Sunday, February 18, 2007

Week 24 (Building a PMO) - Lessons Learned?

If I take the lessons learned from last week and look at them, I think we can logically divide them into 3 categories – People, Processes, and Tools. These are the building blocks of every organization or project. There is a lot of overlap in these lessons and some fall into all three categories, but the division works for my purposes here.

People: The people lessons were:

  • The people we had were great; there just weren’t enough of them.
  • Unclear roles and responsibilities led to confusion and loss of precious time.
  • We were slowed by constant competition for resources.
  • We did not have a clear understanding of the work when we estimated.

These issues paint a clear picture of our project and our main people-related challenges. We were consistently understaffed, competing for resources and often confused about who should do what. What is not mentioned here is that there were effectively 4 project managers for this one project and no one had full authority – so there’s the answer to the confusion problems.

As I look back, it is possible we did not get the people we needed due to political skill, combined with the lack of a single project manager. Let’s face it, obtaining needed resources within most organizations today has more to do with how good you are at asking than how much you need them. In our case, I think we might have allowed ourselves to be victims. When we did not have what we needed, we often rolled up our sleeves and gave it our best shot while half-heartedly asking for help. This tendency towards action meant that we tried first and then ended up pleading for people only after we had gone down the wrong road. Better to get the right people in the first place, or manage this as a risk with contingency and mitigation plans (longer timeframes, training classes).

The roles and responsibilities problems started from the beginning. The project initiated as if it was a typical, small installation project. These projects generally take 16 weeks; ours ended up at 17 months. This miss-categorization set unreasonable expectations and incorrect staffing. The roles assigned “project manager”, or “business analyst” have a completely different meaning for a 16 week boiler plate project than they do for a 17 month implementation. It took us a while to discover this, understand and adapt. Even as we end this, no one person speaks for the project, fortunately we all speak with one voice – more or less.

Lastly, competition for resources was a constant problem. Only one person was full time on the project up until about 3 months ago when the full-time staff doubled to two people! This excludes IT development staff who were often full time for short periods according to the development schedule. In most cases, we would get a statement of general support without specific date and effort commitments. Then, when needed the people were able to only dedicate a portion of their time, extending the deliverables. Fact is we did not account for that. Maybe that is more the problem than the unavailability. Seems we did not learn from this and plan accordingly. We didn’t do that. We didn’t because it was too hard to get everyone together and we were too busy “doing” the work to take time to plan it. OK – we knew that was wrong, but we accepted it as better than nothing. The error was that we did not add this as a risk and raise awareness to the “powers that be.” I’m starting to feel pretty stupid; I seem to have mistaken some progress for good progress. Isn’t any progress good? Isn’t there a quote that says something like: good is the enemy of great? I’m not feeling so great right now.


Anonymous said...

MPMM have some great project management office tools....sounds like you could have used a little more planning at the beginning.

Derry Simmel said...

Thanks for your comment. We really did need some more planning at the beginning. We finally did some planning with about 4 months left - that helped. Our PM had a great quote "Now at least we are nervous about what we do know, rather than what we don't know"