Saturday, August 19, 2006

Independence in a Project Management Office

Within almost all companies, individual departments tend to be somewhat self-centered. This is not necessarily bad, since the department exists to perform some function and we want the people in that department to focus on that function. Unfortunately, this can often lead to a little tunnel vision on the part of the people in the department. They often see their projects as more important that some other areas. This is a natural behavior in the corporate world. This type of behavior can kill a PMO.

Since being a little self-centered is the norm, your peers will assume that you are operating in the same way. This is a hurdle that you will have to overcome as much as possible in order to effectively do your job. Your PMO will be reporting to someone in some department/division, therefore there will be a perception that the PMO represents that organization. There may also be a perception that the PMO is biased towards that organization. This will be a fact of life that you will either have to overcome or accept. If we use a risk model, this is a risk that you have to choose how to deal with. My proposal is that we deal with it through mitigation strategies.

Get a clear understanding with your manager. Your manager can torpedo any efforts you make towards independence, so it is vital that you have a complete meeting of the minds. If you and your manager agree that independence is important, then you can create a working relationship where it is OK to say no to your boss. A very tricky proposition, but if you have the right information, understanding and relationship, then this can be done to everyone’s benefit. With external decision criteria, and consistency on your part, this can be done.

Become totally transparent. I say totally, the only exceptions that I would make would be for something confidential or legal. In those cases, it is important that you make it clear that you are not sharing the information for those reasons. Most people can respect and understand that. By making all other information about what you do and how you do it available, you show that the Project Management Office has nothing to hide and that there are no secret negotiations going on. This strategy will also help immensely in building up trust. Believe me, people will know if you are hiding something, and if they find out, they will loose faith in you, and that can be the kiss of death.

Fight for those outside your organization. Now, this can’t be fake or contrived. Let’s say that your PMO is reporting to the COO and Marking has a big project that they are having trouble getting resource for. You will want to support Marketing, and actively push to find those people. If this means going to the COO and getting her to take people of her projects to work on the Marketing one, then so much the better. If you support only your own projects, you will not be seen as objective and independent.

Be consistent. In everything, people can not easily trust someone who they perceive as inconsistent. If you combine consistency with transparency, then people will be able to tell why you supported one project over another. They will also see that this applies no matter whose project it is. We all trust predictability. Consistency can also help eliminate conflict before it starts. If people know how you will react, and why, they will often alter their behavior. If someone is trying to get a project through that has a very low IRR, and they know that IRR is one of the top project scoring criteria, then they are more likely to delay, defer or reject the project before it ever comes before a review board.

Stick to you values. I know this is obvious too, but has to be said. Your PMO will have a set of values and goals and behavior (if you don’t have these now, they I strongly suggest that you build them). If you unflinchingly stick to these then you will be seen as trustworthy and independent.

It would be great if you could do all this one time, but unfortunately you will have to constantly engage in these activities. It is like rowing upstream, the minute you stop rowing, you will start going backwards. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but it is inevitable. If you remain honest and true to your values, then you can make wonderful progress and may begin implementing some very large changes within your company.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Sorry for being out, between contracts, vacation and my laptop being in the shop, things got a little hectic. I want to continue with the discussion of heroes and soldiers. I think we all agree we would like to have a hero around when we need one, but that a team of heroes can be a little – shall we say “sub-optimal.” On the other hand, a team of soldiers can really accomplish anything.


When I refer to soldiers, I am not talking about clones or mindless robots that follow orders to the letter and sacrifice themselves in droves at the whim of their commanders. No, the soldier I am talking about is the professional soldier. Think Roman Legionary or any of today’s highly trained military. With proper management, diversity and organization, a Project Management Office built with good soldiers will be very effective in changing and sustaining a culture of project management. That said, our soldier type has some characteristics that we want to be aware of.

  • Soldiers are disciplined: This is one of the main differences between a soldier and a hero. A soldier can be expected to show restraint, paint within the lines and to follow company policies and norms. While a hero will often play “bull in a china shop”, your soldier is unlikely to leave a trail of broken dishes or irate coworkers.
    Soldiers are team players: Soldiers work well in units. There is a real synergy when a team of soldiers gets together to tackle a problem. Here is where you will really see the power of teamwork.
  • Soldiers are Professional: Soldiers understand the company dress code. They understand and abide by corporate behavior norms. Soldiers approach their work as a craftsman would, seeking to do the best they can and with an effective combination of enthusiasm and thought.
  • Soldiers are reliable: This probably sounds a little boring, but as a director, you understand the need for reliability. Soldiers help you provide a consistent level of quality in all things. When you send one to a customer site, you know how they will behave, you know they will not say or do anything outrageous, you know they will represent the Project Management Office faithfully. This is vital to creating a trustworthy image and perception of your PMO.
  • Soldiers often Specialize: Many of your team will have an area that they are particularly good at. You may have a methodologist, or a trainer, or a mentor, each of us has different gifts and hopefully you will help your team develop those to everyone’s benefit. A specialized soldier working in their realm is about as good as anyone ever gets. This person is “in the zone.”
  • Soldiers can be slow: As a rule, your soldiers will usually take a little more time to complete the work, or to address the problem than a hero would. If speed is your only criteria, calling up your soldier may not be the best option. Of course this is not true of all soldiers or all situations. A specialized soldier in her discipline can be as fast as or faster than any hero. Get the soldier out of their specialty, and things slow down a bit.
  • Soldiers can be rigid: I am sure you have run into this. The team member knows how to do something, and does it just that way or they look at every problem the same way. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail right? This can be a real drawback when you are trying to institute widespread change. Inflexibility in your team does not set a good precedent or example for others to follow.
  • Soldiers can be unimaginative: This goes hand in hand with rigid in some ways. Often soldiers are so good at working within the norms that they cannot see outside them. This gives a limited point of view with limited options. Many times these team members will talk about things in terms of “Right” and “Wrong” – with caps. Once that mind frame is set, it can be very difficult to break out to new ways of looking at things.

The Soldier Culture
In a corporation that has gone too far into the soldier culture tends to be very rigid and is all about following orders and procedures. These are by the book types of cultures to whom rules are paramount. As an example, I recently attended a convention for which I pre-registered. I went to the line to get my materials, and right next to me was someone handing out lanyards – I know I have millions of them, but she was handing out ones that had the convention name on them and all the packet had was the typical string ones. I asked her for one of the lanyards; she asked to see my badge; I showed it to her and she replied that the lanyards were only for the people who were registering onsite. I of course said – “you’re kidding right, it’s just a lanyard.” To which this obedient unimaginative soldier answered “no.” Mindy you she must have been holding 100 of these things. Her customer service ethic alone was abominable. But think from her perspective – she was told that she was to hand out lanyards to the people who registered for the convention on site. I didn’t so I did not get a lanyard. This is the kind of thinking that can pervade the typical soldier culture.
In these soldier cultures, the Project Management Office often becomes little more than forms police or methodology Nazis. While this may be comfortable for some, count me out. So what works?

The Warrior Culture
What is too frequent today is a conflict between the heroes and the soldiers. Soldiers call the heroes “loose cannons” or “cowboys” and heroes call the soldiers “pencil necks” or “suits.” They both see their way as the “right” way, so someone not working the “right” way is “wrong.” This fundamental assumption is the problem. I have a button that says “I’m right and you disagree so you must be wrong.” When this happens, any movement away from “right” is seen as compromise or worse. Guess what, there are a LOT of ways to do things. If there was a right way to build a car, there would be only one type of car, or house, or city, or family…. Take a look around, nature has the idea – diversity, synergy, cooperation.
The best (not right) organizations will have a good combination of heroes and soldiers along with the associated mindsets. You can have heroes that follow rules or soldiers that act independently in unfamiliar situations. Let’s call this the Warrior culture. The Warrior team is capable of organizing and attacking situations with the flexibility of heroes and the discipline of soldiers. Now that is where I want to work – challenge and stability, known and unknown, chaos and order.