DISORDER IN THE PMO: PROS AND CONS

Some project management teams are highly regimented when it comes to adhering to their organization’s internal processes and protocols. They may have firm hierarchical reporting frameworks and several layers of management to work with on decision-making, budgeting, and other issues. Other PMOs have a little less structure, giving them a more flexible approach to developing strategies, reaching workable solutions, and executing projects.

For those with an aversion to flat organizations or who worry their executive teams don’t provide   enough direction, take heart. It turns out a dash of disorder in the PMO can actually be a good thing. But, like most of life, it’s all about moderation.

The good

An absence of a strict hierarchy can be very empowering to PMPs who might otherwise wither under the thumb of a micro-managing leader. Being expected to make decisions, often quickly and without all the data one would want in front of them, can sometimes push people to higher levels of performance than they would have achieved if there was less pressure moving them forward. The ability to stretch and develop leadership skills is also likely to flourish in a PMO with a fairly flat reporting structure.

With fewer mandated workgroups in the project office and greater flexibility in how connections are made, PMPs may find more efficient ways of working as a team. They’ll have increased opportunities to determine where coordination can be streamlined. Team members may also be more effective in combining their efforts and assigning work to individuals most capable of handling it. This flexibility means the PMO is able to quickly create new channels when issues arise or a new project is added to the roster.

Some companies require additional paperwork (often to compensate for poor inter-department cooperation) or multiple tiers of approvals for hiring and budget requests. When these become excessive, they can interfere with project office activities, particularly when staffing within the PMO is lean. Fewer internal processes stipulated by the organization—some of which have the potential to evolve into unnecessary effort and wasted time—gives the team more opportunity to focus on core activities necessary to move their projects forward.

The bad

When everyone is doing their own thing and activities become disjointed, the entire project office can become extremely inefficient. PMPs may find themselves duplicating each other’s efforts. Critical-path tasks might be dropped because everyone thinks someone else is doing it (and so it never gets done). Stakeholders could be left with a mixed bag of confusing messages if multiple PMPs are handling communication responsibilities without sufficient coordination in the core messaging or timing.

If the various members of the project office don’t adhere to and utilize the same proven project management methodology, it often leads to problems. The potential for processes to become less efficient and for performance to suffer is high. Expectations for how the project should progress likely won’t be uniform across the PMO, project controls won’t match from one area of responsibility to another, and resource management probably won’t transfer cleanly across the various tasks. Successfully executing projects becomes extremely difficult in such a disconnected environment.

 

Too little structure sometimes leads to budget mayhem. Multiple PMPs drawing from the same bucket of money without a central oversight function—not only to identify potential issues but also to ensure diligent tracking of available and outgoing funds for reporting purposes—may create significant cash flow problems for the PMO and the organization in general. It’s also likely to cause difficulties when trying to gather information to create an initial project budget or when the team must respond to questions about forecasted overages.

Why Completed Projects Aren’t Cause For Celebration

It’s true, some project management professionals don’t look forward to the day their project moves from “in progress” to “complete.” While most project wrap-up activities bring with them a sense of relief and accomplishment, there are aspects of a project’s completion that can sometimes make the event less than festive.

 

What is it about completing a project that could possibly put a damper on the occasion? We compiled a short list of what periodically bugs PMPs about finishing a project.

Just when you think the project is finished, a whole new round of requests start to trickle in. When stakeholders get pushback on requests mid-project, they’re likely to file them away for future prodding. Once the project is complete, those wants and needs rise to the surface again. Sometimes the leadership team has new market data and wants to refine aspects of the original project. In other instances, stakeholders were just waiting for the earlier project to wrap up because they assumed your team would now have lots of free time to do other things (they don’t). Very often, it seems like you can barely get one project done before a companion or expansion project comes along. This leaves little time to celebrate the team’s accomplishments and that’s unfortunate, because looking back on successes is a big help when the pressure is high and the team needs a boost.

Your project was completed according to the scope everyone agreed upon, but now users are claiming they thought things would be different. The communication was excellent, the achievables turned out according to the plan, your stakeholders seemed pleased all along, and mid-project user surveys didn’t point to any potential disconnects. So how did this happen? You could be dealing with a complainer extraordinaire (they do exist, unfortunately), but it’s more likely the user is truly surprised by the project’s outcome. Simply put, some people have a very difficult time envisioning how the final implementation of the project—or sometimes just parts of it—will actually look and/or function in the real world. Your team should always strive to provide as clear and complete a picture as possible of how the project’s final outcome will impact workflows, operations, processes, physical footprints, costs, revenues, and everything else, of course. But once in a while, there’s bound to be a question no user thought to ask, a concern that didn’t arise until they saw the project in action, that will assuredly make its way back to the project team.

You were diligent about following up on everything, but somehow a punch list item pops up months after the project is closed out. It’s an old story, isn’t it? Somewhere lurking in that project was a piece of equipment with a faulty switch or a chunk of software with a glitch. Even after diligent and vigorous testing was conducted, nothing was found when the project was originally closed out, but here it is—bringing that old project back to life, at least for a little while. Any number of factors can contribute to this scenario, many of which are difficult to predict. User error is responsible for some portion of punch list items that come in long after the project was wrapped up, either because users didn’t take the time to let someone know an item was outstanding during the closeout phase or because they didn’t notice that something still needed to be done. Software updates may also be an occasional culprit when it comes to punch lists, both on general equipment receiving off-the-shelf patch releases as well as customized equipment that’s supported by the manufacturer directly.

Project management training tips provided by PMAlliance Inc.

AVOID THESE CONTINGENCY PLANNING MISTAKES

Developing and working with contingency plans is a routine part of project management. Additional funds, alternate material or equipment options, revised workflows, and shifted timeframes may all be part of contingency planning efforts, and a well-crafted plan can enable a project team to be extremely nimble while ensuring the project’s success. Continue reading AVOID THESE CONTINGENCY PLANNING MISTAKES

DOES YOUR PMO TAKE CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIPS SERIOUSLY?

Customer relationship management (CRM) may sound like a problem for the sales team, but its principles actually affect project offices, too. While the technology platforms and analytical tools typically used in true CRM activities are likely beyond what the project team needs to ensure its customers are satisfied, the basics—understanding what customers desire, maintaining a meaningful dialogue between customers and the team, identifying where existing customer satisfaction efforts are falling short, etc.—are definitely applicable in project management. If your PMO isn’t already making its customer relationships a priority, consider why there could be consequences down the road. Continue reading DOES YOUR PMO TAKE CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIPS SERIOUSLY?

STRATEGIES TO DEAL WITH ANGRY PROJECT STAKEHOLDERS

Passions can run high when it comes to project management. Project office members typically have a lot invested, from maintaining the support of a hard-to-please executive team to a desire to ensure the PMO’s customer satisfaction remains high. Stakeholders may have different types of concerns—whether the project will really deliver the results they hope for, if their workflow will feel unanticipated impacts, etc.—but their commitment to the project and its achievables is often just as strong. Continue reading STRATEGIES TO DEAL WITH ANGRY PROJECT STAKEHOLDERS

DON’T LET LACK OF COMMITMENT DOOM YOUR PROJECT

Successfully executing a project—particularly those that are complex, long, or highly disruptive—requires serious commitment. That means stakeholders and sponsors must be as dedicated as the PMO team is to seeing the project through to the end. Unfortunately, the necessary level of commitment can sometimes be difficult to attain (and maintain). Continue reading DON’T LET LACK OF COMMITMENT DOOM YOUR PROJECT

10 DAYS OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Now that we’re in the thick of the gift-giving season, it seems like a good time to put together a list of gifts every project management professional would love to receive. But rather than focusing on quantity like the holiday songs of yore, we opted instead for quality—gifts that would be truly valuable to PMPs. We hope you enjoy the 10 Days of Project Management (singing optional). Continue reading 10 DAYS OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT

WHEN ESTIMATING GOES WRONG

Even the most seasoned project management professionals can draft estimates that miss the mark. When they occur they’re usually off by just a little, though occasionally they’re off by miles. But because so much of the project management process relies on these estimates, even a minor flaw can have large impacts on the team’s ability to achieve success.

Dealing with estimating errors is often difficult. With everything the PMO has on its plate, taking time out to do a thorough investigation into the causes behind an inaccurate estimate is often a low priority. Egos can also sometimes be a barrier, as people might be hesitant to admit when they’ve made a mistake or concerned their coworkers may be unhappy with them.

Unfortunately, allowing these factors to stand in the way of finding and resolving estimating mistakes means they’re likely to happen again. Tackling the issue doesn’t need to be a daunting or uncomfortable endeavor. A handful of straightforward actions will help project teams overcome their worries and manage errors in a productive way.

Project management with gantt chart

Acknowledge the mistake. No good will come from either ignoring or stubbornly refuting that errors have occurred and the estimate is or was inaccurate. It isn’t necessary to grovel, but letting anyone affected by the mistake—stakeholders, others in the PMO, the organization’s leadership team, end users, vendors, consultants, etc.—know about the flaw is prudent, as they may need to modify their own activities as a result. Be mindful to avoid turning the issue into a round of finger pointing, as that environment benefits no one. Mistakes happen.

Identify where the error entered into the equation. The first step in avoiding similar mistakes in the future is to figure out how it happened in the first place. Any number of causes have been known to inject incorrect data into an estimate, from simple calculation errors to miscommunications about information received from external partners. It’s also not uncommon for estimates to require tweaking as material availability or other factors change. Timeliness of the data may be the crux of the problem.

Determine what effect the error had on the estimate. Understanding the mistake’s impact on the final estimate is important because it may be helpful in spotting similar errors in future estimates. It’s also useful when the team begins working to undo any downstream errors that may now exist, or as support groups or outside vendors review their own data to see if changes will be necessary on their end of things.

Distribute a revised estimate if it’s still possible to do so. If an error is discovered early enough in the process, it may still be feasible to fix the mistake and redo the estimate. The important part of this step is distributing the revision to others who may have used the original information as a basis for their own activities. They may now need to update data or actions within their areas of responsibility. Be clear about which data the revised estimate replaces and let others know who to contact if they need additional details. This is not the time for haphazard communication.

Examine the PMO’s processes and update them to avoid repeating the same mistake on subsequent projects. In the interest of continuously improving the team’s performance and ensuring repeatable success, any practices or processes that contributed to the error occurring in the first place (or being incorporated into the final estimate, depending on where the mistake originated) should be reviewed and revised. It may also be prudent to create a process for double checking estimates if the team is concerned about similar errors occurring again.

DEALING WITH POOR PERFORMERS

A frequent concern among project management team leaders is how best to manage strong performers. How can their potential be maximized? Where can their strengths take them? Is it possible to get their talents to rub off on others?

The flip side to this concern is managing those team members whose performance isn’t quite up to par. It’s an issue that’s less common, thankfully, but it’s much more pressing when it does occur. Poor performers have the potential to spark significant havoc within even the highest-functioning PMOs and to create a measurable drag on progress.

It’s important to understand how much damage a poor performer can inflict, and what that damage typically looks like. Being able to quickly spot and address lackluster performance is crucial to keeping the rest of the group on track.

poor project performance

The leadership team must remember that early intervention is key. At the first sign of sagging performance, the employee involved (or employees, if it appears the problem may include more than one individual) should be contacted. Immediately work to identify any downstream effects, such as impacts to timing or resource allocations, that may be caused by reduced performance. Devise a strategy to bring progress back on track as quickly as possible, either by resolving the existing performance issue or by adjusting how the rest of the team supports the current project plan. This will not only help in the short term by providing poor performers with a path back to a normal working level, it will also ensure the PMO isn’t hampered in the long run by trying to fix a problem that’s already snowballed.

Initial discussions with anyone whose efforts aren’t up to par should focus on determining the facts. Has performance really dropped? Something as innocuous as a change in how metrics are gathered or measured can give the appearance of waning performance, even if that isn’t what’s actually happening. Are the employee’s efforts being stymied by new processes within the organization? Is the team member simply dealing with the ripple effects of another person’s drooping performance? Are external factors causing internal performance to fall? Have a candid conversation so everyone is aware of the causes. This will also help to determine if there are effects that haven’t yet been spotted.

It’s vital to protect other team members from being affected by the issues. Poor performers can be toxic to the rest of the project office. They have the potential to sap morale, derail progress in other areas, even disrupt the sense of team the PMO has worked so hard to achieve. While personnel issues should remain absolutely private, it may be prudent to bring the team together to work through any effects that are impacting overall progress. This will help speed the recovery process if the problem has trickled into other areas. Another strategy to consider is an increase in team-building activities designed to reinforce the good working relationships and mutual respect the team has already built.

Sticking to conventional approaches may leave the individual without a truly effective solution, so be creative when looking for ways to fix the problem. Poor performance can have its roots in any number of factors (and often a combination of several factors), many of which have little to do with the employee’s desire to do well. Training may be one option if the individual is being asked to take on tasks outside their area of expertise. Mentoring can also be helpful if a good understanding of the organization’s culture and philosophy—and being better able to navigate its processes and political nuances—is part of what’s missing.

AVOID PREPARATION FATIGUE

Most project management professionals have been there: the project that never seems to actually begin. Stakeholders take their time negotiating what they need and where they can compromise. The PMO may be asked to draft multiple iterations of timelines, budgets, and even potential vendor lists. Discussions go on and on. The planning continues to be drawn out and the team isn’t able to get to work.

It’s a difficult situation for everyone. End users aren’t sure when anticipated work disruptions will begin. Stakeholders don’t know when they can look forward to everything being done. It’s likely no one involved is clear on what the project’s objectives will be.

One significant risk for those within the PMO is burnout from being in extended limbo. Teetering on the brink of beginning of project for too long saps morale and energy. It’s an issue that can negatively affect productivity across the board.

To ensure the team’s forward momentum doesn’t suffer, preparation fatigue is something the PMO’s leadership should be ready to address and mitigate as soon as it appears. A handful of strategies can be helpful in keeping everyone focused and engaged.

ProjectTasksYouHate

 

Reduce the size of the team. The moment it becomes obvious that the planning phase will be protracted, team members should be reassigned to other efforts. This helps to eliminate the anxiety created by stalled discussions and extended negotiations. Rather than keep everyone on a project when their efforts aren’t yet required, it’s better to allow them to contribute to other activities that will help the team move forward while enabling individuals to continue honing their skills and gaining experience. By reducing the number of team members, those that remain on the pending project will also be able to take greater ownership of the duties that still exist and be more tightly focused on making progress.

Provide regular updates. Even after team members have been reassigned to other projects, they’re still likely to be keeping an eye on how the discussions are coming along. To prevent their time from being occupied with routinely checking in for information on where things stand, it’s often helpful to implement a schedule for sending out updates to all those team members who will be involved in supporting the project once it’s officially underway. Take an extra step toward reducing the potential for distraction by letting everyone know when they can expect to receive updates—weekly, monthly, etc.—and who will be sending them. This eliminates as much uncertainty as possible and provides the team with reassurance they won’t miss out on important status reports.

Develop a kickoff protocol. Team members can’t really devote their full attention to other activities if there’s a constant undercurrent of concern that their efforts will need to return to the stalled project at any moment. Eliminating this ambivalence can often be accomplished by setting a formal kickoff protocol that lets everyone know the project is finally ready to start. It doesn’t need to be an elaborate system. How the protocol is structured will depend largely on the organization, but it may begin with something as simple as letting the team know the project has been assigned its own capital budget number or that signature authority has been officially delegated to the project leader. Whatever the protocol entails, be sure it’s outlined for everyone in the PMO so they know what to look for and will recognize it when they see it. It’s another strategy to help team members dedicate their efforts to other projects, comfortable in the knowledge they’ll be alerted as soon as the stalled project is ready to move forward.

6 THINGS TO DO WHEN A COWORKER LEAVES

In addition to the standard exit interviews most organizations carry out, there are also a handful of additional items the project team should close the loop on whenever a project management professional or other key PMO member leaves. By working through the following 6 items, the project office will be ready to continue moving forward after a valued coworker departs.

project management decisions

1 – Identify delegated activities. Project team members delegate any number of items, from routine tasks to approval powers. Before the PMP leaves, talk with them about what’s been delegated and to whom. Specific items to consider include technology-related delegates, such as an administrative assistant or other team member who has the ability to access calendars or e-mail accounts. Look also at delegated capabilities within any document management or project tracking systems to ensure workflows won’t be interrupted.

Not only may the exiting team member have delegated tasks to others, they may have had activities or authorization powers delegated to them. If possible, discuss the status of these relationships before the coworker leaves. This allows the team time to transfer responsibility to another person in the group or notify the delegator that the task is being returned to them for action.

2 – Understand system usage. It’s prudent to confirm which systems the team member used on a regular basis, both internally as well as outside the company (perhaps via a consultant or vendor). Something as simple as knowing the worker routinely used a material supplier’s online portal to confirm parts availability could be tremendously helpful to any team member who will be taking on some or all of the exiting employee’s responsibilities.

3 – Be aware of upcoming activities. Most of the team member’s tasks should already be captured somewhere in the project timeline, but other activities may not be included on the list of critical path items. Were they scheduled for training? Did they have any upcoming presentations on their calendar? Were they part of a mentor program? The PMO may not decide to continue with all of these pre-planned activities, but knowing they’re on the radar will be useful in assigning tasks and fine-tuning workloads once the worker leaves.

4 – Look at credentialing. If the exiting group member held certifications necessary for project execution—credentials that facilitated regulated activities, for example—the team will need to make arrangements to either have someone else certified or to contract with an outside partner who holds the required certifications. It’s not uncommon for only one team member to hold niche credentials, so be sure you do your due diligence and set the PMO up for continued success down the road.

5 – Ask about memberships. PMPs frequently belong to any number of professional, industry, and networking groups. Find out if the individual was a member of any associations or other organizations, and determine if their membership will transfer with them (some do) or if the PMO now has an opportunity to place another worker into their spot.

6 – See if there’s a prodigy waiting in the wings. Inquire about any fellow team members the worker may have been grooming for bigger things. Is someone particularly qualified to move into the exiting person’s role? Senior-level PMPs often know not only which PMO members are interested in opportunities for advancement, they’re also keenly aware of who’s motivated enough to step up when a position becomes available. If the exiting individual knows of anyone internally who has either expressed an interest in the job or who has received specialized mentoring or education to cover some of the duties, now is the time to gather that information.

 

IS YOUR PMO TOP HEAVY?

A common problem in project offices is a lack of experienced senior-level staff, but PMOs can sometimes find themselves heavy on leadership but short on other workers. Rather than being a dream scenario, it can actually have the potential to disrupt existing workflows and hinder the team’s ability to achieve success.

One concern is that the art of leadership brings with it an array of tasks needing to be done. This can leave little time for other day-to-day project activities, from following up on the availability of needed materials to maintaining thorough reference documentation. If the PMO experiences a staffing shakeup or significant reduction that eliminates a number of frontline positions, those who have historically focused on orchestrating the activities of others must now transition into a different set of competencies.

PMOs with an overabundance of top-level staff must quickly change tactics if success is to be achieved. Several strategies can help them do that in the short term, and some can also be leveraged to round out the team’s capabilities in the long term, too.

top heavy PMO

Launch an internship program. Bringing a select group of interns into the mix can be hugely beneficial for everyone involved. Your PMO gains the advantage of high performers with baseline skills who are eager to learn all they can about project management, and the interns get the opportunity to hone their skills and pull knowledge from your team’s senior level leaders.

Adding interns to the project office is a particularly attractive solution for PMOs with lean funding, as the cost to set up and maintain internship programs is often very low. This may also be a good approach if the PMO anticipates only intermittent needs for additional support, or if staffing levels haven’t been guaranteed over the life of a long project. Internship durations can be established to coincide with these variances, giving the project team support when it’s needed and freeing it from expensive labor obligations when it doesn’t.

A strong internship program can also help the PMO maintain a reliable flow of new talent. As interns progress through their educational track, they may eventually choose to join the team on a full time basis.

Partner with a consultancy. It may seem counterintuitive to bring in even more senior level collaborators, but working with an objective outside expert can actually be a very effective way to balance out the team’s existing skills and available resources without stepping on toes or injuring egos. Experienced project management consultants can be useful in developing a new structure for leadership responsibilities and determining how to assign tasks within it. With the consultancy’s help, members of the team will also be better able to redefine their roles—even if it’s only for one specific project—and embrace a revised way of working.

Some consultancies offer staffing programs to provide ongoing support in the form of frontline professionals with good on-the-ground experience. These PMPs can then fill in when the PMO’s internal resources are stretched too thin.

Gain assistance from internal partners. It may be possible to more heavily leverage the organization’s other inside resources on a limited-time basis. Look for ways your team can take advantage of help in administrative and support areas first, as that’s often where leader-heavy project offices need the most assistance. Is the Purchasing team able to facilitate more of the team’s price comparison duties during this project? Can the Legal department take on additional contract oversight in the short term? The organization’s resource levels often prevent this from becoming a viable long-term strategy, but PMOs may be able to gain some needed near-term relief.

LESSONS FROM FOOTBALL: REGAIN YOUR PMO’S WINNING FORM

Many PMOs have experienced it: they’ve been doing the same thing over and over, but suddenly their efforts don’t result in success. How did that happen? And how can your team fix it?

Football teams sometimes fall into the same conundrum. After winning against an opponent early in the season, they may lose to the same team during a later game. Identifying where their tactics went wrong typically takes more than simply pointing to any one error.

As project management teams look for ways to return to winning form, they should follow the lead of football clubs. These teams spread their investigation wide to determine how their strategies failed. When the simple answers don’t cut it, PMOs should look through their entire playbook to see where things when wrong.

pm football

Check your defenses

A football team’s defensive line keeps the other team from gaining the upper hand. Chief among a PMO’s defensive strategies are the project control tools and methodologies the team uses to ensure tasks are on track, milestones will be reached as planned, scope is being managed appropriately, and the project is generally moving forward the way it should. Stringent controls are crucial for spotting problems early and avoiding the small domino effects that can tumble into a huge disaster. They give the team an opportunity to correct problems before they inflict irreparable damage on the project’s chances of success.

Look at your offensive line

As your PMO is going for the end zone, a number of strategies are in play on the offensive side to help them reach their achievables. Of primary importance are planning and communication, which give the project its strong foundation and keep it moving forward throughout the entire lifecycle.

Planning. If your efforts during the planning phase fall short, everything else in the project could be handled according to protocol but the results may still be disappointing. Because of time constraints and internal pressures, project teams may feel the early planning stage is the most likely to be compressed or strained.

Communication. Maintaining the flow of information between team members as well as to and from collaborators outside the PMO is crucial to success. Evaluate if any roadblocks exist that may be hampering the team’s efforts or if communication is simply not happening at the right time.

 Examine recent successes

Football teams are legendary for carefully reviewing past games, looking for things they need to do better next time. If your project post-mortem analyses have been thorough, chances are good the PMO may have already identified harbingers of your current problem in earlier projects. Even when nothing stands out, go back through recent projects and look for telltale clues that a process or practice isn’t being carried out correctly or that concerns weren’t getting the follow through needed to fully resolve them. The team could be repeating these same mistakes (especially if they were able to succeed in spite of them previously), or it could be that a lack of discipline is now carrying over into other areas.

Evaluate your mentality

Professional sports teams know that mental toughness and attitude are crucial components of success. They’re also keenly aware that overconfidence and complacency are dangerous mindsets to have. Has your PMO grown so self-assured that they’re no longer concerned when warning signs pop up? Or have they essentially psyched themselves out because they had trouble with earlier projects that were large, complex, or otherwise similar to the project they’re facing now? The team’s attitude may not manifest itself in any one mistake, but it can surely contribute to any number of errors if left unchecked.

MAINTAINING TRANSPARENCY DURING DIFFICULT PROJECTS

Project management teams work hard to be transparent in their actions. They’re well aware that stakeholders and the executive team are watching each project, and sometimes outside partners and even the public may also be observing. This transparency occasionally encounters challenges but there are sure fire strategies PMOs can use to stay on track and maintain clarity in every task, recommendation and decision they undertake.

Year-End Tasks Pmo Overlook

Communication. This is by far the most powerful tool the PMO has at its disposal when it comes to maintaining transparency. Communicating with stakeholders is crucial, whether it’s disseminating the schedule for work disruptions or providing an update on material availability. But communications need to be a two-way street. Stakeholders must have a way to ask questions, express concerns, and request additional information.

To streamline communications coming into the PMO, it’s often a good idea to provide a clear mechanism for submitting inquiries. In addition, the team must respond to questions as quickly as is feasible. If the information stakeholders want isn’t available or can’t be released due to confidentiality concerns, say so. It’s better to divulge what you can than to plant suspicion or mistrust in stakeholders’ minds.

Consistency. Assuring stakeholders that your team is transparent in its actions becomes nearly impossible if your team isn’t consistent in its communications and other messaging. Though this may happen innocently enough, such as when updated information hasn’t yet been relayed to all members of the team, the damage it’s likely to inflict on the group will be difficult to repair.

One good strategy to avoid inadvertent inconsistencies or miscommunications is to designate a few key team members to handle distributing information and routing any questions that come through to others in the group. It may also be prudent to have someone in this capacity review materials—graphics, charts, drawings, etc.—prior to release outside the PMO. This helps to bring the entire range of communications under the same messaging umbrella and also adds another layer of scrutiny for any dates, budget numbers, or other data that may still be tentative or in flux.

Data. In many instances, the data your team uses to make strategic decisions and guide its planning efforts will be key in allaying stakeholders’ doubts and concerns. Everyone from the leadership group to end users wants to know that actions (especially those they may not agree with) are based on sense and reason.

The solution is to make as much information available for review as possible, so others outside the project management team are able to scrutinize—and hopefully understand—why the datasets support the PMO’s conclusions and recommendations. Remember to provide sources for your information, too. If data is coming from outside the organization, denote this for context.

Determination. No, this isn’t resistance to change or a hesitancy to allow those outside the PMO to participate as true partners. Instead, it refers to the need for the PMO to push back against the external pressure that may be aimed at influencing how decisions are made, schedules developed, budgets created, or priorities set. There are often stakeholders—some who hold authorization power over resources the project team requires—who would like to see their needs at the top of the priority list.

Adherence to best practices and a proven planning and control methodology is the best way to resist this kind of potentially destructive pressure. Good project management protocols will keep the team from compromising its efforts or agreeing to compress or skip critical steps. They’re also instrumental in guiding the team on decisions related to where activities can reasonably be compressed or modified.

Project management training tips provided by PMAlliance Inc.

12 PMO ACTIONS THAT GIVE BIG RESULTS

If your PMO is looking for ways to improve efficiency or reduce overhead (or maybe the team just needs a general refresh), consider any of these 12 actions as a launch pad.

Project management with gantt chart

1 – Make end user communications a priority. So many aspects of successful project management hinge on end user interactions, including advocacy efforts, stakeholder satisfaction, and even avoiding scope creep. When end user communications are a top priority for the entire team, every one of these activities benefits.

2 – Centralize documentation and other project information. Managing data in multiple locations is, with few exceptions, less efficient and more error-prone than bringing everything together in one place. Software platforms are now available to maintain strong data security while still allowing team members the access they need.

3 – Make status updates available on demand. With the number of project management team members and stakeholders working offsite or independently, sending regular status updates isn’t always enough. By making updates available on demand, everyone has the information they need to make the best strategic decisions.

4 – Boost productivity with online solutions. Web-based platforms—from video conferencing to document sharing—can dramatically improve the productivity of project teams. These are especially useful for PMOs with mobile workers or executives, or who often partner with remote stakeholders.

5 – Renew your PMO’s commitment to training. Even if budgets are lean, every team member should have the opportunity to participate in regular training sessions. Project management training expands the PMO’s knowledge and capabilities while increasing team members’ job satisfaction.

6 – Encourage networking. Robust connections with other professionals are crucial for short- and long-term career success. Well-connected PMPs have access to a wider base of knowledge, are able to tap into better information on market pressures, and can use their networks to identify helpful industry partners.

7 – Support mentoring. Your PMO doesn’t need to create or manage its own mentoring program. Instead, it may be sufficient to make it known throughout the team that mentoring relationships are encouraged. Team members will often develop mentor/mentee partnerships on their own if they know it’s something the management group supports.

8 – Engage the entire team in strategic discussions. When PMPs at every level are involved in developing strategy and linking project achievables to the organization’s mission, their engagement throughout the project’s entire lifecycle is typically greater.

9 – Develop a true culture of advocacy. Talk is cheap when it comes to being good project advocates. PMO leaders should work to make advocacy efforts part of every team member’s role while also doing their own part to be good advocates.

10 – Partner with a data expert if you don’t have on in-house. Benchmarking is an important tool, but only if your team knows how to properly gather and interpret information. If that isn’t a skill your PMO possesses, partner with an outside expert who can ensure your data measurement efforts are on track and effective.

11 – Be consistent with project post-mortems. A thorough post-mortem analysis of every project is important to a team’s ongoing success. Unfortunately, each analysis takes time, something that’s often in short supply. PMOs should make a concerted effort to consistently carry out post-project evaluations as a way to improve stakeholder satisfaction, eliminate waste, reduce costs, and boost efficiency.

12 – Use technology to streamline operations. Tasks such as deep-level data analysis and knowledge base management may be better accomplished with one of the new breed of technology tools now available. Include the upfront purchase cost and training time in your ROI considerations and see if one of these platforms might increase your team’s productivity.

THE GOOD AND THE BAD OF PMO MATURITY

Many PMOs strive to mature. The project management professionals within these groups don’t just want to become better at what they do, they often see tangible benefits in acquiring or developing the skills, expertise, and resources necessary to take on more complex project tasks. Expanding capabilities and mastering competencies is well and good, but PMO maturity sometimes brings unexpected challenges. Below we look at the good and the bad that comes with developing a mature project office.

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The good

Availability of metrics. One benefit of a mature PMO is that gathering and analyzing detailed metrics is typically part of the team’s established practices. For organizations where cost containment efforts are a priority or where datasets are important tools in developing strategy, such as for setting manufacturing  levels, a mature PMO offers an increased ability to assemble large, very specific data points and conduct targeted benchmarking.

Standardized methodologies. Organizations that must follow precise practices—most commonly found in regulated industries but also occurring when a particular project falls under one or more compliance mandates—often find the capabilities of a mature PMO to be a significant benefit. Projects across the company can be handled in accordance with a single methodology for managing controls, expenditures, documentation, and contracts.

Centralized management. Many organizations tackle only a few projects at a time, making oversight relatively straightforward. But for those companies with multiple projects happening at once, and often with differing durations, having a mature PMO capable of handling everything in one centralized place can be a huge positive. This typically allows for better purchasing power and leaner resource management, both benefits for those organizations that have experienced overruns or inefficiencies on past projects.

Internal expertise. If the culture of the organization eschews the use of external resources, then a mature PMO—with its broad knowledge base and skills—is often the answer. A wider variety of projects can be successfully executed without a heavy reliance on outside expertise, and juggling workloads across multiple projects is less complicated than when coordinating external labor.

The bad

Hurry up! Moving a PMO along the maturity spectrum is, by its very nature, a slow process. Competencies must expand, expertise typically broadens through experience (rather than new talent acquisitions), and best practices must filter across the wide range of activities the team oversees. That sometimes plodding pace can create an enormous amount of frustration among team members, who are often high-achieving, results-driven individuals. But try to hurry the process and you’ll probably progress even more slowly, as changes no longer have time to permeate throughout the project lifecycle and support teams flounder in their attempts to assimilate new practices and protocols.

Beware complacency. Mature PMOs can rest easy in the knowledge they’re adhering to best practices and achieving consistent success. The problem? Resting easy is exactly what project teams can’t do when it comes to implementing improved processes and incorporating new thought leadership into existing practices. Sometimes it’s a fine line between maturity and entrenchment, so keep an eye out for complacency.

Disconnect between the PMO and parent organization. Different companies have different needs, and not every organization wants or requires a PMO with a high level of maturity. The corporate culture may lean toward departmental independence, where each group is encouraged to oversee its own projects and initiatives. If the PMO interjects itself into this process uninvited, it could put the project team at odds with stakeholders as well as the organization’s leadership. This type of situation also has the potential to negatively impact the level of resources the PMO is able to procure, making project success far more difficult.

Project management training tips provided by PMAlliance inc.

WHAT CAN YOU ACCOMPLISH IN TWENTY MINUTES?

Setting aside small amounts of time every day to accomplish big things is a popular strategy. With the hectic schedules that are typical for most project management professionals, it can be tremendously effective. The tasks PMPs can tackle with this simple approach are as diverse as they are impressive. If you’re looking for a way to fit in a personal objective or a side project, consider these ideas for making your twenty minutes as productive as possible.

time for project management

Project management training doesn’t just happen in a classroom. PMPs can expand their skills wherever they happen to be—at their desks or on the road—without setting aside huge chunks of time. Newly learned skills can be sharpened by running through real-world scenarios. It’s also possible to learn a new language in twenty minutes a day, either with online tutorials or audio-based instruction.

Expand your business knowledge. Understanding trends, from leadership techniques to evolving market pressures, can be instructive on many levels. Consider taking time each day to read the latest business books, including biographies of key thought leaders and industry innovators. Reviewing leading blogs can also be a good way to remain up-to-date on what’s happening. You may choose to either stick to project-related resources or branch out to other areas to broaden your knowledge.

Churn through support tasks. PMPs frequently help other internal groups—accounting, purchasing, IT, etc. If you’ve agreed to provide assistance such as being a beta tester for a new piece of software or reviewing updated contract boilerplates, it’s often difficult to fit those tasks into an already busy schedule. By committing just twenty minutes each day, you can more quickly complete what you set out to do.

Ongoing responsibilities can also be managed effectively by carving out time every day. Rather than addressing tasks reactively, convert your energy into a more proactive approach. Consider using the time to maintain a clean filing system. Something as simple as clearing out the inbox each day can help keep busy PMPs efficient. It’s also a good opportunity to delegate tasks that would be better done by another team member. Wrap up notes from recent meetings, add information to the PMO’s intranet, and assign permissions to any data you’ve entered into the team’s document management system.

Nurture your mentoring relationships. Regular communication is crucial to both mentors and mentees. If you’re a mentor, consider devoting time to reviewing questions or problems posed by your mentee. If you have a mentor, take this time to digest the knowledge and information they’ve passed along to you and pull your thoughts together for your next conversation.

Brainstorm. Creativity is a muscle that works best when it’s exercised regularly, so set aside time on an ongoing basis for brainstorming. Clearly define the problem or issue you want to address, eliminate distractions (send phone calls to voicemail, set message notifications to mute, close your door if you can), and jot down your thoughts as you go along. You may find this is difficult to do every day—creativity can be mentally draining—and some PMPs choose to alternate which days they spend brainstorming.

Prepare for tomorrow. Each PMP has their own method for getting ready for the next day. Some work better by tying up today’s tasks, others prefer to focus on what needs to be done tomorrow. Either way, each day can be much more effective when there’s a plan for tackling time-sensitive tasks and critical-path activities. This is also the time to review task lists to be sure important items haven’t been overlooked and that every task on the list is a step toward your broader objectives.

GET YOUR PMO READY FOR THE FALL SWING

Autumn often brings the image of people getting back into the swing of things and activities ramping up after the long days of summer. Every season brings its own challenges, though, and fall is no exception. PMOs need to understand where potential pitfalls may lurk while the leaves are turning, so they can be ready to avoid interruptions and keep their projects moving forward.

Changing Market

Know the vacation schedule for all team members. Summer is usually seen as vacation season, but some people prefer to enjoy their time off after the kids have gone back to school. Be sure the entire team is aware of any scheduled vacations or other absences. Look at key milestone dates to see if there are potential conflicts and work with the group now to determine how best to address them. Discuss the coverage plans for ongoing tasks so everyone is aware of how workloads are likely to be affected.

Remember to coordinate with consultants, key vendors, and stakeholders, too, as their absences also typically have the potential to impact resource management and other activities. While you’re planning for out-of-office coverage, be sure to discuss communication plans with those who will be gone. If they won’t be available by phone or e-mail, it’s best to know that ahead of time. This allows team members the leeway to proceed without waiting to hear back from vacationers, or to know they can pursue approvals through other channels if no response is received within a set amount of time.

Evaluate how the weather might impact your projects. In some areas of the country, fall means inclement weather. For projects happening in those regions, that could translate into schedule impacts. Even if your project is occurring in an area not normally affected by declining weather conditions, it may still play havoc with resources or vendors. This could mean a shortage of supplies coming from regions experiencing bad weather (manufacturing operations are often at the mercy of raw material availability) or simply higher prices for those items. Bad weather also frequently affects shipping schedules, since delivery trucks and rail cars are also at the mercy of Mother Nature. Everything from catering a large meeting to obtaining construction materials could be affected, and planning for potential impacts is prudent.

Travel, too, could be affected in terms of delayed or canceled flights and blocked roads. If members of the project management team plan to attend meetings or other events out of town, be sure there are contingency plans in place should their return schedule be affected. For vendors visiting from outside the area, have an alternate plan ready if a delay in their arrival might trigger problems downstream.

Ensure funding availability. For many organizations, fall is dangerously close to the end of the year, when funding levels are reset and the current approved budgets everyone is working with cease to exist. Before your PMO gets caught up in a money crunch, talk with the accounting team about what your needs are and how you can work together to establish a stream of funding that will continue from one calendar year to the next. It may also be wise to discuss your options with the purchasing group, who may suggest accelerating buying schedules to ensure expenditures are spent and captured within the current budget cycle.

Because it’s also common for the budget process to consume a significant amount of effort, this is the time to start working on the PMO’s needs for next year. Approvals and other activities may take a while, so get going now to be sure the team is ahead of the game.

Project management training tips provided by PMAlliance Inc.

THE PROJECT MANAGEMENT SECRETS OF SOAPBOX RACERS

On the surface, a soapbox derby seems to have little in common with project management. But project management professionals can actually learn quite a bit by observing how soapbox teams achieve project success.

Corporate management and consulting concept

Some projects are huge. Scale doesn’t have to be about complexity or duration. Sometimes projects are simply so monumental—in a career, in an organization—that they fill your entire windshield. A few high-profile soapbox races happen each year that are truly grand. As in the corporate project management realm, teams need to make peace with the enormity of these projects so they can tackle them without feeling overwhelmed.

Don’t let past failures get you down. When race day arrives, every soapbox team knows there can only be one winner. They also know that, even if they didn’t win last year, their efforts this time around might still be enough to get them over the finish line in first place. Project teams should learn from their past mistakes, but they need to be able to meet new challenges head on and without trepidation.

Past success is no guarantee of future results. The defending champion from last year’s derby walks into each new event with something to prove. Rather than sitting back riding on the wins from previous years, these racers know their past successes mean they need to work even harder with each successive race if they want to win. PMPs should be careful they don’t become complacent with their skills, since every new project brings the potential for new challenges.

Stakeholder engagement counts for a lot. Fan support doesn’t win a soapbox derby, but every good racer makes it a priority to entertain the crowd. The energy given off by fans—and stakeholders—helps to keep everyone engaged.

Be mindful of potential dangers, even when things are going well. A soapbox racer setting a blistering pace is always aware the next corner could bring a problem. Will they be going too fast to negotiate a tight turn? Is there gravel on the road? Like PMPs, soapbox drivers have learned to maximize their productivity now without losing sight of where challenges are likely to lurk.

Planning and execution are equally important. Showing up at a derby without a good car is a recipe for failure, but so is tackling a course with a driver who isn’t capable of getting the best performance out of their machine. Savvy soapbox racers scout out the course and fine tune their car’s handling setup before every event. When race time comes, they put all their energy into performing well right here, right now. PMOs should also be mindful of this balance between good planning and competent execution.

Teamwork should be fun. Watch the soapbox cars carrying multiple people and you’ll quickly see that teamwork isn’t all about work. PMPs may not always enjoy their working relationships as much as the soapbox teams do, but engaging is some lighthearted activities or putting together an occasional social function can really improve morale.

Learn to recover quickly. Many soapbox racers stumble—they hit a hay bale, they lose speed in a turn, a wheel comes off—but they know that persistence can save the day. Every project is sure to have its own set of glitches, even if they’re only minor. Project teams need to have good momentum if they want to overcome these obstacles and achieve consistent success.

Enjoy the journey. Win or lose, crash or conquer, every soapbox racer has a good time. If they’ve given their best effort, PMPs will also be able to look back on every project with pride and satisfaction.

 

Project management training tips provided by PMAlliance Inc.

DON’T PANIC! STEPS TO STEM THE TIDE OF WORRY

Panic in a PMO is a terrible thing. It crushes productivity and saps morale. Helping project team members confront and deal with frightening situations can be difficult, particularly if the senior leadership group is facing the same concerns. Fortunately, a set of baseline steps can bring the team together to address the anxiety in front of them and help get everyone back on track.

Get informed. Panic is often driven by one of two things: Misinformation or no information. If you have a feeling of dread when it comes to a project (or perhaps a particular task or issue), take it as a cue that you probably need better information. If possible, go straight to the source. A trusted vendor may be able to answer your questions, as might another internal team member with direct knowledge of the situation. Avoid simply asking around inside the PMO, as you’re likely to receive details of the same dubious origin you have now. Gathering the facts allows you to tackle the problem from a real-world perspective.

Communicate. If you suspect others in the PMO are shifting into panic mode, consider what information you may have that would be useful in helping them better understand the current lay of the land. Even if you don’t hold the key to quelling the team’s concerns, bringing everyone together to discuss the project’s status and provide a progress review can be immensely helpful. It encourages other PMPs to ask questions in a safe environment (sometimes team members don’t know who to ask or feel it’s inappropriate to dig for details) and also shows those who are worried that they probably aren’t alone. Camaraderie can be a powerful tool in times like these.

Look for solutions. Continuing to sit around and worry is rarely an effective way to address panic. Instead, pull the team together and begin brainstorming. Talk about potential fixes and evaluate if additional help—either assistance from another department or perhaps an experienced outside consultant—might be needed. Openly discuss the triggers behind the team’s concerns. These conversations may be uncomfortable (fear of failure usually is), but reassure team members that they should speak candidly and without fear of reprisal. Finger pointing solves nothing, and you’ll need to be ready to shut it down if it occurs. Keep the focus on finding workable solutions.

Focus on avoiding panic next time. Falling into panic mode is nearly guaranteed if the PMO repeats the same steps that led team members to become concerned in the first place. Improve communication channels within the team as well as with stakeholder and external partners. Maintain tighter focus on milestones, resource management, and activity planning. Employing a proven project control methodology is a wise approach. Not only will it keep the current can’t-fail project on track, it also allows the team to carefully manage their time and resources, ensuring that future projects don’t stumble and push the team into panic mode again.

Admit you may not be able to address every worry immediately. There are times when panic descends for reasons that simply can’t be fixed right away, even by seasons PMPs. Rumors of staffing cuts or lost contracts, for example, can easily spread terror through the team. Rather than searching for solutions (which the PMO may not be in a position to provide) instead bring the group together to evaluate existing workloads and discuss how best to deal with potential impacts. You might not be able to formulate a solid plan to deal with every issue on the horizon, but the PMO will be prepared to tackle unpleasant realities if necessary.

Pitfalls o fBig Projects

Project management training tips provided by PMAlliance Inc.