C-Suite's Role in Project Success
Let me be perfectly clear, I hate PMOs. It matters not if you call them project management offices, program management offices, or portfolio management offices, they only spell one thing—poor leadership. Now those of you that know me, have heard this enough times that your eyes are rolling back as you mumble, "Here he goes again. Who set the bait in front of him this time?" However, I have confused people with a couple of PMO articles that might seem contrary.
From her corner office, the new executive decried, "Decentralize the PMO. Let each department be responsible for their own projects." Maybe she had made a pact with another executive for some other bit of power, or it could be she lost a power struggle and the PMO had to go, or possibly she has little regards for project management thinking it is a mechanical, blue collar discipline that methodically follows a recipe to execute each project. Bottom line, she is missing the point of the Project Management Office (PMO)—it is all about business goals. Unfortunately, for the company, decentralized PMOs provide little if any value. They are similar to distributed teamwork—an oxymoron. The concept is illogical.
Last week I gave a presentation at the San Diego PMI Chapter's Tutorials conference. Flanking both sides of my ten o'clock presentation in the leadership track was Steve Romero. His two presentations were on IT governance. His energy, insight, enthusiasm, and passion (not to mention being the IT governance evangelist for CA Technologies) made him an excellent selection. And, what is so news worthy about that? Nothing. However, for someone that has little regard for adding one more layer of management to solve a problem, I was surprised that I sat through both of his presentations. He provided a three hours of information on governance—both PMOs and PPMs—crammed into two intense and valuable hours.
Businesses exist to make money. To improve operations they create various initiatives with promises of improving the bottom line. Projects, though, cost money. They do not make a profit. The dichotomy in a strapped economy to spend savings on projects to improve future profits usually results in the conservation of cash. Many an argument has been had over whether it is better to run improvement projects, burning precious cash and heading off the competition, or taking the traditional approach and wait for times with better cash flow. Subsequent to 2008's financial folly, it is well known that most companies sat on their reserves and waited. That action may have some unintended consequences that are in the midst of surfacing.
Few events start a project manager's day off worse than a yellow sticky note on his or her monitor saying, "The finance manager would like to talk to you." An email is equally as bad; however, the note at your desk means that someone actually hunted you down looking to talk about, you guessed it, finances. There must be some problem. Everyone knows the finance folks would never wander into project-land to invite you out for a friendly cup of coffee. You quickly review the project's finances. Everything seems in order. With a sigh, you contemplate whether you should walk over and see her or will a phone call be the least painful option? Yes, painful. Anytime the finance manager calls, there is going to be a lot of new work.
After nearly 30 years of project work, I struggle to understand the role of a project management office (PMO). Even though, I have written of the pros and cons, and read a plethora of articles, opinions, and how-to guides little has been done to convince me that the PMO is reducing project failure. It seems to be nothing more than a tool to fill a void in leadership? Even the acronym, which is so widely thrown around, has little meaning as the "P" has no less than four meanings. It is an executive's crutch for their lack of understanding in how projects work. These, like other, unattended holes in the corporate accountability create opportunities for new and greater bureaucracies and empires that further obfuscate accountability.
Project failure is rampant in nearly every industry. In the US alone, the cost are huge with estimates running as high as a trillion dollars a year. In most cases, the project manager and his or her team are blamed. The project, however, is only the symptom with the source of the failure imbedded in the organization. Project pressure stresses the weak links in the organization causing them to snap.
Marketing is difficult for any company. However, in small companies, where many people wear multiple hats, it is even worse. There is a vicious cycle between all-work/no-marketing and all-marketing/no-work. There are ways to address this problem but if takes planning and discipline.
The ability to deliver initiatives that make breakthroughs in the business is the differentiator of a truly successful IT department. However, the project success rates are very poor. Failure rate estimates range from 40-75% of project are over budget, late, or fail to deliver the required functionality.
Few would question that executives are responsible for ensuring projects are aligned with the corporate strategy. They also need to ensure these initiatives remain in line with these goals as business conditions change. To achieve this, they have to be engaged with the project when it starts and maintain that context throughout its life cycle. This requires more than ensuring the project maintains its scope, schedule, and budget; projects must deliver value. Too many projects start with the inspirational support of upper management, but as the project (or company) drifts, the executives have long since disengaged from the project and are unable to straighten out the misalignment. This wastes company resources and hinders the company's ability to deliver.