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.

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