Friday, November 24, 2006

What's a PMO (short)

I’m sure that many of you have been asked this question and even pondered it yourself. If you are lucky enough to be building or managing a PMO, you’ve probably been struggling with the wealth of information and definitions that are available. Every PM pundit has their “anatomy of PMO” or ten essential components of a PMO. Well, you can relax; I’m not going to add another myopic pronouncement to the mix.

Instead, I’m going to suggest that this is the wrong question. The question is not “What is a PMO” but rather “What is YOUR PMO.” While PMOs certainly share common characteristics, those characteristics describe a PMO and do not define it. The only definition that matters is the one you and your stakeholders have created.

Your PMO will serve the needs of your community, your company, your management. Your PMO will be unique and effective within your environment and not a manifestation of some theoretical model out of a textbook. Next time someone asks “What’s a PMO” – tell them about YOUR PMO.

Week 12 (Building a Program Management Office)

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate the event. The holiday made it a short week for me and a welcome one at that. The big event this week was the November governance board meeting. This is a typical board meeting for a program, we start with a presentation and the board members ask questions about the information, we talk about current status, upcoming milestones, issues and the like. This month’s went very well and I contribute that to two factors. The first, I was prepared. I put together a good presentation, I reviewed all the information, I had all the raw data and reports and so on. One thing I am learning, at least in this particular program, preparation is key! The second reason I think things went well is that hardly anyone showed up – lots of people on Thanksgiving vacation – for which I am thankful!

The two hour meeting lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes. We had good conversations and discussions. Both projects have made marked improvements over the past two weeks and I think the teams are much more confident and optimistic. That is really half the battle sometimes. At this point, we have a fair handle on performance against milestones and schedule, change control, scope and issues. Not so hot yet on risks, resources, financial performance and a few other areas, but working on it. Since only one department even records time and cost to the project, we are not going to achieve more than a fairly low level of control and information in those areas.

The good news for this week is that we have a project manager starting in one of our locations to help with the project work. Our one office is doing a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of PM work, and it is not getting the attention that it needs. Our new PM will start off with some more administrative and analysis work, but I expect that they will have much more responsibility very quickly. I really look forward to this as I am hoping that it will free some of my time as well so that I can spend more on putting together a PMO guidelines that can be used for all projects of this time. If the company is going to get in this business, then having a method/standard of operations for implementation will be very useful!

Well off to run a few of those new found pounds off. I think 20 miles will do the trick – that would be…. Unlikely . There’s still some apple pie in the fridge…mmmmm

Week 11 (Building a Program Management Office)

Week 11 went well, if somewhat quiet. I think that a lot of people were worn out after last week. Big events were conversations with one customer and some good work on completing the project schedule for the other project.

Right now, one of the projects is working with our customer and the company that currently holds the contract to negotiate a live date. We had a change in scope and delivery and that caused all three companies to have to look again at the dates. Right now we are in a situation where we each have a date that works for us, so that makes three dates. I am sure after our discussions and negotiations we will come up with a date that is equally unpalatable for all of us. Such is compromise. I’m sure we have not heard the last on all this; it is going to be interesting.

On the other project, we really have a good workable project schedule. Now for the aficionados, no it is not leveled and based lined, with actual times and so on. That, frankly, is a little more than we can really expect based on quite a few things. The schedule does however clearly indicate milestones, major tasks and responsibilities. In other words, what needs to be done when and by whom. We have a bit more than completion dates; we do have durations and hence start dates. Right now, all of the tasks are 80 hours or less, and span two weeks or less, so we have a fine enough level of detail to be able to track the work carefully and elevate and or react as needed. I am not a stickler for the 8 – 80 rule or other such PM rules. If you read this blog much, you know that I oppose rules and forms and procedures that exist only to be complied with. If something doesn’t make life easier/better for the PM and the team then my vote is – forget it.

I had a presentation on Monday that gave me the chance to put together some of the project information in one consolidated format. We don’t have a standard presentation template. I have to confess that I enjoy presentations. I like the idea of putting together information in a format that in some ways can be artistic. If I have not said this before, I highly recommend Edward Tufte. He has some extraordinary examples of information presentation. His books and workshop are worth every penny! He talks about things like information density, sparklines (my favorite). He sums it up well as “simple design, intense content.” Not that my presentation would ever wind up in one of his books, but I am working on it.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Week 10 (Building a Program Management Office)

Week 10

I had another difficult week this week. We had 2 2-day sessions where we tried to get a better handle on the work for the two projects. We actually made a lot of progress, and I think at least one of the projects is on the right path. Granted the path will be very difficult and busy. We have a lot to do between now and the live date of 3/1/07. I think that the tone of the group is much better now than it has been and I honestly see them as a “team.” I honestly do not know why this group seems to be more of a team than the other project group. I think it is certainly something that I will look at more as the projects go on. The other project group is more a series of teams who are working together. I think that some of it has to do with the size/intensity of the project combined with the personalities and the overall organizational structure.

But first about this week; for the smaller project, I was assigned (volunteered?) to serve as facilitator. The goal was really to get a clear mutual understanding of the work needed to be done between now and the live date. My first step was to lead the team through a very high level breakdown of the project. Nothing really detailed, or down to the work package level. Instead we looked at the high level tasks and looked at the task to see how complex it was, how many dependencies there were, and how “independent” the task was. For most tasks, we did not go into a lot of detailed analysis. We did find one are of tasks that one member of our team nicknamed “the water-main” that represented the critical path and many associated important and highly dependent tasks. While we still have not done any critical path analysis, I am sure that most of these tasks will end up on the critical path, or the resource critical path.

To do the detailed analysis, we went low-tech. We started with the WBS created earlier and stated breaking down the tasks and sequencing them using sticky notes and a whiteboard. I recommend this since you can move the tasks around easily and draw the relationships using the whiteboard and whiteboard markers. Nothing is permanent; you can toss a sticky out if you don’t need it, and you can break it up into two or three sitickies if you need that. This method is very flexible and visual. I think that works for most people. By placing the information on the wall in front of the team, everyone in the room can look at any part of the diagram and any participant can take as much time as they want on any section. This gives each person a lot more freedom and usually a lot more involvement.

Some other conventions we followed for the meeting. We wrote the meeting goals on a poster-sized sticky and it was on the wall and visible the entire time. We had a “parking lot” – another poster-sized sticky where we kept items that we wanted to talk about, but just did not have enough time, or were not directly related to the goals of the meeting. We also had a poster up for risks – here we wrote down risks as they came up during the discussions. I like this method since risks always pop-up during these types of meetings, and if you collect them all and address them at the end, you often find that some of the risks are gone based on what you’ve done during the meeting, and often many can be addressed with the same mitigation plan. The last constant we had was a poster with “to do” or action items on it. This way, when something came up we wrote it down and moved on. At the end of the meeting we went over the to do list, assigned someone to each and a due date. It was a great way to wrap up.

The other 2-day meeting was somewhat similar. I am faced with a very difficult situation in that group where I have somehow earned the enmity of one of the team leads who is working very hard to have me marginalized and / or removed. This is a very difficult and sensitive situation for a consultant. I am not handling this well or badly, somewhere in between, but I am being deliberately cautious and non-confrontational. It is amazing how much different things are when you are on the outside looking in.

Regardless of all that, the meetings went well. That project is certainly in a more difficult situation, and the team members are not as open to compromise and innovation as the other team. The meeting saw a wide use of the “can’t” word and several “shoulds” and “musts.” I think this team could find some creative alternatives to the situations they are in, but the political environment encourages individual success over project success. I have seen this a lot in many different organizations. Simply put, the organization, company, and most importantly the compensation system encourages success within the organizational hierarchy over successes that span organizations. This is often one of the biggest risks that projects face, and one of the easiest to overcome.

There are a lot of ways to improve projects success chances by overcoming some of my thoughts on this are:
  • Give someone specific responsibility for project success and give them the money to do this. Asking someone to succeed on a project over which they have no real authority is a huge risk. Make no mistake – money is authority. The person with the funding is the one running the project. The closer the money is to the project, the more likely it will be used for the project only.
  • Create an extra-organizational structure (like…. say a PMO) to run the project. The less influenced this group is by the organizations involved, the better. I’ve written on impartiality of a PMO before. I was able to observe over the last few days how much easier it is for the PMO to facilitate a meeting than it is for one of the project teams to do so. In the meetings that I facilitated, the discussions were within the team and there was no thought that I was trying to push the meeting or group towards a solution. In the ones where a team member was leading, there was noticeable tension between team members and the facilitator, and a tendency of the facilitator to move the meeting in a slightly biased direction.
  • Create dedicated project teams. I’ve seen this work time and again. Of course it needs to be a TEAM, and it needs to be DEDICATED. That does not mean a few part time people from different areas working together over the phone when they can make their schedules meet. Dedicated team work best when their members are solely dedicated to the project and they are as co-located as possible. If you can have 1 or 2 locations where the majority of the team are that’s a plus. I know this may sound contrary to flat world theory – of which I am an advocate. I still think that collaboration is best done face-to-face. The further apart your team is the less they will collaborate. Face it, to collaborate to the guy next to you often means leaning back in your chair, to do so with the team in India means scheduling a conference call, and trying to get 4 groups in 3 different time zones together is a major effort. It’s not as easy as standing up and yelling – “hey, I’ve got an idea, let’s get a coke and let me bounce it by you.”

And now that I am thirsty, I think I will take my own advice and get something to drink as I – yes, you guessed it – wait on my LATE flight home. Hey maybe that’s why I don’t believe in this dispersed group thing?

Week 9 (Building a Program Management Office)

Week 9

This week I got a lot more time to do some physical, document producing work. As I’ve mentioned, one of my responsibilities is to organize the work being done by the teams and to create templates and procedures that can be used in future projects that are like this one. I kind of like that part of the work since it is a form of legacy, something that I can leave behind and something that I have the opportunity to create. I’m somewhat challenged trying to spend the kind of time I would like on these activities. Of course, I recognized that this is only one part of the entire job, and that as much as I would like, I cannot loose myself in that, but rather have to continue with the relationships that will ultimately help make the projects successful.

There in lies my newest problem – people. Here is my lesson this week. No matter how innocent a situation appears, do not ever takes sides in an internal argument. No matter how obvious it is that one side or the other is right or justified or whatever, do not take sides. You can agree with someone, but that had better be because of your knowledge or experience and not because you share the opinion. Here is what I did in a nutshell.

I was in a meeting where one member of the meeting showed their frustration and somewhat directly implied that another member was deficient in their duties. So someone got mad and made sure everyone knew it. Nothing huge - I’ve been cursed at, walked out on, hung up on, screamed at .. you name it, and this was nothing of that level, just a clear statement of displeasure with a bit of “I don’t care who knows it.” After the meeting I was called in to comment. I sad that it was clear someone was frustrated and that the behavior was noticeable and antagonistic – and in my opinion it was. I had pretty much forgotten about it but when I was asked that’s what I said. Well that was when the you-know-what hit the fan.

The person I talked to reported my statements to the manager of the person who spoke out. That person called me and quizzed me, and clearly mentioned my comments to the original offender. Well that person has placed me at the top of their hit list. This person is not the type to forgive and forget, nor are they into “proportional response.” My action has caused an all out war against me where this person is probably expending far more effort trying to harm me than in doing the project. In fact that is the project – wonder if there’s a charter or a schedule? Probably not, since project management is unnecessary to hear this person talk.

So the lesson is, if this ever happens to me again, I will politely say that I do not wish to make any comments in relation to this issue. I will say that my personal opinion is not really needed to help the project succeed. I will not be impolite, but I will be insistent and mute. Once again, I learn that no matter how honestly people ask, they do not want to hear my opinion. I already have a rule that when someone asks me a question like “is there something I can improve” or “what do you think of my management style” I always avoid commenting, deflect the conversation or give some innocuous answer. When someone working for me asks for that kind of feedback, I always tell them to think about it and ask me again in 48 hours. Those who really want to know, ask again. This doesn’t mean I don’t give unsolicited feedback where it is warranted, it is solicited feedback that has invariably gotten me in trouble.

Anyway, the week pretty much went OK, I got to spend a lot of time putting together status reports, project schedules and other useful docs. I hope to get them into use the week after next. I also spent a lot of this week getting ready for the planning sessions next week. This is really my first big opportunity to show some of my skills. I think I can lead at least one of the project teams to a good resolution. The other one, well I’m not so sure, too many chiefs and too much politics and too many divergent goals. I’m sure we will get through all that, but it is so unnecessary and counter-productive. As an outsider, I have the opportunity to observe it and learn a great deal. I hope I’m learning how to put it aside in myself and focus on the job and the people.