Wednesday, June 21, 2006

PMO Overboard

One of the major goals of every PMO is to help build consistency across an organization. Many of us, and many executives, have interpreted consistency as using the same processes or forms. As I said in my Cargo Cult discussion, there are some of the dangers of jumping right into implementing forms, procedures, guidelines and standards before building the proper infrastructure. Even with good planning and the right support system in place, you can get trapped into a situation that morphs your PMO from a corporate leader and change agent to the equivalent of the Auditing department for projects.

OK, now that I’ve offended auditors everywhere, let me state clearly that I feel that auditing and standards are a vital part of bringing consistency and compliance to any organization. Without verification, how will you know how well you are doing? What I am cautioning against is the danger of making verification and auditing the primary functions of the PMO. Certainly you will have some of this work, but if you do not carefully exercise growth, you may end up spending more time telling people how to fill out forms than anything else.

So, if we assume that you have grander expectations for your PMO, how do you avoid this trap? There are several methods and techniques that you can use. The first is to follow Ulysses’ lead and prepare for the song of the Sirens.

Listen to Siren’s Song (and live through it)
There are many sirens out there, and they are not all trying to sell you the ultimate enterprise software or methodology or training or consulting. Some are far more subtle, so tie yourself to the mast, and listen to the song, Mythology tells us of several sirens and their powers. Without pushing too far, let’s use them as a metaphor for what you will face.

I say “tie yourself to the mast” because restraint is vital to any engagement with sirens. I did not say that you should put wax in your ears. The siren’s can offer great benefits and solve a lot of your problems. The danger is not in hearing the song, but rather in crashing your ship on the rocks. You will be lured by comprehensive, detailed and well thought out solutions. Sirens will promise you a comprehensive pre-built solution to your problems that, with a few tweaks, will be perfect. When you first hear those sweet sounds, prepare for some dangerous waters.

What you want to do is emulate Ulysses and gain the benefits without crashing. I can’t tell you what you may need to do in every situation, but here are some examples

Software: Software solutions today provide for almost every need of a PMO, which is exactly what you have to watch out for. In today’s environment, software is often the only solution. By making a careful evaluation of what you need and what the software offers, you can implement only a select subset of functions, and then only in a controlled manner. Don’t open the flood gates.

Consulting: This is another wonderful resource. Consultants have faced similar situations and are often specialists at what they do. As with software, they will often offer more than you need by singing their sweet and reasonable song. Here you must have your goals set, defined and finite. If you know exactly what you want the consultants for, then you can control the situation. Even if you want them to give you recommendations, make that a separate engagement with the delivery of recommendations. Once you have those, you can decide which you want to take and then engage consultants where you need them.

Certification: This is one that blindsides a lot of us. There are some standard setting bodies the offer certification through compliance with their standards. In my experience, most of these bodies produce outstanding products and organizations that adopt these standards have consistently shown marked improvement. Like Ulysses, listen to this song and benefit, but beware of the rocks.

The Rocks
Simply put the danger with all of these is that you will implement something that requires a substantial support system. Guess where the resources to do this will come from? Right – your PMO! The bigger and more complicated a system, process or standard you put in place, the more work you will have to do to keep it alive. You may have to budget and resources to handle this, more likely you don’t.

You are probably constrained by headcount and / or money. Based on your goals, how do you want to spend your limited resources? Many a PMO has died by trying to implement something that took more resources than they had, or that fundamentally changed the PMO. Many directors have told me that they can’t call their team “The PMO” because PMO has a bad name. They then go on to say how the old PMO tried to implement this enterprise-wide software system, or process or certification and failed. They failed because they were seduced by the lure of the “comprehensive solution.”

What probably happened was that the PMO started with a mandate to create change and an abundance of enthusiasm. They then tried to implement something that was so complex / difficult/ intricate that, in the blink of an eye, the PMO transformed from change leader to the enforcer of the status quo. Naturally, this gained them nothing but enmity, resulting in the demise of the PMO. You probably want to avoid this.

Start with the obvious. Keep it simple. You do this by sticking with your goals and putting everything else to the side. There will be many attractive side paths that lead only to destruction. You are better served to achieve one goal on time than to accomplish too much too late. You can always do more, but you know all this.

Next you will want to determine how the work can be rolled out and shared. Not the implementation, but the ongoing operations. If you implement something that only the PMO can manage, then only the PMO will manage it. Think about rolling out procedures, tools and forms in such a way that they can (as much as possible) be supported by the organization as a whole. You want Project Management to become part of the culture, what better way to do that than to have everyone contributing. One way to think of it is like performance evaluations. In most companies, these are not done by HR, but rather by management and often with employee contributions. Performance evaluation is part of the culture.

Using a software system as an example, if you start with time management only, implement that and give maintenance and reporting capabilities to the users, you will have made a major achievement. By keeping your destination in mind and sharing the control with others, you can still hear the siren’s song without crashing on the rocks.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Marketing Your PMO – Metrics - Control


The control drivers are similar to, and overlap, many of the other metric areas, but I think it is important to note that in some instances control is the success criteria. Project Management is an excellent medium for improving control in an organization. Every one has experienced the feelings of helplessness and frustration when things get out of control. If you have children, you know exactly what I am talking about. Unfortunately, even Project Management will not help that problem, but it will help at work. Image the frustration that a COO or CIO feels when they do not seem to be able to influence or change the way their organization works. To them things seem out of control, so they look for ways of creating a situation where they have a certain level of control over what is happening.

You will know that control issues exist when there are not really any good answers to some of the following questions:

  • What is everyone working on?
  • How much time are we spending on new projects?
  • Are we spending our time on the most important work?
  • How are we progressing the corporate goals?
  • Why is everyone so busy yet nothing seems to be getting done?
  • Why does everyone hate us (this happens a lot when IT gets out of control)
And so on. The asking of these questions is the first step in addressing any control issues. If no one recognizes the symptoms as being the result of control issues, then you have an entirely different problem. Control is one of the best ways to advance Project Management in your organization. This problem is a great opportunity to show value, and once you have hooked management on being in control, they will never let go. Hey – they wanted management so they could be in control right? So what to do?

Control metrics are going to be a little broader in scope than the other metrics. One level of control is simply knowing what is going on and being able to direct that. This requires relatively simple metrics and measures. However, you can move up the scale to such things as portfolio management and balanced scorecards which are far more complex and involved. I’m not going to do justice to the more complex metrics, but let’s cover the highlights of possible alternatives.

Inventory – Hopefully you have done this, or at least started. Knowing what is going on is the first step of control. Find out what everyone in the organization is working on. Not what they say they are working on, but what is actually going on. At first this will take some interviewing and investigation. I’ve found that this can be a communication issue. For example, you might ask an IT manager what her group works on. She might recite 4 or 5 big projects and a few smaller ones and completely neglect to tell you about maintenance time. You are representing project management, so the people you talk to may think you are asking only about project management. In the case above, it may have sounded like the manager’s team was not doing a lot, until you find out that 80% of her team’s time is spent on production problem resolution and enhancements. There may be a perception by others that her team doesn’t get much done because no one knows about this other time. Once you find out what is being worked on – document and publicize. That alone will change things.

I’m willing to bet that you will find that your organization is split into an unhealthy number of separate activities. In one personal example, I did this study and found that an IT organization of 150 people were working on 78 separate projects as well as performing regular IT support functions. One CIO referred to this type of situation as a “death of a thousand cuts.” I’ve seen this again and again; look for it in your organization. Just bringing this to light will create some real benefits.

Aggregated PM Metrics – Another more advanced way of demonstrating control is to take the information generally gathered at the project level and aggregate and summarize them. This is the traditional metrics you would expect from a PMO. Some examples are:

  • Projects Delivered on time / on budget / variance
  • Project Change counts and magnitude
  • Actual v. Estimated
  • Resource Time (Realization and Utilization are good here)

Advanced Metrics – Like I said, I will not cover these in detail here, but below are some examples:

  • NPV of Project Portfolio
  • IRR of Project Portfolio
  • Balanced Scorecard and Portfolio Metrics such as:
    o Customer Satisfaction
    o Financial Achievement
    o Alignment / Advancement of organization goals
    o Improved Revenue
    o Cost Savings

There are others, but I caution against these until you have the ability and demand for this type of information. These types of metrics require a bit of infrastructure and effort. If management is not willing and ready to commit this (which they are usually not at the beginning), then you will be in a very unpleasant situation where you cannot deliver. If you get pressure to go with the full load, do whatever you can to push towards a small start. Suggest a prototype, starting with easier information, whatever. I’ve said before one of the best ways to fail with a PMO is to over promise.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Marketing Your PMO – Metrics - Competency

Continuing with the basic metrics that you can use to show PMO value.

The drive for Project Management competency generally comes from some internal source or sources. This may actually be a primary driver of the existence of your PMO. These drivers generally take the form of statements like “we need to become more capable with our project execution” or “we plan to become a world class organization.” Terms like “best practices” also are thrown around here. The idea is that there is a clear recognition that something is missing – project management competence. Unfortunately, this lack creates some problems for you in trying to fill that void.

One problem is that “competency” is only very generally defined and understood and will mean different things to different people. Your job at this point is to nail down a definition. You start by interviewing stakeholders giving particular attention to those who hold the purse strings for the PMO. Yes, that sounds superficial, but in order to infuse a Project Management culture in your organization, you have to exist, to exist you need support and money. After interviewing you should have some qualifications that stick out as competency measures. This then is your basis for the measurements and communication of competency.

Now comes and important part of the work. You have information about competency and how to measure it. With this information you can create the definition of competence. If you do not clearly define competency and communicate that definition, you run the risk of not meeting expectations of those who have a slightly different perception. With a common definition, you can shoot for goals that are understood by all.

Another problem with competency is the same one that every new PMO faces. How can you show improvement? You want to be careful that you are not implying incompetence as the prior condition, but rather show improvement in existing capabilities. I recommend that once you have defined competency and communicated (socialized) this, you benchmark. For each component of competency, where do you stand right now? Benchmarking gives you a lot of advantages:

  • It gives a much better picture of the current state
  • It involves many stakeholders giving them even more input and buy-in
  • It gives you time to better define, adjust and communicate what you will be doing.
  • It gives stakeholders time to become comfortable with the ideas

Of course the biggest reason is to get the baseline metrics and to be able to show improvement from those initial values. Everyone has agreed to what competency is. They have agreed that more competency is better than less. They have agreed that the organization is at the defined baseline. If you can show that your PMO is moving the organization from less competency to more competency, you are clearly showing that the PMO has value.

So what are those metrics that will show value? While these may be easy to list here, measuring these may not be quite as simple. Let me start with the easier ones.

Training and/or certification of Project Managers: Clearly if your Project Managers are more competent, then the organization is more competent. If your company will spring for it, PMP certification is a great idea. From my personal perspective, I do not recommend this as something to be taken lightly. I’ll get on my soapbox for a second. The PMP certification is something that belongs to those of us who choose Project Management as our profession. I do not think that PMP are three letters to be put after someone’s name so that they can get a better job, or a higher salary. If you are not serious about PM, don’t bother. Anyway, that said, certification of dedicated, capable people is a clear indication of improved competence (also consistency). Other types of training work well also. You may have internal courses, you could have a vendor come in and give a class or series of classes or send team members offsite. Any of these works as long as you are consistent and measure. Creating a career path (I’ll cover that later) with required training and showing progress along that path is a great method.

A Knowledge Repository. This can be the beginning of your methodology, a library of best practices, or anything similar. The idea is to build something that can be accessible to everyone and that will contain institutional knowledge. Some good components of this might be:

  • Lessons Learned
  • Common Project Risks
  • Useful Documents and Forms – project status reports, meeting minutes, etc- the beginning of methodologies
  • Approval and Review Recommendations – who needs to know about your project and review/ approve steps
  • Templates
  • Past project folders

This area will be a great place to consolidate the knowledge and experience of the organization and show that you are learning from the past.

Industry Standard Measures: There are quite a few of these that measure competency for an organization, such as CMM for software, Six Sigma for quality and efficiency, or OPM3 for Project Management. A warning, these tend to be very comprehensive and detailed. I do not suggest adopting any of these without a lot of forethought, money, patience and commitment. Going down one of these roads is NOT trivial. I do recommend that you become familiar with these and others. There is a lot of great information, ideas, measures and knowledge in these methodologies. The methodologies use Key Indicators or Key Process Areas and other measures, almost any of which make a great metric for measuring competency and improvement in your PMO.