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.
Value: Rather than scope, schedule, and budget, value is the lynch-pin of project success. Although the former three constraints are key factors in project success, there is no guarantee that meeting these constraints will result in a positive outcome. Instead constantly tracking the value of the project and making adjustments to the triple constraints to attain sufficient value is critical. Arguably this is the project managers most critical deliverable in the project. It requires significant insight into the project’s customer and a thorough understanding of their needs versus their wants. Project managers have to be leaders (leading subordinates, leaders, and customers), be able to assign priorities based on a critical, objective view.
As they say in the army, never volunteer. Nowhere could that be truer than when it comes to project sponsorship. Given a choice between a root canal and project sponsorship, most managers and executives start looking up dentists on the internet. It is a sad fact—one that project managers must deal with on a daily basis. It is often the project manager’s first solid opportunity to lead up.
Recently I received the book Strategies for Project Sponsorship by Vicki James, Ron Rosenhead, and Peter Taylor, all good friends of mine and trustworthy twitter contributors. It took a while for the book to trickle “up” to the top of my stack; however, when it did I was more than impressed.
Project success rates for many companies and government organizations are dismally low, yet executives never seem to look at the big picture. They continue to make adjustments in the way projects are run by addressing isolated problems. However, projects are part of a much larger system and should be addressed in that context. To do that, companies must define how their strategic plan will use people, projects, and technology to achieve their goals. This paper discusses one approach to make this happen.
A failing project’s fate is destined long before assigning a project manager. Its doom is sealed from the time the customer envisions the idea. Traditionally, project inception is defined as when the customer comes to a solution provider (internal or external to their organization) asking for a product or service. In actuality inception is much earlier. It starts when someone says, “Wouldn’t be neat if I could...” From that point forward the customer’s exceptions are set, changed, and reset as the process of discovery refines the concept. The customer’s ideas change from what they want to what they need, while continually constrained and formed by the realities of an ever-changing business environment. Although people cite unrealistic expectations as major problem during inception, the constant change in expectations causes the real issue—misalignment. For project managers to make a significant difference in a project’s success, they must use a new paradig.
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.
Management comes up with great plans for sweeping change, it implements the plans, and three years later the organization has reverted to the way it was before the initiative. Changing to new breakthrough systems is hard; maintaining those processes and procedure is far more difficult. The reason progressive ideas can have a successful implementation only to have the organization regress to its prior state a few years later has its roots in societal practices and human nature.
It was a classical interview in all respects, except they kept asking, "Can you handle stress?" After while, I replied that on my last project gas mask training was a first-day requisite, meetings were routinely held in bomb shelters, there were written emergency evacuation plans, and uniformed men and women with M-16s were common sights on the city streets. That was stress. I should have known better. Stress comes from the unknown, the events in life for which we have no plans.
I have always enjoyed cooking and rarely thought of it as a chore, let alone a project; however, when my wife became ill, I became the household chef and had to learn a new way to cook. Every evening was a project with varying degrees of success. Eventually making multi-course meals from scratch became easier. I used to joke that cooking Chinese food was two hours of chopping fresh vegetables and ten minutes with three blazing woks.