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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

AVOIDING IMPROVEMENT BURNOUT

Successful project management teams are always looking for ways to streamline operations, reduce waste, increase cost savings, boost stakeholder satisfaction, and generally ensure more consistent results. Unfortunately, those PMOs that focus heavily on process improvements run the very real risk of subjecting team members to a form of “improvement burnout.”

Just as project professionals involved in long projects may experience burnout from time to time, those who are constantly asked to focus on process improvement opportunities are also susceptible to the same sort of occasional weariness. There are ways PMOs can avoid improvement-related fatigue and keep everyone engaged and excited about the team’s improvement efforts. A handful of suggestions can help your PMO maintain its enthusiasm.

improve management

Turn improvement efforts into projects. Just as time is allotted to planning and other project activities, tasks associated with improvement initiatives must also be given the necessary resources in both time and funding. PMO members will quickly become overwhelmed if their workloads aren’t able to support their project responsibilities as well as any improvement action items that have been assigned to them. Performance in both areas is almost sure to suffer as a result, driving morale lower and triggering serious burnout. Set realistic expectations for any improvement initiatives the team agrees to undertake, and be mindful of other obligations each member has on their plate.

Focus on one improvement project at a time. Unless your PMO is extremely large or the team is broken into distinct groups, it’s usually better to complete one improvement initiative before moving on to another. This allows the team sufficient time to execute each project while also giving them the much-needed opportunity to feel the rewards of their success. More importantly, staggering improvement initiatives ensures that any necessary benchmarking is able to be conducted—and the data captured and examined—before additional changes are made that could impact or inadvertently skew the results.

Partner with an improvement expert. Though PMOs are often able to execute improvement initiatives on their own, it’s sometimes helpful to bring in a project management consultant with deep expertise in managing successful improvement efforts. The benefits are two-fold: it gives your team an opportunity to learn some new techniques and hone their methodologies, and it may also be useful if your PMO seems to have one improvement project starting every time another is finishing. This type of never-ending cycle can contribute significantly to burnout issues, and an outside expert may be able to consolidate or prioritize various improvement initiatives for better results and less fatigue.

Know when improvement strategies aren’t worth the effort. Though most improvement opportunities are good in the long run, there are times when the benefits just aren’t compelling enough to make them worthwhile. Your team should be ready to identify any low-return opportunities and set them aside. Improvements to processes that are rarely utilized (because they only support a limited range of projects, for example) are one possible instance where the efforts likely outweigh the advantages.

Give everyone a break now and then. It’s crucial that every team member have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their labors without having to focus on which improvements they need to tackle next. It also gives the PMO a chance to step back and evaluate how the improvements are performing in the real world. In tandem with benchmarking data, team members can offer their perspectives on whether improvement efforts worked out as planned and where additional opportunities may exist to further streamline operations. This time away from actual improvement activities provides team members with the ability to more objectively see how previous practices have been improved.

FIXING A BROKEN PROCESS – PART 1: IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM, CREATE THE SOLUTION

Organizations often have entrenched and possibly outdated processes that aren’t as efficient or effective as they could be. For PMOs interested in improving project performance, these flawed processes may be holding them back or limiting how tightly operations can be streamlined. But changing established processes is sometimes an uphill battle. We’ve provided some pointers on implementing changes to those processes in a way that offers solid benefits and maintains stakeholder support.

Identify where the problems exist

It’s a fundamental step but it bears repeating—you can’t truly correct a problem until you know what it is you’re trying to fix. Effectively addressing any problem requires the team to dig down to the root cause and solve the issue at its core. This is where team involvement is crucial, since the organization’s leadership may not see the problem’s origins the same way the employees who deal with the problem every day do.

Gather the details on the problem and its effect on the PMO by pulling the group together and discussing the issue, from its core all the way downstream through the impacts it has on the rest of the team’s operations. Be careful to separate root causes from additional problems that may be caused further down the line, so you aren’t implementing a solution that falls short of success. This will also be useful when setting expectations with stakeholders, since the new process may need to be implemented in phases with follow-on improvements kicking in later.

Create a better solution

Using that same team platform, it’s time to begin brainstorming ways to address the issue(s) you’ve identified. Look first to answers to the immediate problem, taking in suggestions from the group on what a better solution might look like. After one or two preferred plans have been developed and vetted, shift to examining how the new process proposals are likely to impact downstream activities.

With the baseline evaluation is done, project management professionals should next look for changes that may be needed in adjacent areas. A comprehensive solution may involve more than just the project team. Your PMO will probably need to work with other groups—usually internal support teams but sometimes external vendors or other partners—on ways potential improvements within their operations can support the updates you’ve planned. Will purchasing or contract negotiation strategies be affected? Does the current staffing plan need to be revisited? Is this change going to affect how accounting manages capital expenditures or operational budget approvals?

Gain support from all stakeholders

For the new process to be as effective as possible, it’s crucial to get all stakeholders impacted by the change on board with the proposed revisions before the plan is rolled out. If their input was solicited during the initial solution development phase, then the PMO is already moving in the right direction. If not, be sure to discuss the various proposals (emphasizing their pros and cons) with stakeholders before a final plan is chosen.

Communication is key, even if particular stakeholder groups weren’t asked to participate in developing the solution. At the very least, project teams should begin by acknowledging there is a problem. This is good PR for the PMO, and it lays the groundwork for setting stakeholder expectations on what sort of impacts and improvements the new process will bring.

If the revised process is controversial or likely to face stakeholder pushback for any reason, be prepared with solid information on why the change is a good idea. For example, benchmarking data showing existing inefficiencies can be contrasted with projections about the improved performance metrics the new process is expected to offer.

ChangeAgent

PMAlliance uses a team of highly experienced and certified professionals to provide project management consulting and project management training services.

What to do After a High Profile Project

This year’s Super Bowl is barely in the books but each team is already preparing for next season, with talks of trades and what they’ll focus on going forward. PMOs can take a lesson from the NFL in this regard, since project management teams have many of the same opportunities—and challenges—after each strategic project.

Shore up weak areas. Look for ways to fill skill and knowledge gaps, such as providing additional project management training to existing team members or bringing new professionals onto the team who already possess experience in specific areas. Depending on the skill set you’re currently missing, an external project management consultancy may also be a good choice to fill the need on future projects.

Begin with a thorough post-mortem. Like football players watching a replay of the big game, your PMO’s members can learn much by examining completed projects. This will help your team understand where it’s performing well and which areas need improving.

Celebrate. Enjoying success—particularly after a large, complex, or high-stakes project—is a very tangible benefit PMs reap for all their hard work. Take the time to not only acknowledge your team’s achievements both publicly and privately, but also encourage them to mark the occasion with a small party or gathering. And like football’s Vince Lombardi Trophy, some organizations award a little something to project team members to remind them of all they have accomplished.

Capitalize on your strengths. Every team is great at something, so make the most of what you do well. If a team member has significant experience in a particular area, have them mentor others in the group. If the team possesses more purchasing or contract negotiation expertise than is common, for example, perhaps you can redirect the outside resources normally allocated to those disciplines to areas where they’re more needed.

off season tasks project management

BUILDING YOUR PMO’S PROJECT PORTFOLIO

 

Most project management professionals have their own project portfolios—they come in handy during job interviews, performance reviews, etc. But your PMO should also have a portfolio. It’s a great PR tool when your team hosts networking events, and it’s also helpful when introducing your team to a new executive or key stakeholder. We’ve put together a quick guide to get your PMO’s portfolio started.

 

Select a handful of projects to include. You can’t include everything, but look for a variety of projects that showcase your team’s versatility. Include at least one very large project, one high-visibility project, and one project that directly affected the company’s bottom line. Projects with particular significance (improvements to a manufacturing facility, for example) or that demonstrate your team’s expertise in niche areas (perhaps a project completed under regulatory oversight) would also be good additions.

 

Create a project summary for each project. Viewers of your PMO’s portfolio will want to quickly understand the basic objectives and parameters of the various projects your team has executed, so give them the basics at a glance: a short list of key deliverables, information on the project’s duration or timetable, cost data that includes budgeted and actual figures for expense and capital line items, a list of key project team members and their areas of responsibility, and other notable resource allocations or project details. Keep each project summary to just a single page for easy viewing.

 

Pull some photos together. Few things can help viewers understand the scope and impact of your projects like pictures. But you don’t need many—select one or two large photos that best describe the project’s challenges and final outcome, along with a few smaller pictures that highlight particularly interesting aspects of the project. Any more than that, and your viewers will likely lose interest.

PMAlliance uses a team of highly experienced and certified professionals to provide project management consulting and project management training services.

 

How to Be Successful at Breaking Large Projects Into Many Smaller Ones

Breaking large or complex projects into many smaller projects has quite a few benefits. But there can also be a few pitfalls project management professionals should be aware of—some that can cause headaches for your PMO, and others that can derail a project entirely. Make sure your project managers know about these lurking traps and how to avoid them.

Deconstructing one large project into several smaller components is often a good way to achieve better stakeholder engagement, but occasionally the opposite happens and there is a disconnect between disparate stakeholder groups. When the focus of each small project is narrow, end users and champions may tend to be less supportive of others’ needs, or simply stop caring about maintaining cooperation when their project is complete. Good communication will typically resolve these issues by keeping stakeholders engaged throughout the entire lifecycle of the related projects.

Juggling a number of smaller projects has the potential to create additional overhead for PMOs. Disciplines such as budget management may be duplicated across multiple projects, sapping resources that would otherwise be consolidated. This pitfall is particularly concerning for small PMOs that are already stretched thin. Consider assigning some tasks the way you would if the original large project remained whole. For example, one person may be responsible for managing the budget or allocating staffing across all related projects.

There may be increased competition for resources when multiple projects are in the works. Staging resources efficiently could be more difficult when an array of different demands vie for attention all at once. To combat this concern, strive for tight collaboration between the various project teams. This enables each group to better understand where their demands fall on the overall priority spectrum, and will usually facilitate more effective resource allocation by all teams involved.

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Tips to Help Nurture Project Advocacy From the Ground Up

There are many ways to get team members involved in project advocacy Getting others on the project advocacy train, but most of those only go so far. To really support the principles on an ongoing basis, your PMO should embody a culture of advocacy, where every project management team member understands their role and embraces it. It may sound overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be. We’ve put together a handful of tips to help nurture project advocacy from the ground up.

Address advocacy missteps quickly. If you spot a team member overlooking an opportunity to reinforce their role as an advocate 3 ways project advocates miss the mark, simply mention it to them. With hectic schedules and a full workload, they probably didn’t realize their actions were off the mark and will likely appreciate the reminder. Consider including advocacy refreshers and tips during routine team meetings, so the message within your PMO remains consistent.

Connect stakeholders—champions, end users, team members, etc.—as often as possible. First, understand this means there should be a good percentage of project meetings that are open to people outside your PMO. Next, whenever stakeholders have been invited to a team meeting, ensure time is set aside to acknowledge their presence (particularly important in large projects, where external project management consulting experts or other outside collaborators may not know everyone in the room), and provide them with an opportunity to ask questions, raise issues, or provide information.

Identify end users as partners. As PMOs deal with busy schedules and projects that are likely competing for some of the same internal resources, it’s far too easy to fall into the trap where team members begin to view project champions as the real customers, and end users as simply those people who will be affected by each project’s achievables. Instead, encourage everyone in your PMO to treat end users as fully-vested partners.

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The Function of a PMO

Our last PMO infographic (ALL ABOUT PMO’S INFOGRAPHIC) dealt with the Who, What, and Why.

Check out our latest infographic: “The Function of a PMO”

It explains what they are, what functions they serve and what you can expect to accomplish with one.

Download a copy and share!  CLICK HERE

PMO infographic

WHEN DYSFUNCTIONAL PMOs SUCCEED

Nearly every project management consulting professional has watched a completely dysfunctional PMO execute a project successfully. How do they do it? When the rest of us are carefully creating solid budgets and timelines, while we’re diligently minding our progress and watching for potential problem areas downstream, these broken teams manage to succeed in spite of themselves. Is it just luck? I don’t think so. In those cases where I’ve seen a heavily flawed project team achieve its objectives, there are usually some extraordinary circumstances that contribute to the project’s success.

A lot of problems can slip past disconnected stakeholders or an executive team that isn’t paying attention. Projects that are over budget or miss a deadline may never be questioned, and even failures on a critical deliverable could glide under the radar. If your performance is never truly subjected to scrutiny, what does it matter if you do a good job or not? But beware the downside: the long-term effectiveness of projects that don’t pass muster is diminished, meaning that stakeholders might not trust your PMO’s recommendations in the future, or other projects may need to be implemented to fix what went wrong the first time.

A project team comprised of high-performing individuals will often succeed, even if a subset of members aren’t pulling their weight. Self motivation and sheer determination can usually drive those who set high standards for themselves to cover a lot of faults if it means the project will succeed. Unfortunately, in my experience these situations ultimately put the organization in an even worse position when the stars of the PMO move on in search of a team that doesn’t take advantage of them.

Have any of you ever worked in a dysfunctional PMO? What were the underlying problems, and how did your team manage to find success?

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PMAlliance uses a team of highly experienced and certified professionals to provide project management training services.

MAKE YOUR PROJECT MANAGEMENT PHOTOS SING

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then it’s time your PMO made its project photos earn their keep. Stakeholders across the board rely on good pictures—to help them understand what your project will correct as well as to see all that you’ve accomplished so far. We’ve put together some guidelines to help you take great project management pictures that support your message.

Pay attention to quality. Grainy, dark, and out-of-focus pictures aren’t what you need. For photos to convey information and have impact, viewers must be able to see things clearly. And while some cell phones take great pictures, a quality point-and-shoot camera is often a worthwhile investment. Also, consider if you’re likely to enlarge pictures for display at open house events or to show greater detail. In those instances, it may be helpful to use a high-resolution camera.

Give some perspective. Photos that are too close-up or too far away may not give viewers the kind of understanding you want them to have. Be mindful to offer information on scale (a ruler often works for small items, a desk chair or even a car for larger objects, structures, etc.) and take the picture from an angle that makes it clear what you’re focusing on. Also, do your best to minimize the appearance of unimportant items or clutter, so the photo is easy to view and comprehend.

Offer additional information. Supplemental graphics and text will often help to explain the finer details of your photos. If someone in your PMO is skilled with PhotoShop or a similar software platform, you can add all kinds of extra information while also cropping, rotating, and shrinking or enlarging specific areas of a photo. Low-tech solutions, such as post-it notes and arrows drawn with a felt-tip marker, can also get the point across.

PMAlliance uses a team of highly experienced and certified professionals to provide project management consulting and project management training services.

THINK BIG

Setting objectives is nothing new to project professionals, but sometimes it’s too easy to let stakeholder expectations drive progress. Resource constraints will always be with us, but try injecting one or more of these tips into your next project to see how much your team can accomplish if they aim beyond users ask of them.

Take standard projects to the next tier
Most PMOs have a handful of repeating projects—software development, employee relocations, equipment design, etc.—that sometimes cause the team to go on auto pilot. Rather than applying the standard template to the next such project, step back and choose one thing improve upon. Make the enhancement of the target area its own objective, and see how much you can boost results. Choose a different area of focus during the next project and repeat the process.

Examine the potential for insourcing or outsourcing
If your team is stretched thin juggling too many disciplines, consider turning over one particularly resource-intensive task to an experienced contractor or vendor. Conversely, determine if it’s feasible to bring an outsourced task in-house (this works especially well if you’re interested in gaining better control over the cost or quality of a particular function). The change might result in your PMO beating the pants off the typical project schedule or budget, but even if it doesn’t, your team is likely to learn some new ways to streamline old processes.

Establish areas of expertise
Generalists are crucial to a PMO’s success, but everyone has at least one area they’re particularly skilled in. Talk with your team to identify those niches, and then encourage people to beef up their individual expertise even more. By developing next-level competence in each of their focus areas, your team members can significantly add to the sum total of the group’s knowledge.

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EMBRACE THE NON-MEETING

We’ve covered how to hold effective meetings “MAKE THE MOST OF MEETINGS“, but sometimes a meeting isn’t the most efficient way to move your team forward. Below are some instances where other approaches may be a better choice than the typical project management meeting.

Confirming information.
If no new data will be revealed and all that’s necessary is to corroborate information for the team’s general knowledge, don’t bother bringing folks together. E-mail is often a better choice, allowing large numbers of team members to respond when convenient. It also offers an easily accessible trail of what’s been confirmed and which data points are still outstanding.

Asking questions.
Yes, gathering information is sometimes best accomplished during a meeting, but think carefully about whether a different methodology might be more efficient. If all you really seek are answers (and not a discussion surrounding the questions you’re posing), then e-mail or even individual conversations might be a wiser use of your team’s time.

Raising concerns.
Don’t wait to bring up potential problems, especially if the bulk of the group isn’t available for a last-minute meeting. Instead, bring your concerns to the team leader or—if that’s you— seek out the one or two people with the expertise to help identify the true scope and nature of the problem, or who are best equipped to begin developing solutions. Once these initial steps have been taken, you can then call a meeting to deal with the issue on a wider scale.

Going through the motions.
Admit it: sometimes your PMO holds meetings simply because they’re on the calendar, not because anyone has anything to contribute or requires anything from the rest of the team. Rather than spend time on an unproductive get-together, consider sending an e-mail before each regularly scheduled meeting to ensure the team will actually benefit from it.

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PMAlliance uses a team of highly experienced and certified professionals to provide project management consultingproject management training and project office development services.

New Year, New Perspective

The beginning of the new year is a good time to plot out what you want to accomplish next, but sometimes it’s easy to lose your forward momentum. Below we’ve outlined a handful of the most common hurdles project managers face when mapping out their yearly objectives, and offered some strategies to help you get jazzed for the new year.

Continue reading New Year, New Perspective