Saturday, February 04, 2006

Demonstrating PMO Value - Aligning Work with Objectives

Aligning Work with Objectives

by: Derry Simmel, MBA, PMP

Copyright 2005, Derry Simmel, All Rights Reserved

Companies today are looking for more ways to make the most of every dollar. They have long had objectives and goals, mission statements and vision. These inspiring words are designed to motivate team members and encourage all departments to combine forces and drive to success.

Unfortunately, too often these finely crafted words end up as little more than banners and plaques next to the elevators or on the company website. Cynicism aside, most organizations are dedicated to achieving the objectives, but the gap between objective and project is often uncrossed. With all the best intentions, companies today are still spending resources on projects that will have no real impact, or worse, projects that are causing harm.

As the Chief Project Officer, you bring unique capabilities and advantages to the company by being able to make this important connection. You can demonstrate the value of the work being done by connecting the work directly with the strategic objectives. This approach also sets up mechanisms to measure and report on the contributions of the projects.

This article is not a step-by-step guide to project alignment, and does not address mandatory projects. We will however discuss ways of creating an environment favorable to successfully making the connection between strategic objectives and the projects.

Some of you will have project alignment thrust on you; others have been trying to sell the process for years. In either case, this is a priceless opportunity and one that will not happen twice. If you are not already, this activity will make you and your team an integral part of corporate strategic management.

A few tenets that form a basis for the process are below. While these may seem obvious, they are often ignored when decisions about projects are made. By understanding, communicating and incorporating these tenets into the connection process, you will find your task easier.

  1. Every project a company executes either contributes to that company’s success or its failure. There is no in-between; a project that “does no harm” uses corporate resources that could be better spent on a project that contributes to objectives.

  1. All Projects are NOT created equal. Every project contributes differently. It is not in the company’s best interest to treat projects “equitably.”

  1. There are more good projects than there are resources to do them. The corollary to this is you can not do them all. Many companies try to do too much, resulting in missed dates, quality problems, etc.

  1. Not all projects contribute to all objectives. It would be nice if everything we did contributed to every objective, but they do not and they will not. It is acceptable to have a project that doesn’t contribute to one of the objectives. It is even possible, and reasonable, to have a project that goes against one of the objectives.

You will have far greater success if these ideals are accepted by those involved in the process. Next, you will objectively, transparently and simply connect strategic objectives with the projects in your portfolio. It is vital that the process be demonstrably objective, transparent, and easy to understand.

The process must be objective. If any part of your process is perceived as partial, it is over, do not pass go, do not collect that bonus, go directly to obscurity.

Your process must be transparent. If it is not, it will be perceived as secretive. A secretive process must be biased - see “partial” above.

Your process must be simple (easy to understand). You can not explain a difficult process in an elevator speech. Most people are not going to pay attention to a long explanation, resulting in lost interest and commitment.

Your process will consist of three main components, the objectives, the relationship of each project to those objectives and the overall portfolio results.


Projects are going to be measured against objectives. You want to know not only whether or not a project contributes, but how much it contributes.

Objectives that are not clearly understood will yield conflicting results. While everyone in the group knows what “Customer Satisfaction” is, they rarely agree on that meaning.

Like projects, not all objectives are created equal. It is more important to comply with the law than it is to write new job descriptions. Understanding this and the degree of difference is important. I suggest that your process indicate not only the ranking of each objective but its relative importance or weight. Saying objectives are ranked 1, 2, 3 is not as informative as saying that objective 1 is 300% more important than two and two is 1% more important than three.


Here we are looking at connecting objectives to projects, not determining validity of projects. Some projects may have strong connections to objectives but be cost prohibitive or just not feasible. Connectivity or alignment alone is not sufficient for determining the viability of a project.

You will need some way of evaluating each project against each objective. There are a number of methods that can be used; you may even want to use different methods for different objectives. As long as you use the same method for the same objective for every project you can expect consistent results. Remember the principles of objectivity, transparency, and simplicity discussed above as you build and use this method.

As with objectives, I recommend that you establish the intensity of the connection. Projects that are highly aligned with corporate objectives would be more valuable than those that are loosely aligned.

There are many fine examples of techniques available in books, articles or white papers. Most portfolio management tools come with some form of connectivity/alignment process as well. Some research, knowledge of your organization and your own experience will lead you to the system that works best for your company here and now. As with all such things, start small and simple, prototype, change and evolve.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

First Post

This is my fist log to get this started. In short, I want to talk about PMOs. Project Management Offices, Program Management Offices, Enterprise PMOs, Service PMOs, you name it. All of these organizations serve an important purpose in business today, and I think those of us who work in PMOs (let's agree to use PMO as the generic term) know the importance and potential. PMOs are all about understanding work, and with that management, strategy, tactics and more. We are all about Management, and this our PMOs are probably the first physical representation of a company actually "thinking" about work instead of just "doing".

So there we start. How do we aid our organizations in becoming better not just by doing better, but deliberately planning and thinking about how to do better. World-class runners don't get that way by just running a lot - they plan their workouts, their diets, their sleep, you name it. World-class companies do the same. 'OK - enough to start - post your thoughts and ideas, let's open some more conversations.