even though you may have to drag them to the table kicking and screaming to participate in the first session.  So many things get uncovered when you “shine a little light on something” or “focus” on the actions and results at this point.  Famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said “It is what you learn after you know it all that counts.”  This has terrific application in project lessons learned.

Fourth, find a key “issue” that seems to divide the project team members or the stakeholders and follow that issue by recording key actions and decisions made by the team and the stakeholders.  At an appropriate point in the project, when it appears that the project team or the stakeholders or both have reached an impasse or a stumbling point, pull out your summary of the actions and decisions and review it with the combined project group.  Some may not appreciate being confronted with the facts, others may disagree with your “facts” or your interpretation–but no one can disagree with the harmony that will result down the road when they begin to see each others different perspectives and viewpoints, and the fact that a “rational, realistic” observer brought these viewpoints to their attention.  You may have won yourself a job!!!!

Your facilitation of a bumpy issue by offering extraordinary insight and “analysis” is the key.  “Analysis is the essence.”

Fifth, practice the four communications mechanisms that I discussed in one of my previous blogs:

1.  Situational

2.  Metaphorical

3.  Empathic

4.  Resonance

I use the word “practice” here because it will take the aspiring new project manager some time to understand the situations in which these four communications mechanisms will be most effective.  But they all have a place at some point in a project.  By using these communication tools, your “effectiveness” as a project communicator will be enhanced many fold.

By the way, you won’t find this advice anywhere else–it is unique to taking a “holistic” view as to what a project is all about and to understanding how stakeholders impact projects. 

Good luck to you “aspiring project leaders.”  Yes, you are and will be leaders if you follow this advice.

The Best in all that you pursue…….

I once worked with a college professor whose reference books on his desk had notations in the margins which consisted of columns of scribbled, handwritten dates such as “8/25/1982.”   When I questioned him about the notations, some of which consisted of five or six dates in a column in the margin, he said that many of the “topics” and “subjects” were really recurring themes in his research work.  The only difference was the social or environmental or technical “context” at the particular time he reexamined the topic.   So to remind himself of those “contexts,” he placed dates in the columns as documentation of the different perspectives he had experienced.

When I thought back on this situation, it occurred to me that a topic I had written about during my days in the ConocoPhillips Program Management Office (PMO), and which was published in the company’s newsletter several years ago, had even more significance to the project community now than it did when I originally wrote it.  So, I decided to resurrect this topic, which roughly can be termed “Change Creates Opportunity.”

You see, in the turbulent times in which we find ourselves today, with uncertainty at every turn, and no assurance that a well-intended decision-based action will, in fact, create the significant long-lasting result that were intended at the outset or at the decision point, we need a “theme” around which to rally our efforts.

I have worked for five major petroleum companies over a twenty-five year period, and I was involved in at least three major mergers.  Accordingly, I often have thought that my middle name is “transition.”

Here are some resources that I used to adapt to the changed, post-merger environment during those transitions. 

These concepts were introduced by William Bridges in his book JobShift: How to Prosper in a Workplace without Jobs. You may also be familiar with Bridges as the author of Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, a highly acclaimed book which discusses how people respond physically, emotionally and intellectually to the transitions and changes in their lives.

The approach set out by Bridges takes advantage of your unique skill set and competencies; tools that you can use to contribute to your PMO’s success.

Bridges’ main theme is that “change creates opportunity.”  While change does tend to destroy old opportunities, the bigger implication for you, personally, is that change creates new “needs” within an organization. Many of these needs go unmet until someone recognizes them and takes action. Change relocates the opportunity by changing internal customer needs and the terms under which success is possible. 

What does this mean?

 An employee should consider the workplace as a “market” with supply and demand forces at work.  By looking at the “supply of” and “demand for” services and needs on a continual basis, you can determine what roles and skills are necessary and act accordingly.

In this type of market environment, you must learn to find the needs that are not being effectively or economically met by others–both inside and outside the organizational boundary (because external contractors and vendors can and often do meet these very same needs). This shift in thinking replaces the idea that job roles are restricted to only their formal definitions, and allows an employee more autonomy and ownership of their contributions to the PMO.

Change also creates new interfaces. These interfaces may be a face-off between two organizations, between a business and its environment, between two patterns of experience and expectations, or between new technologies and users of old technologies. 

Because interfaces juxtapose value systems, assumptions, needs, and languages, they create “unmet” needs. They demand workers who are good at brokering, translating, interpreting, training, linking, facilitating, negotiating, and servicing. These activities bridge the gap in comprehension and familiarity created by the interface. For example, your group may need assistance from the Global Internal Audit group to assess standards and processes in your work area or your project, but no one may be assigned to provide this linkage. The first step would be recognizing the need.  The second would be assessing what type of skill or competency is required to fill the gap. The third would be effectively closing the gap.

So, what does this imply for your day-to-day activities within the PMO?

Continually scan the environment for these unmet needs that define the marketplace for your group.   Be aware of what skill sets and competencies exist in your group for satisfying a variety of these needs.  Act as a facilitator or provide the linkage (REMEMBER THE LINCHPIN?) whenever possible to close the supply and demand gap for services.

Remember: “Change Creates Opportunity.”

The market will continually change but, by developing skills to recognize, adapt to, and fill the market’s changed needs, you add value for yourself and the PMO.

Is your PMO ready to meet the “unmet” needs in the marketplace?  Is is ready to react to a change as large as a corporate takeover? 

The rate of change is increasing. 

Today, there is a “groundswell” of needs being satisfied through social media by varied stakeholders (rather than the traditional supply route of institutions).  New external requirements, such as Smart Grid, or Sustainability, or Carbon Footprint, or “the Green Movement”,  are other examples of forces requiring a change response within the PMO organizational framework. 

I encourage you personally to think about the concept of “Change Creates Opportunity.”  It is a perspective that creates win-win solutions.

If you have other changes you have experienced in your PMO, please share them with our project community through the Comments.

Thank you!!!

I genuinely want to share my experiences developing several Program Management Offices (PMO) and an IT Project Office with others who may be facing the same issues and similar situations.  I believe that I have valuable insights about the behavior of project teams, project managers, stakeholders and project organizations that are worthy of sharing with others.   The comments that I have received on my posts from the “project community” have supported my belief.

What do I mean by the word “community” and the phrase “project community”? 

In my mind, a “community” is a loosely connected group of people who have common interests in a field or discipline.  They are all interested in the growth and well-being of that field or discipline. 

A “community” need not be all in the same organization or in the same geographical area.  It does, however, need some framework for sharing information and collaboration.  Such a framework allows the community to benefit from the work of its members, from the input of outsiders whose ideas impinge on the community environment, from academics, and other researchers. 

Social Media and Social Technology facilitate such a community environment.

Rich Maltzman, who writes “Scope Crepe“, first alerted me to the importance of a “project community.”   We were talking about the evolution of PMOs–from strictly IT PMOs, or Shared Services PMOs with a particular “mindset,” to Enterprise PMOs (EPMO), and to PMOs designed to serve specific targeted project goals and objectives or requirements (such as Smart Grid with some utilities). 

Rich said that regardless of how many PMOs there were in an organization, it was important to maintain a sense of “project community” across the PMOs.  “Communities” contribute to the well being and ongoing growth of the members of the community.

In her book Open Leadership, Charlene Li presents an excellent model of “engagement” that could apply to either an organization or an individual engaging a community.  The hierarchy of increasing engagement proceeds as follows:

1.  Watching

2.  Sharing

3.  Commenting

4.  Producing

5.  Curating

The evolution of this blog has followed this model. 

First, I watched as the “project community” embraced the PMBOK, and the literature surrounding the progress of projects in a corporation from early simple executions to large scale executions of tremendous strategic importance to the corporation.  At this point, the PMI and its chapters engaged with the “project community” via publications, on-line web sites, and periodic meetings throughout the world. 

As I progressed through the stages of Sharing and Commenting, I was reacting to the written and spoken words of others in the “project community” who were contributing to the processes, standards, and methods by which good Project Management Practice was being spread throughout the community. 

Now with the stage of Producing, I am contributing to the literature and culture of the “project community” with my own unique observations, analysis and insights.  

I feel that the Curating stage lies ahead because I am still a “youngster” when it comes to “contributing.”  Social mediums, such as blogging, have certainly furthered this journey–and, yes, it is a “journey” of growth and awakening and finding out how much I don’t know about things I should know.

I also write this blog because it has restored some sense of “identity” to me.  When my manager at Exterran Corporation informed me in October 2009 that my company position or job had been eliminated in a budget cut, that my services were no longer required, and that I should clean out my desk and leave the building, I was amazed by my own loss of “identity.”  Like many other people, I largely associated myself, my work life, and my accomplishments with a “Corporation.” 

If you have seen the movie “Up in the Air“, this experience was very much like sitting across the desk from George Clooney and listening to him say, in his monotone voice:

“You are being terminated from the Company and I will need your access badge.  Please be prepared to leave the building as soon as possible with your personal belongings in this box.  And don’t worry.  All  your questions will be answered if you read what’s in this small packet.”

Authoring this blog has renewed my sense that I have something worth saying, something worth contributing, something worth reading and assimilating into the day-to-day “project environment” that the “project community” lives every day. 

The “Journey” has not been without its setbacks though.

Recently I sat across the desk from a manager at a major energy company who said to me  “You know what your problem is?  You have no ‘brand.’  You come to me with no ‘brand’ that you can identify yourself with.  That means you are really unknown.” 

How untrue.  My brand–and my mission–is to give the “Project Community” the substance that it needs when it most needs it.

The head of a major executive search firm recently said to me “You know what your problem is?  You are like so many other people out there right now with too much time on your hands.   So you write this junk and think others will care about it.” 

The project community does care about these issues.  The proof lies in the comments to this blog and the constant positive feedback that I have received.

What I have to say is directly related to events in our world today.  The BP crisis in the Gulf points to the fact that we really have not learned our lessons from previous mishaps.  Someone needs to keep reminding us.

The Social Media revolution is an event that we cannot deny.  People are relying on other people–through social media–to satisfy their wants and needs; needs they once satisfied by going to established stores, banks, or other institutions.   Charlene Li referred to this phenomenon as a “groundswell“–a social trend whereby people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions such as corporations.

So, why do I write this blog?  To “connect” to the “project community” and hopefully, to give that community back as much as it has given me over the past twenty or thirty years. 

If everyone were to approach their interactions in a similar manner, they could find the “self direction,” “mastery,” and “Purpose” that Daniel Pink writes about in Drive.

I urge you to consider how you can contribute and give to the “project community.”  What skills, experience, ideas, innovations and specifics can you contribute to everyone who wants to grow and nurture the project discipline in the same manner?  What project lessons can you share with another project manager who is facing a similar situation or scenario?  What project analysis did you perform which led to successful completion of some very difficult phase of a project that you could share with your “project community?”

If you are watching, sharing and commenting to the work of others in some fashion, I urge you to consider “Contributing” through your writing, observations and insights about projects and programs.  Your reward in returns of new information, insights and knowledge will be amazing.

As usual, your comments are welcome.  Thank you for your readership.

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.

“The mastery of risk is the foundation of modern life, from insurance to the stock market to engineering, science, and medicine.  We cannot see the future, but by calculating probabilities, we can do the next best thing:  make intelligent decisions–and take control of our lives–on the basis of scientific forecasts.”  Peter BernsteinAgainst the Gods:  The Remarkable Story of Risk.

“I am used to thinking three or four months in advance about what I must do, and I calculate on the worst.  If I take so many precautions, it is because it is my custom to leave nothing to chance.”  Napoleon I, in a conversation with Marshall Murat, March 14, 1808. 

With the current deepwater oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico occupying much of the news lately, we have heard a lot of rhetoric about “risk” and how BP and the United States should have developed a risk management plan as a contingency in case such an event were to occur.  It is obvious that many people feel that the principal parties involved in the exploration, drilling, and production had no risk management plan in place. 

I suspect that is far from the truth. 

Modern project management practices include risk analysis and risk management as key and integral components of any operating and business plan involving assets and resources. 

Deepwater Horizon Fire--courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard

Every operational move in the portfolio of projects has key risk management activities that are focused on the two key aspects of risk:

1.  The probability of an event occurring.

2.  The impact of that event if it should occur.

These aspects are then analyzed based on prior information, other incidents, and events, in order to determine a four-quadrant layout of potential risk outcomes.  Typically, companies place the most emphasis on the quadrant of high probability of occurrence and high impact when developing their mitigation and contingency plans. 

The truth is that most mitigation plans and contingency plans are never revealed to the public by project teams unless an event sparks a response.  But that does not mean that the mitigation and contingency plans don’t exist.

Even prior to the project being initiated, most larger companies employ a risk analysis in their overall Internal Audit plan in order to identify risks involving the geopolitical climate for projects, the resource risk, the technology risk, etc.  The Audit universe of projects is then subject to scrutiny as to which possible risks present the greatest exposure to the company.  In other words, which possible risks represent the greatest adverse implications for revenue and profit generation (and possibly, environmental outcomes). 

This analysis, in turn, identifies whether the company should focus additional key resources on areas of high potential for risk events.   For example, if software or hardware development or new technology is considered a high-risk component of a project, then the Internal Audit staff usually provides key IT or other technology resources to guide the project team development in that area.

At the planning stage of major projects, risk is analyzed as an integral part of the Project Charter and Business Case development to alert the Authorizing Leadership Group of potential upside and downsides from project activities.  Indeed, a key and integral part of the decision to pursue the project often focuses on “risk.”

Throughout the project, risk is monitored closely.  Adjustments are made when new risks emerge, and some risks are moderated by project activities.  For example, if the project involves the proveout of new technology during the course of the project, the new technology development is monitored throughout the project so that mitigation plans can be employed at a moment’s notice. 

As part of the Lessons Learned exercise at the completion of a project, the risk management plan is reviewed for its completeness and accuracy of depiction of the events of the project.

So far my discussion has been somewhat “textbook” in nature following the usual Planning, Execution, Close and Lessons Learned aspects of any well defined process.

But, if we examine the reality of the risk management process with actual practice, you will see that there are two aspects of risk analysis and risk management that we have not introduced to this point–the concepts of interpretation and judgment

These concepts are concerned with the Leadership aspects of projects.  The actual application of interpretation and judgment to real life risk cases can vary all over the board based on the corporate culture and the context and climate within which risk is defined and managed. 

The aspects of “good interpretation” and “good judgment” should be emphasized more in our understanding of risk in projects.  Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis in their book “Judgment:  How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls” emphasize that judgment is the core–the nucleus–of Leadership.  With good judgment, little else matters.   Without it, nothing else matters.  Risk analysis and risk management without good interpretation and good judgment are devoid of the key elements of Project Leadership.

In your PMO, do you have a well defined risk analysis and risk management plan in place for your programs?  How are the concepts of interpretation and judgment carried out?  Who carries them out?  Top management?  Or the engineers and planners at the heart of the project details? 

If your overall approach to “risk” in your PMO needs examination and updating, take this opportunity to boldly propose new approaches and new viewpoints.  The value addition from such exercises can be enormous.

As usual, your comments are welcome.

Recently I collaborated on a podcast with Wayne Thompson, the host of the very popular blog “Project Management War Stories.” 

Wayne wanted a topic that would continue the theme of PMO structure, organization, and function within a larger enterprise.  We decided to revisit the topic of building a PMO from the “grass roots level”, which many of you will recognize from my previous posts as taking a clean sheet of paper as the starting point.

In this podcast, you’ll learn about:

1.  The importance of  “commitment” vs. “compliance” in the design and success of a PMO.

2.  Issues of  “accountability” vs. “authority” in PMO organizations.

3.  Designing a PMO for a small entrepreneurial organization vs. designing a PMO for a larger, more disciplined, bureaucratic organization.

4.  The importance of including all Stakeholder voices to the design and success of a PMO.

5.  Building “capability” as a critical success factor in the design of a PMO.

Thanks to Wayne for directing this effort–the resulting podcast is now ready for your listening enjoyment on the “Project Management War Stories” blog site.   

Thanks so much for your attention.  As always, your comments are welcome.

Pretend for a few minutes that you are the Vice President of Program Management for your company, and that you are taking some time to “reflect” on where your PMO has been, and where you think it is going.  It hasn’t always been an easy road getting to this point. 

There were times when you thought “project management” might even be a dirty phrase, because the promise just didn’t appear to be there. 

And there was that investment in Training and Development that you authorized that really hit the budget hard when everyone else was cutting back. 

And there have been times when expectations for your PMO have fallen a little short.   But, of course, being the dynamic, forward-thinking manager that you are, you recognized that it just took a little “systemic thinking” to uncover the reasons why the group was being held back.  And once again, after that intervention, the flow returned to the group.

Now it seems that, with the challenges coming from left and right, and organizational change always in the wind, you are questioning what you can do to “motivate” this group further so that it can make that next step change.  You have authorized all the bonus and salary increases that you could, but with the recession really lingering on in your industry, you are concerned that some of those increases might be negated at the corporate level.

A friend suggested to you the other day that you might take a look at the You Tube video by Daniel Pink based on his book Drive:  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  You have been putting that off but maybe it’s time to take a look.  Can’t hurt.

You sit back and watch the video…..twenty minutes away from the phone and the other interruptions won’t hurt anything. 

As Daniel Pink begins to unravel his thesis using a white board and marker, the conclusion hits home rather pointedly.  When individuals who are provided greater monetary incentives to do rudimentary tasks, the old motivation theory seems to bear out; i.e., the more incentive offered, the more the person accomplished of the rudimentary task. 

But now, in Drive, Daniel Pink is making a new argument.  Better pay attention here.  When the task requires some cognitive activity and the processing of higher-level complex concepts, the old motivator doesn’t hold true.  Those who are paid more to accomplish complex tasks actually accomplish less?!!  What is going on here?  That can’ t be.  You sit up and take more notice now.

Daniel Pink continues.  He goes on to say that when people are given more freedom and autonomy to determine which projects they would work on, and when they are allowed to be self-directed in their execution of those projects, they seem to accomplish significant feats.  And then he starts to explain that people who are motivated to master a specific skill (such as a musical instrument) actually go out of their way to achieve this “Mastery”–even if it means making time in their busy lives to accomplish that mastery.

Then he goes on to say that when highly skilled people are questioned about what really motivates them to accomplish something, invariably they say that they feel that their accomplishment gives them a “Purpose” and that they want to “Contribute” to something larger than themselves.

Many of these people are considered the most competent in their field. 

Some of these people happen to be “Project Managers.”  

Daniel Pink summarized by stating that motivation can be thought of as consisting of three “buckets”:

1.  Autonomy and Challenge–“the desire to be self directed”

2.  Mastery–“the urge to get better at stuff”

3.  Purpose–“the desire to make a Contribution”

In the video, Daniel Pink cites several examples of companies and organizations which have allowed their employees to take one day a week or month in which they work on anything they desire to work on with whomever they desire to work, as long as they share it with the others in the group.  His research has shown that this has resulted in those organizations showing dramatic improvements in their processes, systems, and other value-adding components (which, to that point, have yielded mediocre results).

Suddenly, it hits you–this video isn’t just an explanation of some interesting research–it presents some very startling, actionable results.  Some very tangible steps that any organization could take.  SOME STEPS THAT EVEN YOU COULD AUTHORIZE, MR. BUSINESSMAN.

What if?  Your Project and Program Managers are some of most skilled practitioners in project methodology, and scheduling, and team building, and project lessons learned that you have ever seen!  Could they actually improve their own performance and raise the level of performance of the entire PMO and the company with something so simple as this?   Autonomy…..Mastery….Purpose.

You ponder it for a minute and then you turn and pick up the phone.

“George, would you assemble all the Managers in the Conference Room as soon as you can arrange it.”

“What’s the topic?  Motivation and our Program Management Office.  We are going to unleash the power of our most skilled Project and Program Managers and take this organization to the next level of Program Management.”

Are you ready to take the next step?

There seems to be an abundance of recent research and published information on leadership in organizations these days.  Ironically, however, during the same time that the old method of listing and evaluating “attributes” of leadership has yielded to the critical examination of actual behavior in significant leadership scenarios, there have been fundamental breakdowns in basic leadership in some highly respected public and private organizations.  Much of the recent research and writing has focused on these breakdowns and their underlying causes.

Many of us have observed both good and bad leadership in evolving PMO settings and I am sure we have stopped to think “Now, what could have caused that particular outcome……especially when it seemed that everything was moving according to plan for that project or program?”  In order to avoid such breakdowns in your PMO, let’s consider which criterion contribute to the emergence of key leaders in the Program Management Office (PMO).  In particular, in this blog I want to address how, in the evolutionary stages of your PMO, you can identify the leaders who will ensure the success of the PMO at steady state. 

Now, please understand that achieving a “steady state“, in the sense of systems and process, may be an ideal situation that each of us hopes to achieve for their PMO.  In actual fact, “change” will always be the norm and leaders will have to respond to “change” in innovative and insightful ways.

In my experience working in an IT Project Office, and in a PMO and helping develop several other PMOs from “grass roots,” I have had the opportunity to work with some remarkable Project Managers and PMO Infrastructure Managers at the inception stage, the developing stage, at partial maturity, and at full blown maturity.  As a result, I have had a chance to compare my observations with the emerging leadership literature.  Make no mistake….these observations are not intended to be exhaustive and complete.  But they should help us to develop a PMO Leadership Model which we can continue to build on as we collectively view more behaviors in PMO settings.

Here is a list of characteristics for emerging leaders in a PMO:

1.  Calculated Risk Taking Attitude:  In my experience working with PMOs, those project managers and project team members who displayed a risk-taking attitude in two key areas were most often the individuals who rose to leadership positions.  First, those project managers who volunteered for the high risk projects because of a “can do” attitude were often the emerging leaders.  Second, when I was directing the development of project lessons learned for a Breakfast Forum in which the project manager addressed the PMO project community about some key lessons from his or her project, those project managers who stepped forward and volunteered for the Breakfast Forums were most likely the ones to rise to leadership positions.  In fact, the first five project manager volunteers became leaders and formal group managers.  So, if you are a PMO developer, look for the “risk takers,” while recognizing that I am talking exclusively about calculated risk taking.

2.  “Commitment” vs. “Compliance” Perspective:  In every PMO, and especially in those that are in the start-up mode, there is a range of attitudes toward the mission, vision, and values of the PMO organization.  At one end of the spectrum is “compliance,” the condition in which a person complies with the processes, standards, and procedures of the PMO, but doesn’t really buy into the overall mission.  These individuals most often come from “operationally” oriented positions which relied on “making a daily list of things to do”.  They often developed a work plan for a certain period of time which was rather inflexible in its components.  On the opposite extreme of the spectrum is “commitment,” a condition in which a person is totally committed to the mission, vision, and values of the PMO even though he or she might not be the most competent project manager in the organization, and even if the direction of the PMO has not yet been established with much certainty.  In my experience working with an IT Project Office and several PMOs, those persons who were “committed” and who demonstrated that “commitment” were most often the individuals who rose to leadership positions.

3.  Effectiveness Through Dialogue and Influence:  In every organization–at all levels of the organization–there are individuals who distinguish themselves by being extremely effective at getting things done through Dialogue and Influence.  These are exactly the people who were the object of research by VitalSmarts (which resulted in such books as Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations and Influencer.)  They are the same people that William Bridges talked about in his book Job Shift who, when faced with rapid or unrelenting change in their organizations, developed the ability to successfully take on the roles requiring negotiations, brokering, translating, collaborating, facilitating, etc.

4.  Performance Focus:  In every organization, there are individuals at all levels whose attention to management of their own performance–and that of their teams–goes beyond what is required of their individual organization’s formal Performance Management Process.  These individuals typically set realistic goals and objectives and measure the outcomes at intervals, making course corrections where necessary based upon feedback and metrics.   These people are conspicuous and stick out in every organization.  They are “authentic” and “genuine” about their beliefs in performance management.  And they rise to leadership roles in a PMO setting.

5.  Formal vs. Informal:  We have all recognized for years that the most visible structures in organizations are those organization’s “formal” structures.  Organizations are made up of organization charts, processes, standards, and procedures, as well as the underlying principles of efficiency, scalability, predictability, controlling influences; clear, disciplined, hierarchies; and rationality.  But some recent research by Jon Katzenbach and Zia Khan, entitled Leading Outside the Lines , has identified an “informal” character of organizations that may be just as powerful at influencing organizational performance as the “formal” aspects.   The “informal” consists of loosely defined networks, communities of individuals with like interests.  These communication and information flow mechanisms are far from formal; rather, they are adaptable, local, innovative, ambiguous, spontaneous, collaborative, and emotional.  Individuals who know how to tap into the “informal” structures in the organizations can be leaders too.  In another blog post, I mentioned a very successful project manager of a very large SAP project who recognized that his project was “integrated” tightly with two or three other projects which were scheduled to complete just before his project.  He spent a considerable amount of time ensuring that those other projects had the resources and guidance necessary for their completion because he recognized the invaluable nature of their input and information  flow to his own project.  Now, he could have relied on formal Project Review Meetings to stress to all concerned the importance of their delivery, but he instead he focused on the “informal networks” of cooperation and collaboration to gain “commitment” from everyone that all projects would be successfully delivered.   That effort showed true leadership skills.

You will immediately notice that some of these characteristics pertain to project competency, and some pertain to business and personal competencies.  This is consistent with those Project Management Competency models such as the Boston University PM Competency Model, which stresses not only PMBOK competencies but also Personal and Business leadership attributes.

As you look around your PMO, notice the behaviors of project managers and team members who are  “authentic” and “genuine” and who live the values of the PMO every day.  Through good project experiences and difficult project experiences, there will be many who stand out in the crowd and become the ongoing leaders of the PMO. 

Your comments to this post are welcome.

In an earlier post to this PMO Blog (“What is the Impact of Project Environment on Project Lessons Learned and Knowledge Management” ), I talked about observations from my experiences working in a PMO setting about project lessons learned (observations which have been confirmed by others using systemic thinking principles). 

Project lessons learned can arise from two sources:

1.  From the individual project in question, usually by the project team’s analysis of their behaviors and actions leading to observed actual results. 

2.  From the project environment, usually by analysis of the “structure” of that environment and its effects on project team behavior.

Obviously, project lessons learned come from post-project completion analysis.  Project lessons learned are intended to inform and impact the future behavior of new and existing project managers in new future projects where similar project environments were considered the “as is” process state.  By using some systemic thinking principles, it is possible to effect the behavior and results of many projects “playing in the same space” by making changes in the project environment.  This is often termed as “leveraging actions” to the project portfolio.

Now what does that really mean? 

The project environment is composed of the external corporate environment and the internally created corporate environment.  Usually, the organizational and governance structures for a PMO group are defined and evolve over time as the organization evolves.  The structure put in place by the organization has a great deal to do with how people act, behave, and make decisions within that project environment.

We have often heard the expression that “structure influences behavior.”  The structure of the project environment is made up of the policies, standards, procedures, defined relationships, reporting linkages, etc, that constitute the working environment within the firm.  We are also aware that, in the dynamic complexity of project environments these days, well-intended actions can lead to unintended consequences.  John Sterman at MIT has studied this type of behavior extensively.  This is because the “cause and effect” are not close in space and time, and some nonlinearity may occur in which an action or decision on the part of a person or group may lead to unintended actions or behavior by others based upon their interpretations in their business context.

 Organizations and groups have the “ability” to anticipate and plan what effects their PMO structures will have on project behaviors.   Accordingly, they can take actions over time to react and adapt to unintended results that are occurring as a result of the structure of the project environment.   The project environment is a dynamic phenomenon–we can adjust structure in order to influence project behavior.  This approach to project management, however, is just in its infancy and requires some art along with the science.

For those of you who may have trouble visualizing how structure might influence behavior, let me offer an example from my experience.  Many years ago I worked as a Product Planner for a major domestic automotive manufacturer in the Detroit area. One of the benefits offered to top executives of the Division and the Company was a company automobile.  Each morning when the executive arrived at the building, he was met by a service technician who asked if the executive had encountered any problems or had any service items that needed attention.  At the end of the day, each executive drove away from the facility with a clean, serviced automobile.  At one time, a certain service problem was identified in the field and reported through the service warranty network to the company.  Reports and metrics summarizing the problem were reported through the ranks and eventually were highlighted to the executives in charge of product quality.  However, none of the executives had encountered the problem–or if they had encountered it, the problem was fixed with “same day service”.  The executives’ personal experiences led them to refuse to believe that the reports accurately identified the extent of the problem in the field.   The reported problems were not taken seriously.  In some cases, only one executive in twenty might have encountered the problem and, if he weren’t assigned to Product Quality, the problem was forgotten as just another “minor” flaw.  As a result, the Division failed to react to a mounting service problem.  The structure of the executives’ benefits–the company car–had influenced behavior to such an extent that there was actually denial that such a problem existed.

Let’s examine another example a little closer to home in the PMO.  In the early days of defining new Program Management Office (PMO) processes and procedures for ConocoPhillips, we recognized the need to define some “rules” for Project Justification and Approval.  These rules called for the project teams to develop a Business Case to justify the project.  As in similar situations with other PMOs, we attempted to define some structure to answer the question “How extensive does the Business Case analysis need to be and who should be reviewing it for final signoff as an approved project?”  An early attempt to define this standard resulted in a “rule”  that every proposed project over $1 million total cost must have a full Business case with all economics and it must be signed off by the IT Authorization Board.  All projects under $1 million total cost must define a partial business case with limited economics and must be signed off by a subset of the IT Authorization Board.

Now, what happened? You could probably guess that there were many projects proposed at $900,000 or two projects proposed at $800,000 and $850,000 that could easily have been combined into a more strategic and doable project.  Remember:  “Structure influences behavior.”  “Well meant or intended actions can often lead to unintended consequences.”

So, the bottom line for those of you who are designing new PMOs or are working with existing PMOs which have a set of policies, standards, and procedures in place to “guide” the planning and execution of projects is this…..follow some simple evaluation questions I present here to lessen the risk that you will introduce some unintended consequences from your project environment:

1.  Develop some scenarios to test out your policies, standards, processes, and procedures.  Take a typical project and follow it through the Project Management Process to see what the behavior of project managers, team members, sponsors, or other stakeholders might be.

2.  If your policies and processes have been in place for some length of time, test them to see if the thresholds for governance committee reviews are still valid.  In other words, over time your PMO projects may have taken on different characteristics which have increased costs.  The threshold values for review and signoff may no longer adequately cover the portfolio as you had originally planned.

3.  If new technology is introduced rapidly into your process, have a review process in place to determine at the earliest point possible in the process if the new technologies are compatible with current technologies and infrastructure.  Otherwise, you will very likely incur additional costs for these new technologies when they are evaluated.

4.  Check the hurdle rates for your economic/financial analysis in your business cases at intervals to ensure that they are set consistently with the business objectives and the types of projects that you are deploying.

5.  Survey your Project Authorization Governance Groups occasionally to make sure there is consistency in the way each member of the Group is viewing the mission and value proposition which projects present to the organization.

6.  Examine key reporting relationships for the project team within the PMO and understand how the overall structure of the PMO influences where decisions are made and who makes them.

7.  Identify and monitor any cultural or business context issues that might play a major role in the project environment for your organization or industry.  Since these variables are dynamic and change over time, make sure you are evaluating all projects on a consistent basis.  This is, of course, easier said than done.  It involves being a student of the project environment and touching base with others in the PMO to ensure all bases are covered.

8.  Continue to look at project lessons learned and use the information to feed back to the front end evaluation process we are describing at present.

There may always be some project environment variables that are elusive and for which you will not be able to easily identify unintended consequences of actions taken by the project manager, project team, sponsors or other stakeholders.  That does not mean that you should dismiss  this analysis as having no value. 

Remember:  The more you know and undestand about all the variables in the PMO and its organizational setting which can impact project team and stakeholder behavior, the quicker you can identify process improvements and achieve sustained project success.  That is a sign of MATURITY of your project process and is a goal worthy of striving for.

Your comments or feedback on real life situations involving the project environment are welcome.

When we were growing up, primary, middle, and secondary school were required because the State was assigned the responsibility for preparing children for “grown up” life.  Our personal attitudes toward learning were formed during those years when we were progressing through the grades. 

If a student had a bad experience with a teacher or with a subject, often that bad experience would carry over into adulthood as a negative attitude towards “learning” because that student associated learning with that bad experience.  

On the other hand, those students who were very successful at navigating their “education” years often became life-long learners.

Now all this may seem very “elementary” to those of you who are engaged in project management today, but, if you really think back upon those school years, and then think about how you approach learning new project management practices and principles today, there is an immediate “transference” of attitudes from our early school experiences to our adult attitudes toward learning.

So what does this all have to do with whether you seek “training” and “learning” for project management practices in your day to day work?

Well, it means a great deal.

Those individuals who, during their formal training in project management, developed an attitude that they “learned all that needs to be known” often feel that way because they were turned off by the notion of revisiting grades and tests and unflinching teachers.

But nothing could be farther from the truth here!!!!

Let me “reframe” this perspective (as we say in project management).

Jillian Michaels, the extremely successful trainer from the hit TV show “The Biggest Loser,” believes that peoples’ capability to handle situations depends on how well they understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and how motivated they are to accomplish the task at hand.  She says that “capability” depends, to a large part, on education regarding all factors and issues that impact a person’s ability–or lack thereof–to do the job.  And since business contexts and interfaces with new people and new situations are arising all the time, it is really necessary to develop a “life-long learning” attitude about your goals and objectives.  Jillian Michaels made these points in the May 2010 issue of “Success” magazine article and its accompanying audio CD. 

Her bottom line is that empowering decisions by people, that move them forward to accomplish their goals and objectives, are the result of their personal education about the issues that make them capable to perform.

Read that sentence again:  “Empowering decisions by people, that move them forward to accomplish their goals and objectives (in any walk of life), are the result of their personal education about the issues that make them capable to perform.”

Those who continue to view “education” and “learning” in the context of their bad primary, middle or secondary school experiences are destined to repeat mistakes and fail to prepare to take on life’s challenges.  Indeed, the challenges facing a project manager in today’s modern corporation, especially those PMs working in a PMO environment, are continually changing as new interfaces, stakeholders, scope changes, cost/economic constraints arise.

Are you a project manager who looks at his own personal training in project management or at training for your team as just another cost to be managed?  Is your attitude that “training” is a waste of time that you don’t need to allocate any resources towards? Do you think that training doesn’t impact project performance or execution capability?  If you are, consider why you believe as you do–did you have a bad experience with “education” or “training” and/or the formal training mechanisms that were forced on you?   Or did someone tell you that getting that Mechanical Engineering degree meant you’d never have to study again?

If you have such an attitude, you are shortchanging your project team, your company and especially YOURSELF!!!!  Wake up to the reality that changing circumstances and situations and issues in projects and the PMO require new solutions.  These new solutions often may have already been developed by someone else who has encountered and successfully solved the mystery or problem at hand.

Confucius once said:

“By three methods we may learn wisdom:

First, by reflection, which is noblest.

Second, by imitation, which is easiest.

Third, by experience, which is bitterest.”

Develop that life-long learning attitude.  Embrace everything you can from successful people and their approaches to problems.  Immerse yourself in “learning” so that you can draw on the experiences of others.  Cast off those attitudes that “training” and “learning” are just another cost to be managed.  Or else….

….the bitterest feelings will be your experience.

Your comments are welcome.

The usual way that Program Management Offices (PMO) impact the firm’s strategy is through the execution of their “value proposition.”  The execution of projects yields tangible, concrete assets; new processes; or principles of operation that guide the firm and add long term value to the shareholders.  This blog post addresses how PMOs can more effectively deliver long term value and create a competitive advantage for the company. 

In recent blog posts, I have discussed:

“Best practices” in a project context

“Evolution” of PMOs from a “cost center” IT PMO perspective to enterprise PMOs to specialized PMOs to satisfy specific special business/functional needs in an organization

“Reframing” project scenarios to ensure we are tackling the right problem with a project; and

Design of PMO structures and functions using a “clean sheet of paper” approach

In this post, I want to leverage the insights of Professor C.K. Prahalad, a management and strategy guru who was recognized worldwide for his strategic intent, core competency and “bottom of the pyramid” theories, who died suddenly on April 16th.  He was a university professor in the Ross School of Business at The University of Michigan (which was my MBA program). 

In an April 2010 article/column entitled “Best Practices Get You Only So Far,” Prahalad discussed “innovation” in corporations from the perspective of looking beyond “best practices” to find what he termed “next practices,” those cutting edge initiatives that will lead to sustained competitive advantage in a changing world and marketplace. 

This blog is in a sense a tribute to his contribution to strategy and management practice as I apply his principles to the Program Management Office (PMO).

Prahalad argued in this HBR column that today’s top management is too narrow in its focus to see “best practices” and must refocus their initiatives to uncover “next practices.”

He advocates that top management ask six questions in this search for “next practices:”

1.  Is the problem widely recognized?

2.  Does the problem affect other industries?

3.  Are radical innovations needed to tackle the problem?

4.  Can tackling the problem change the industry’s economics?

5.  Will addressing this issue give us a fresh source of competitive advantage?

6.  Would tackling this problem create a big opportunity for us?

In an earlier blog post, we cited the fact that Progress Energy–the utility that serves portions of North Carolina and Florida–had launched a Smart Grid Program Management Office (SGPMO)

Why did they do this?

The logical answer was that they anticipated that the interest in Smart Grid would result in major project initiatives, not only for their own organization but for other contributing and supporting organizations such as General Electric.   Smart Grid would touch the lives of not only the electricity community but the customers and all stakeholders who have an interest in the application of SG technology.  Smart Grid would be an “evolving” concept because “the more you learn about what you don’t know about it, the more inclined you are to change direction with regard to subsequent actions.”

In other words, the six questions that Prahalad proposed we ask of a “problem” facing an industry and its stakeholders would surely lead to competitive advantage for someone–why not Progress Energy?

So defining a Smart Grid Program Management Office (PMO) was a very “smart” thing to do when faced with all the unknowns about how Smart Grid would play out.

The same could be said of Apple creating a PMO for its financial organization, reporting to its CFO.  The rapid product development that Apple has undertaken in recent years, including the recent introduction of the iPad, meant that the “problem” was how to mass produce sophisticated products that could still meet low cost requirements and a margin that would sustain Apple’s viability.

Many organizations engaging in a “next practice” analysis will find that establishing a PMO will provide them with a long term competitive advantage.

So what are we saying here? 

Those of you who would seek to plan the next generation of PMO need to look to the six questions that Prahalad succinctly stated in his HBR column.  Finding that “NEXT PRACTICE” will become standard management practice if companies want to succeed.

Your comments are welcome.

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