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Project Portfolio Management

3 Tips to Successful PMO Leadership

Published By Michelle Greer
3 Tips to Successful PMO Leadership

Recently, I had a lunch with a newly-appointed Project Management Office (PMO) leader for a major retailer here in SF. He was just hired to reinstate the PMO, processes and tools for his organization. He shared his approach to this exciting new challenge and from past experience expressed what he thinks works vs. what doesn’t. As we chatted, I realized that his point of view was similar to my own after 20 years in the PPM space. Many PMOs fail, and are not widely adopted. PMO leaders tend to come and go… but why? What makes a successfully led PMO organization?

There are three important factors we discussed for PMO leadership that I think are worth passing along:

  1. Rather than try to take on everything at once, demonstrate value through impactful, but small wins. We’ve all heard the saying, “A little bit goes a long way” but in a PMO, this is essential. PMOs can be perceived as creating overhead and unnecessary work for the organization. For this reason, it’s critical to be able to demonstrate some meaningful value straight out of the gate. But also, not to overwhelm the organization with a ton of simultaneous changes. Allowing time for the changes to settle in and be accepted makes space for a clearer understanding for what to address and when. And, it gives people time to get comfortable. The idea is to prioritize based on the largest challenges that can be met, and go about quickly to meet those challenges.What needs can you draw into initial focus to demonstrate value vs. those that can be scaled to later? If you are deploying a new tool, what capabilities of the tool can you quickly deploy to address these challenges? Does the tool you’ve selected allow you easy time to market for initial deployment, but also allows you to add capability areas as you scale?Demonstrate success in small, immediate ways that are easily consumable to the organization, and allow time for new paradigms to be absorbed by the team. Reduce risk by moving forward one step at a time, as opposed to going after the whole enchilada right from the start. This can lead to indigestion for the PMO leader, as well as for the organization’s internal customer! Adoption of PMO and new processes and tools take time.
  2. Use a pull vs. push approach PMO leadership style to get team members and stakeholders engaged and on board. People drive adoption! It may seem trivial, but is so often overlooked. Nobody likes to feel like they are being pushed into doing something. But, often we “deploy” a new process or tool with a lack of thoughtful planning on what’s required for long term adoption and success. Ownership supports adoption. Keith Ingels’ article, Push Versus Pull Management describes this theory well:“Push management hits the ground running. It is likely very effective for short-term gains. Push managers tell people what to do and how, they are in authority and they drive the tasks forward. Progress is often fast and omits the need for discussion. It is a good way to sprint forward. Pull Management is a marathon run, not as fast as a sprinter, but if given a chance to root in the team, it is sustainable. Drawing on your team is more energy and experience from many then from few. If you want long-term success, Pull Management will be initially slower as everyone must develop the ability to participate effectively and add value. This method involves people and they appreciate that in their work. People in my experience want to add value; this method not only allows that, it requires it.” -Keith Ingels, Corporate Training and Quality Mgr at Carolina Handling, LLCWe can apply this same logic when rolling out PMO processes and tools. After all, it’s all about the people. Once we’ve started to provide some simple but beneficial wins, we can garner support organically. Next, it’s a matter of gaining ownership from the teams that will be required to participate. Rather than directing “this is how it is going to work,” facilitate participation to understand the challenges that are faced. Ingels continues: “Pull managers believe the strength of progress lies within the team and must be discovered and made available. Push managers direct the team members on tasks, not develop them.” This means that the PMO, it’s processes and tools are owned by the team and therefore the quality is also a reflection of the team. Avoid the common pitfalls of pushing pre-determined “best practices” or “certified methodologies” onto the organization. Listen more and better understand what is truly needed. Ultimately, the goal is to cultivate an environment where our constituents come to us, knocking on our door to join the effort and reap the value. By “pulling” them in vs. “pushing” it on them– we get the most long term success and partnership.
  3. Make the processes and tools valuable not just to leaders of the company, but the doers who are at the ground level using them every day. Gaining visibility into what is happening at all levels of the organization is important, but ultimately, it’s the folks on the ground that keep the ball rolling. It’s the resources that are executing the processes and who hold the keys to the integrity of the data and the value of the information that is being provided. So, if we’re going to ask our team members to maintain information and utilize technology to manage their processes, we have to build with them in mind. I’ve worked for countless companies who have a PPM tool in place that has failed based on over engineering the product in effort to meet everyone’s needs. The result is a solution that not only lacks elegance, but serves to make the lives harder for primary users of the tool.I’ve seen many tools fail based on this alone. How we choose to design and configure, is critical to the long term success of the process or tool. It’s natural to get excited with new technology and want to capture everything and every detail and, utilize every aspect of the technology, whether it’s appropriate for the organization’s maturity level or not. But, best to keep it simple where possible. Bear in mind how configuration impacts the heaviest, primary users of the tool. One of the easiest ways to guarantee benefit to the primary tool user is to keep whatever they have to do in the tool easy and simple.We are all inundated with information and technology every day, do your team members a favor and reduce the noise, where possible. Scale more later if you have to, after you’ve gained adoption in your environment. Just as companies like Google or Apple simplify the user experience to the point a three year old can navigate the interface (I’ve seen it happen), keep your system as simple as possible for the consumers of the tool. Facilitate adoption – make it easier for them to do their job, and don’t hinder them with unnecessary feature/functionality.

Managing a PMO and implementing process and tools in an organization is no small task. But, like with anything the secret is in the sauce! This PMO leader is on to something. I’m excited to see his PMO grow and evolve. So far, it seems to be working!

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Written by Michelle Greer