Saturday, November 24, 2007

An Interesting week ahead

Next week looks to be very interesting. I've not written much in the last month because I really haven't done much PMO work. I've been writing Plan documents, so you can imagine how much I want to come home and write more. One of the reasons I'm falling behind on the Accord project - more on that later.

So, next week we are going to begin our installation of Project Server 2007. We have some consultants coming in to help us with the setup and some training. I've got a little experience, but not enough to want to jump off that ledge alone. I have been reading up - bought a book and pulled some papers down from the MS site. We have been slowly building a schedule (I use that term loosely).

Our schedule (which everyone calls a plan of course) is running about 2000 lines right now. Probably somewhere on the order of 250 resources. I know that's too big, so we have to figure out how to manage at the level of detail we must (per the contract no tasks >80 hours) and still be able to give some meaningful management information. We have a couple of really interesting challenges ahead:

Size/complexity of the project: This really just a technical challenge, but one that will be with us throughout the entire project. The solution right now for this is a full time scheduler.

Politics: I am not really sure that everyone has bought in to the 80 hours deal, so there may be some work there trying to get the right informaiton into the schedule.

Earned Value: Another contract promise - yikes! MSProject has a the tools, it's collecting the information that is going to be a challenge. Right now, I'm struggling to figure out "value." Is it the value assigned by the client or the value assigned by the contractor? We have a fixed price contract so to the contractor value = bid - cost (or profit). If it costs more to produce something that was bid, that's a problem. But the client has a whole different value proposition based on rate of return, net present value, payback, etc.

Scope: This is tied with the politics too - what isn't. How much of MS Project Server do we want to implement - it's a pretty robust tool - what's enough and what is too much. I'm a minimalist and so is my counterpart, so I think we will go with as little as possible. I just hope that is enough.

Off to read more, check a few blogs, etc.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Hired Guns and the Aspirin Solution

A great PMO can not be built from a template. Each PMO is a project. There are many different techniques that can be used. As the PMO manager, you are the cook, architect, conductor for this unique entity. Pick what is best for you. Introduce at the pace that is best for your company.

Many PMO stories begin with some high level executive deciding that a PMO is needed (there are TONs of triggers for this). The exec then selects some poor volunteer from the company and calls in a hired gun - a PROFESSIONAL (read consultant) who knows project management!

The Professional rides into town (cue spaghetti Western music). He has years of experience, comprehensive experience and a goal to make the guy who writes the checks happy. The goal is NOT to create a PMO directly, but to make the pain that the executive is feeling go away. Or at least make it look like it is - this is the "aspirin" solution.

So our hero comes in, interviews executives, holds meetings and Viola out comes a 200 slide PowerPoint that solves everything. Along with this PowerPoint comes a set of manuals that Arnold Schwarzenegger couldn't lift on his best day. The PowerPoint and the manuals are thinly customized versions of the same deck and documentation given to every other customer who needed a PMO.

I know that sounds cynical - but I’ve heard this story too many times. Many times you, the PMO manager, are then left carrying the ball (or hauling the methodology as the case may be). With one small adjustment, you can change this from an unpleasant situation where you are cleaning up the mess to a great starting or changing your PMO. The change is fairly simple.

Take control of the implementation. It’s that simple, really. Now, that also means that you need to be very involved in the study and work closely with the consultant. Make sure that there is an implementation plan. Interview the stakeholders and understand their problems. Prioritize these problems. Put the problems into the implementation schedule and plan to knock them out.

Take the voluminous documentation and keep the only copy. Through each step in implementation search the documentation and mine it for the few diamond(s) that will be useful. Find a process and rip it down to its essentials – then strip it more and find that one gem. Polish and cut that gem so it is perfect for you and your company and then implement.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

2 New projects

I've been overwhelmed lately with life things - new job, new house, moving, packing, packing, packing, moving - resting from about killing myself since I am clearly not 20-years old any longer - or even 30 0r - oh well you get the idea.

So, my two new great projects are: Building a PMO - yes again - I love this - this one is for a public sector multi-million / multi-year program and subsequently the software organization that results from this!!

The other one is with the PMOSIG. We are working on a PMO Accord that will document lessons learned and best practices from PMO SIG members. This will be fantastic as it will be a collection of the knowledge from those who have walked the walk. No theory, just tried and true experience. Also there will be multiple perspectives on the same topics, maybe even some healthy disagreement. My job on this is part editor, part contributor and part coordinator / project manager.

So stay tuned. I'll be updating the blog on the progress of both of these!


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Quick thoughts on a PMI research paper on PMOs

I just finished my first reading of a great study titled: The Multi-Project PMO: A Global Analysis of the Current State of Practice. I recommend that you take the time to look this over. There are a lot of interesting findings. It will take a while to fully understand them all (at least for me). However, I did see two points that I think are vital. I am glad to see a study that reinforces them to some extent.

It’s about people. I know I harp on this – I think it is vital to a PMO. The study talks about 50% of PMOs being “questioned.” One key finding relates to the performance of a PMO and the expertise of the PMO staff (practitioners) – not the project managers, the PMO people. While not exactly an epiphany, the finding is “Expertise is critical to PMO performance.” If performance is being questioned, it follows that the greater the expertise – the greater the performance and then the less questioning.

It is about YOUR PMO. One thing that the study repeats throughout is the variability of the findings. There is not a lot of correlation between the variables (company size, number of projects, PMO organization…). There is some, and that’s important to look at. The lack of correlation tells us that what you do with your PMO in your company is really what matters the most. Don’t try to implement a cookie cutter PMO. Know your stakeholders – all of them. Understand what their pain points are. Know where they need help and attack that. If you fully customize your solution you can succeed.

Maybe we will get to the point where PMOs are implemented by the book. Where there is a checklist that everyone fills out and that determines how a PMO is built and run. I guess it is our job to move us there. (Personally, when we get there, I’ll be somewhere else.) Until that time, we can think of ourselves as craftsmen (craftspersons). We have tools and materials, but the work that we do for this one PMO, this one time, is what matters.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Band-Aids and Merry-go-rounds

As I child I had a lot of experience with both of these. I assume everyone is familiar with band-aids, the merry-go-round I’m referring to is the kind you find on a playground. These are basically a large dish parallel to the ground mounted on a central axis with some handle bars to hold on to - here is a picture of one. Aside from a trip down memory lane, what do these two things have to do with managing a PMO or even project management or even work?

I’m glad you asked – both of these items and their lessons from childhood give us insight into change. First, I want to look at each type of change and then talk about which is better (or not)?

Band-aids are good at covering up and protecting a cut, but that is not where I want to go with that, nor am I alluding to a band-aid fix for something. The change I want to discuss is the change that happens when the band-aid comes off.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I dreaded having the band-aid off more that the cut. If you are a guy with a lot of hair – it is even worse! Now there are many techniques for removing a band-aid. You could soak them in water, wait until they fell off, or go for the slow excruciating teeth gritting pull. However, as mom always told us, the best way is the quick pull or yank. One short burst of pain, a heartfelt OUCH and it’s all over – we have changed from with a band-aid to without a band-aid and we can run off to play and get more cuts.

This is a type of change – more formally we often call this a revolutionary change. We move from one state to another with a lurch. Revolutionary change usually involves some sharp pains, but we quickly settle into the new status-quo. Revolutionary changes often take the form of management directives – “we will now have full project schedules for all our projects.” Presto, all projects have schedules. We have all been through this in one form or another, one day you do it this way, then next you do it that way. Fast is good – sometimes, what about slow?

Seems like a lot of hyphens in today’s piece. The merry-go-round uses centrifugal force to basically spin kids around, make them dizzy and fall down. Oddly, this used to be a lot of fun. The thing about merry-go-rounds is that you always needed someone strong to get them going, and it seemed to take forever.

Here is an example of slow change or evolutionary change. The merry-go-round spin begins from a full stop. Usually the next step is for everyone riding to grab a bar and start walking, then running around the outside to build up speed. As the speed builds up, some run harder and some jump on for the ride. Once things are really going, you need only one person standing on the outside giving a light but fast push. Here we went from full stop to head-spinning speed through constant every increasing speed, yet ever decreasing effort.

In a strange twist, it takes less effort to keep the merry-go-round spinning than it did to get it there in the first place. This is often a characteristic of revolutionary change. So which is better, and how do we apply this to working in a PMO?

Evolution v. Revolution
I think that each of these types of changes has their place; it is the incorrect application of the type of change that causes the problem. Revolutionary change is fast, deliberate and often brutal where evolution is slow, smooth and palatable. We move through and evolution and we experience a revolution. The answer to which is better lies in the analogy.

Revolutions, like band-aids, are powerful when a change creates pain or must be done immediately. The revolution is best in lay-offs, or killing projects, or organization changes. You move immediately from one state to another and get on with life.

Evolutions are like pushing the merry-go-round; it is almost impossible at first, but as you keep pushing the changes come faster and faster with less and less effort – and everyone jumps on board. Evolutions work for cultural or procedural changes on a large scale, exactly like creating a culture of project management.

Certainly there are exceptions, and one could argue that an evolutionary change is nothing but a series of revolutionary changes all in the same direction – good point. I also think that revolutionary changes are more suited to making small scale changes. To get an organization of 20 people to use project management does not require a long slow push. Getting 200 to use PM is another story.

When you think about how you will make a change – which is the job of the PMO, think about the best way to do it. I think that you’ll find some changes are best treated like merry-go-rounds starting with lots of effort while other times all you need is one good yank – OUCH

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Lessons Learned – why don’t we learn from them?

Still thinking about lessons learned and my biggest question is why don’t we learn from them?

Here is the situation that has come up to make me think again. My current program has a weekly meeting with the Governance board. We quickly review the status of the major projects, go over any big issues and review/approve any changes (as part of change management).

Over the past few weeks I have been getting pressure from my program managers to cancel these meetings and go to a once-monthly schedule. The main reasons seem to be that there are too many people in the meeting, the topics are repetitive, the board gets weekly status reports, and that the meeting is boring / waste of time.

A little about these meetings: when there are no major issues or actions to be taken, the meeting runs less than ½ an hour. We also hold one meeting monthly with the board that runs a little longer – the last one was 45 minutes, and it’s never been more than an hour. By my calculations that’s 2 hours and 15 minutes of time during an average 4 week month – or 1.4% of a 160 hour month.

Now, the program managers want to reduce this to 1 hour a month or .63% of their time per month. How unbelievably efficient we must be if a .8% savings is going to make any difference!

I don’t want to think bad things about people, but less than 1% of your time on somewhat boring over-communications? What about all those lessons learned – our previous project stated multiple times that the weekly board meeting was helpful! How can we not learn???

I have some thoughts on this.

We think the lessons don’t apply to us.

This, I think, is our most common problem. I have frequently observed that project teams can be very optimistic and confident. In the example above, the consensus was that we all communicate with our bosses and they communicate with each other, so why repeat that? In my case it seems that unlike every project in the recorded history of man, our project has such good communications that we can dispense with the onerous 1% burden and spend that time on better things. HA.

I think this over-optimism and belief that this project is different is one of the reasons we do not learn. For some reason when we get on a project we think that a positive attitude will overcome stupid actions. How many times have you brought up a risk or an issue or mentioned that since we are over budget now we will probably not recover and been told that you needed to “get with the program” or “think positively” or whatever. If you are out of gas, all the positive thinking in the world will not fill the tank, why do we think it can be done for a project?

We want to get things done

In looking at lessons learned, many times we find things like – should have had a better schedule, or better budgeting, or more communications, spent more time on requirements, etc. All of these things relate to how we do the work, not what we work on. Talking about how things get done or working on how things get done does not, in and of itself, get anything done. This is one of the reasons so many people hate planning – planning is not doing and we all like doing.

Lessons like “spend more time on requirements” are not easy to implement because we don’t want to spend time on requirements. Heck “we all know what needs to be done, let’s just get to work.” Bet you never heard that before! Or, in my case, a lesson that weekly meetings were beneficial and kept everyone informed is dismissed by a “we talk about this stuff all the time; I’m need to get things done, not meet.” And so on.

The enemy here is action and the idea that action is better than thought or discussion or planning. I believe the correct action is better than either of these and as we have all found so many times, doing things wrong takes far more time and money to correct than it would have had we just done some more thinking, or planning, or meeting.

There is no visible reward for getting your requirements right. There is no tangible product from having good communications. These things are unrewarding in and of themselves they produce no immediate feedback, therefore we have a difficult time engaging in these activities or even really believing that they are useful.

Bottom line

The sad truth is that these lessons learned are useful. That time spent in doing the work better is time well spent. That getting it right the first time is cheaper and easier than doing it now and fixing it later. That keeping your boss up to date can save you from being called on the carpet. But we will not all learn this, maybe some of us will, maybe not. I guess those of us that understand this need to keep calmly and clearly reminding those who do not. Boy – talk about fun!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Culture Clash

Thushara wrote an interesting question in a recent post copied below:

"When you are a flat organization and when you got to deal with a very hierarchical customer organization with lots of bureaucracy .How do you manage the communication channels as a PM of such projects? ( I mean in your company you are reporting to your CEO and all the operational level details are transparent to him. Your CEO talks direct with the customers CEO who doesn’t get any operational details.. There is a major chaos situation here.."

Not that I have "the" answer, but I do have an answer, and I learned this as a consultant more so than a PM. The problem here is really not just one of organization, but one of culture. I would imagine that the two organizations are different in size, since size generally creates hierarchies and levels.

One of the problems with trying to match up organizations is that they usually start with the matching at the top so they start with CEO to CEO. All CEOs are equal I guess. Since yours is flatter, you get to the “operational” details much sooner, and with your CEO being closer, she (he) is probably a lot more in tune with what is going on. Actually this is good for you since your boss will not be surprised – a very bad thing.

Since the other CEO is not as in tune, there are a couple of things to do. First coach your CEO of the situation; you don’t want her accidentally showing up the customer CEO. Next find the person or persons on the customer team who have about the same level of involvement, knowledge, etc of the operational details that you do and who are equally invested. Regardless of their level in the client organization, these are your peers. Work with them to build a communication plan that will keep their CEO up to speed.

Combining this, you probably need two communication plans. One plan for both CEOs and another for your CEO. That way your boss knows what information his peer is getting, and you can keep your CEO better informed so she is always a step ahead. In the mean time you and your peer or peers are getting the work done.

Generally speaking both CEOs want to know how things are going, what they can do to help, and if there is anything they should be concerned about. If you keep this information in front of both of them, then you will reduce confusion a little.

Or not, that’s just one perspective – based on communication. There are probably a lot of other aspects to look at.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Week 27 - Change

This week I inherited the responsibility of rolling up all of the IT status reports into IT release level reports – which then in turn go into the Program level report (along with the Business status). Now, I have been doing the program level reports, and not sure how I got the IT ones – probably no one else wanted these – I think that I got them because (as any consultant will know) consultants are the “catch all” when a real employee doesn’t want to do something.

Anyway, the reports were a mess. I am getting 23 separate weekly reports in about 10 different formats. Some in word, some in excel. My job then is to cut and paste these babies into 4 different release level reports. Sound like fun???

Being the lazy, avoid-work-at-all-costs type of person that I am, I tried to find a better/easier way (after shamelessly trying to beg out). Well obviously, this would be a lot easier if everyone used the same format right? Well, why weren’t we doing that in the first place? Here is where it gets interesting – the answer I got when I posed that question to my predecessor was that they had tried to get everyone to use the same format, but they wouldn’t. AH HA – change resistance.

I have to admit a bit of disappointment that the only method attempted was to give the team leaders a template and ask them to use it. The follow up was to ask them several more times. When I asked what else, I was told that my predecessor did not have the authority to get them to change. Hence nothing was done. Another AH HA – responsibility without authority !

Given that I was in the same boat, needing people to change, but not having any authority to change them I had an idea. What was it that people didn’t want to change? Not the process, they were handing in weekly reports on schedule. So it was actually the format of the report – that seems like a small item, so why resist. Then it hit me – because it meant a good bit of upfront work, and these guys have “better things to do.”

So these busy people did not want to change because they were busy, and frankly the format of a report is not that big a deal – unless you are dealing with 23 of them a week. So – in essence, the problem and pain was mine, not theirs. Since I could not force them to make the change, I took a different route. I eliminated the work.

I simply took each of the 23 status reports and copied all the information into 23 new status reports under the new and consistent format. I then mailed these out asking that they start with these as the base. So far, everyone has been either accepting or thankful. I’ve gotten no resistance or complaints.

My lesson learned here is that by doing the initial change and creating a situation that is no more difficult for the person, we can speed change. Most of the time the hard part of changing is just that the change itself, after that we develop new routines that are usually less work than the original ones – that’s one reason for change – less work.

I learned a long time ago (the hard way) that there is only one thing any of us has the power to change – ourselves. By reframing my view (changing from the view of my predecessor) I changed and made it easier for others to do so. I think that whenever we find ourselves involved in helping someone else change, the first question should be “what can I do differently to make it easier for them to change?”

Often the answer will be that we have to do a little work that “is not our job” or falls outside of the box, but if PMOs are to be centers of change, shouldn’t we lead the way by changing ourselves rather than expecting it of others?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Week 25 (Building a PMO) - Lessons Learned? - Process

In project management, we generally group our processes under the heading of “methodology.” For some reason, I think methodology brings a more formal connotation than process. Either way you slice it, the way we do our work is what those of us in the profession are all about. The PMO is the corporate manifestation of the need to improve the way we work. So, what did we learn about how to work together on this particular project? I think five of the top 10 lessons were process related. The list and discussion follow.

1. We left management and planning unattended for too long.
Bet you never heard that one before! Without going into a rant, essentially we began the project with a boilerplate project schedule and methodology that was designed for small projects of this type. The schedule called for a 16 week step by step implementation. That went down the drain almost immediately and now 17 months later – TA DA! We go live. If you are going to plan – do it! Do it right, do it often, and don’t let convenience dictate how long you are going to plan. On my other project, we have a two-day planning session coming up this week. Guess how long we are going to plan? Not until we have a good plan, not until we have a shared understanding – two days – that is it for a 12 month multi-million dollar project the entire leadership team is getting together for exactly two days to plan! Boy, are we good! ---- ooops I’m ranting – suffice to say, my opinion is that planning may not always be perfect, but I’ve never been on a project where I didn’t see a lesson learned like the one above – and I’ve never even heard of a project where people said that they wish they hadn’t spent as much time planning.

2. We had the most success when we were all informed.
Communications! There is an interesting story here, and while it is not the only communication situation that helped us, it is one worth telling. Since about mid-December, the project has been hanging on by a thread with looming deadlines and a lot of nail-biting. We gave one of our weekly reports to the board, and someone suggested that we might benefit from a daily call – touch point, stand-up, type of thing. Well, that went over like you might expect – “I’m too busy to take time out every day for a call”, or “I know what I need to do” “That would just slow me down” and so on. We decided to adopt a method that I think I stole from scrum. First we scheduled the call for 15 minutes. During the call we went through the roster and each person said what they did yesterday, what they planned for today and any situation that might be keeping them from accomplishing their work. For the first week or two we had abysmal attendance, of about 15 invitees we were lucky to get 5. We persisted and elevated to the board asking that they “encourage” their team members to attend. That ultimately worked and for January and February we had great attendance. Some times the calls went long, some times we were less disciplined that we would have liked, but the #1 positive feedback I got for lessons learned was on how much the daily call helped. Almost every participant in the call mentioned it as one of the 3 things they would do again. It was really rewarding to see that popping up so often as I got the responses.

3. Once engaged and informed, management responded quickly and helpfully.
Yes, “once engaged and informed” are the key words here. We had a real problem being succinct and persistent about our needs. Of course without a schedule or a good understanding of the work, that was hard. However, every time we were able to say what we needed, for how long and when, we experienced great responsiveness. This then is the key. Don’t raise vague complaints – the team was working long hours and making little progress, but they were unable to clearly express the need. Once we sat down, thought about it and gave a clear definition - we needed an Access expert who had some product knowledge for about 3 – 4 weeks at least 50% of the time. The executives fell all over themselves getting the right person, and while it was a bit more than 4 weeks and quite a bit more than 50% of the time, everyone hung on and we got through it. Moral – know what you need before you ask.

4. We did things right, wrong, and mostly late
This is typical of every project. We made a lot of mistakes in how we approached the work, in how we solved some of the problems, but I think these were all exasperated by our lack of clear objectives. We did not have critical success factors or a good schedule initially, so we were not able to keep the project on target. Everyone had a sense that things were going bad, but we often waited or delayed either through optimism or ignorance. Then when it got really bad, it was too late to recover by any normal means and we had to call in the cavalry. Only long hours and additional people allowed us to pull though – the sign of bad planning and waiting too long to acknowledge (recognize?) a problem. There was a lot of good work late in the schedule that if done earlier would have been higher quality and easier on everyone.

5. A great customer relationship got us through many challenges
There are a lot of ways of looking at this. My favorite metaphor is the “open kimono” one. Doing business with full transparency in my book is the only way to go. That doesn’t mean giving up the company secrets, but it does mean keeping the customer informed and if at all possible making them a functioning part of the team. Too many managers try to censor the information that goes to the customer so that they are giving the customer a specific contrived view of the project. Everyone sees through this and it does little more than cause distrust. You may be able to control the information flow, but the customer will know that something is being held back. How they react to that differs among customers and people, but it is rarely a good reaction. In our case, we had weekly meetings and discussed any level of detail that the customer wanted. We discussed our process and schedule, and when we were late, we talked about that too. The customer knew that we has their best interests in mind and they trusted us – not blindly, but because we were open and honest. The customer team was exactly the same sharing their challenges – all this lead to better understanding. When we hit a rough spot we hit it together, and that is a partnership – no hype or glad-handing, mutual respect and trust.

There you go, only one left for next week – tools – maybe I’ll cover it now. We didn’t have the skills and tools needed. Make sure these are lined up and immediately available, or you will be left scrambling. My father in-law is a wonderful mechanic, electrician, plumber, you name it, and he ALWAYS has the right tools – and that makes all the difference. When you can’t seem to get things to work right, find an expert and ask – they will have the right tools – which reminds me that my new hand-built computer still refuses to power up – time to have granddaddy over to visit the grandkids and maybe take a look at my project :-)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Week 24 (Building a PMO) - Lessons Learned?

If I take the lessons learned from last week and look at them, I think we can logically divide them into 3 categories – People, Processes, and Tools. These are the building blocks of every organization or project. There is a lot of overlap in these lessons and some fall into all three categories, but the division works for my purposes here.

People: The people lessons were:

  • The people we had were great; there just weren’t enough of them.
  • Unclear roles and responsibilities led to confusion and loss of precious time.
  • We were slowed by constant competition for resources.
  • We did not have a clear understanding of the work when we estimated.

These issues paint a clear picture of our project and our main people-related challenges. We were consistently understaffed, competing for resources and often confused about who should do what. What is not mentioned here is that there were effectively 4 project managers for this one project and no one had full authority – so there’s the answer to the confusion problems.

As I look back, it is possible we did not get the people we needed due to political skill, combined with the lack of a single project manager. Let’s face it, obtaining needed resources within most organizations today has more to do with how good you are at asking than how much you need them. In our case, I think we might have allowed ourselves to be victims. When we did not have what we needed, we often rolled up our sleeves and gave it our best shot while half-heartedly asking for help. This tendency towards action meant that we tried first and then ended up pleading for people only after we had gone down the wrong road. Better to get the right people in the first place, or manage this as a risk with contingency and mitigation plans (longer timeframes, training classes).

The roles and responsibilities problems started from the beginning. The project initiated as if it was a typical, small installation project. These projects generally take 16 weeks; ours ended up at 17 months. This miss-categorization set unreasonable expectations and incorrect staffing. The roles assigned “project manager”, or “business analyst” have a completely different meaning for a 16 week boiler plate project than they do for a 17 month implementation. It took us a while to discover this, understand and adapt. Even as we end this, no one person speaks for the project, fortunately we all speak with one voice – more or less.

Lastly, competition for resources was a constant problem. Only one person was full time on the project up until about 3 months ago when the full-time staff doubled to two people! This excludes IT development staff who were often full time for short periods according to the development schedule. In most cases, we would get a statement of general support without specific date and effort commitments. Then, when needed the people were able to only dedicate a portion of their time, extending the deliverables. Fact is we did not account for that. Maybe that is more the problem than the unavailability. Seems we did not learn from this and plan accordingly. We didn’t do that. We didn’t because it was too hard to get everyone together and we were too busy “doing” the work to take time to plan it. OK – we knew that was wrong, but we accepted it as better than nothing. The error was that we did not add this as a risk and raise awareness to the “powers that be.” I’m starting to feel pretty stupid; I seem to have mistaken some progress for good progress. Isn’t any progress good? Isn’t there a quote that says something like: good is the enemy of great? I’m not feeling so great right now.

Week 23 (Building a PMO) - Lessons Learned?

Well, one of the major deliverables for one of our customers has arrived – we are going live on 3/1! As of this writing, it really looks like we will make it, and with quite a few reasons to be proud. We will be implementing a considerable part of what we planned, and in some cases, a little extra. Of course since we had no real success criteria, the idea of a successful implementation is not applicable. How can you succeed if you don’t know what success is? I’ll get to that another time… Today – lessons learned.

First, I am an advocate of learning lessons at all times during the project and recording them as they occur, something that I did with this one. My reasoning is that we tend to forget over time, so waiting until the end of the project may result in lost lessons. Also, after a project is completed, we all have a tendency to paint a slightly rosier than real picture of what happened. The aura of success (or even just getting the darn thing over with) can create a euphoria that makes things look - not so bad.

The reason I added the question mark to the title is reflective of my skepticism that we are actually learning here. I propose that a well-run project will have lessons learned that relate ONLY to the parts of the project that were new. The other parts, I expect we would have learned from already. Now, that is not to say that continuous improvement is not possible, but rather that the “lessons” from continuous improvement are a different order of magnitude than those from the newer parts of the project. That is – if you have been learning in the first place! I think we are learning a little, but not as well as we could. One of the jobs of a PMO is codify or ingrain these lessons into the culture and processes of the organization. This way we can collectively and consistently learn these lessons rather than learning them individually and unpredictably.

So here are some lessons learned form the most recent project in our current program – how many of these do you already know?

1. The people we had were great; there just weren’t enough of them.
2. We left management and planning unattended for too long.
3. Unclear roles and responsibilities led to confusion and loss of precious time.
4. We had the most success when we were all informed.
5. Once engaged and informed, management responded quickly and helpfully.
6. We did things right, wrong, and mostly late.
7. We were slowed by constant competition for resources.
8. A great customer relationship got us through many challenges
9. We often did not have the tools and skills needed to do the best job.
10. We did not have a clear understanding of the work when we estimated.

I am sure every one of you can relate to these lessons. These were not all the lessons, but these are the ones I think we already knew. Yet somehow we did not learn from them in the past. Why? I think I will break these down a little over the next few weeks and look at them – surely there is a reason, or reasons. Hmmmm.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Week 22 (Building a PMO) - POWER!!

Power – yes, power, it brings up all sorts of negative references – “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” being the most famous. Well power exists and it is used and misused every day, mostly misused or abused. I’ve recently been able to observe and better understand the workings of power. I’ve seen manipulation, abuse and absence. I want to talk about the absence of power as my current assignment has taught me a lot about that.

First, let me talk about the difference between power and influence. Influence is absolutely necessary and vital to everything we do. When you can use influence do so, use power only as a last resort. No matter what position you have, working jointly with someone and using your mutual respectful relationship to come to a decision is infinitely preferable to using power – EXCEPT – when you can’t agree, or there is not a relationship of mutual respect.

So therein lays the benefits (even necessity) of power. As hard as it is to believe, not every working relationship is one of mutual respect and cooperation – no news flash there! Now, I think the first job of all of us is to create that kind of relationship. Everyone benefits when these relationships exist, including the company and the stockholders. Therefore, it is inherent in your job as a manager to build and maintain these relationships and influence. But sometimes, things just have to get done. That is when power can be adeptly applied towards success. Where there is no power, there are problems.

Consultants have a unique perspective on power. We are ultimately powerless. Any perceived power is simply a very strong and widespread influence. Being the only expert in the room often gives the illusion of power but, as we have all seen, power trumps influence. Being powerless is a great motivator to learning about power – trust me on this one! One thing I am learning is that when power is not defined and understood by all, there is a level of chaos that is expensive and detrimental.

A project without ONE single project manager is a project at risk. The more project managers the more risk. This seems so obvious that you might wonder why I am saying this. Power and politics often create situations where there are multiple project managers. In my current assignment there are at least 3 projects managers on the two major projects. One could argue that there are as many as five on one of them. The organization started simply enough and the story goes something like this:

We have a project that will involve many different areas of the company – it’s important to all of us, so we want each area to assign one of their best people to the project (and part-time only, but that’s a later blog). Of course this usually means managers get assigned and usually some wrangling goes on where these people all end up being at the same organizational level (i.e. pay grade). So now we have 3 to 5 managers all with separate areas of control as the “appointed leaders” of their area. Here is where organizational culture comes in.

In most organizations territory is closely guarded, so each appointee has some mandate from their management to protect the interests of their group. There is also some tacit or actual agreement that each appointee will have “final say” or power over anything that impacts that area. See the problem? Makes you want to scream right. Believe it or not al this seems very logical from the point of view of those making these decisions. Well to my eyes, here is the 800 pound gorilla. THIS IS A PROJECT !!

This project must be impacting multiple organizations or we would not have involved them, so there will be many decisions that impact every organization involved and some of those will have to favor one over another. Since we now have a group of equals who are first dedicated to their organization, they will fight for the decision that is in their interest. This can lead to a plethora of wasteful activities. Imaging if these people are not working from a position of mutual respect and trust! That means a struggle at almost every decision – and projects have a lot of decisions!

One of the ideas of projects is to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. With shared (and I use that term loosely) responsibility, each leader is looking out for their area and the picture of the project to them consists of “mine” and “not mine.” This creates several problems. Not everyone’s definitions of mine/not mine agree, so you have areas that several people feel they own (mine, mine); and those areas that no one owns (not mine, not mine). The only place where there is harmony is when something thinks they own something and everyone else considers that thing “not mine.”

Conflict arises when the views of the appointees do not agree. Obviously, if several of us think something is ours, a direct conflict over ownership and the power to decide ensues. If everyone thinks something is “not mine”, then we might all just drop it, or even better one of us might decide that that something is “yours” and YOU need to do something about it. Ah what fun that is! Try to get someone to work on something for which they have no sense of ownership! So begins the joyous practice of finger pointing and CYA that we all enjoy.

What a load of crap – all this because some people were more interested in having some power than in getting the work done for the company. Here a single, responsible person with power can save huge amounts of money and time and achieve success for everyone. Seems too many of us would rather lead in hell than be part of a winning team which I guess explains a lot of the working environments out there today.

I need to think of some way of creating a scenario or game that shows how ineffective this is … hmm.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Week 21 (Building a PMO) - Reporting part 2

So, last week I talked about Just in time reporting – getting the information to the right people while it’s “hot.” This week, I want to talk about getting the right information there. This can be tricky! There are some serious pitfalls. There are problems with giving useless information, presenting the information incorrectly, giving too much, too little and so on. Let’s start with the quantity of information.

You will rarely hear your stakeholders ask that you give them less information; because of this it is your job to start with a little as possible without giving so little as to be meaningless. Ha – that was easy to say! It has been my experience that every time I present information I get good comments about how the information can be used, and am asked if I could include “a breakdown by month”, or “a list of projects over $1million”, or…. This means that if you start with a lot, you will end up with too much information and the associated excess of work. So what is enough?

Let’s look at it this way; you are usually producing reports for some level of management. So what do they want to know? In my experience both as a provider and recipient of these reports, the primary questions are: How are my resources being spent (time, people, money)? Will we do what we said we would do? What can I do / what do you need of me? Although these are all closely linked, let me address them individually.

How are my resources being spent? Any project is an investment by your stakeholders and they want to know how their investment is doing. Did they spend the right amount? Are the resources the right ones? Will the investment pay off? In order to answer these questions, you will focus on the past and the present. These metrics or measures are often seen in dashboards. So some examples would be milestones, earned value, budget, time spent, adherence to schedule, utilization and other similar measures. The purpose here is to say – you (the stakeholder) have invested this (money, people, and time) in the project and we have created this (value, product, service).

Will we do what we said we would do? This relates to commitment and promises. Each project is a promise to meet a need or want of a stakeholder. Those who are receiving the end result of the project want assurances that they will get what they want. While those contributing to the project want assurances that their investments will produce the desired results. This information will focus more on the scope of the project than on the cost / time aspects. Measures here might be number of requirements met or forecasted to be met. Change control information, quality measures, achievements and deliverables demonstrate that the project will achieve what is expected.

Finally, management wants to understand what is needed of them. Everyone wants to contribute to the success of the project, but it is not always obvious how this can be done. Most of those reading your reports do not have intimate knowledge of the projects and do not know immediately what is needed. It is then your responsibility to simply ask for help as needed. Do not assume that any fool seeing this report would know to do such and such, simply ask for the help and explain what is needed and why. If you need more time, money, resources ask. If you are stalled because of a particular problem, call in the big guns. That is what they are there for.
Well, that’s all well and good, but what does a “just enough” report look like. Here is my criteria:

1. KEEP IT TO ONE PAGE LONG AND NO LONGER !!!!!!!! (I can not stress this enough) – if you can’t say it in one page then don’t expect anyone to listen and it is YOUR FAULT – management does not have time to read excruciating details about everything they are involved in or responsible for. That’s why they hired you! Give it to them short, accurate and ON ONE PAGE!!

2. Use illustrations and diagrams whenever possible. This is not because words and numbers are too complicated for pointy haired managers, it is because pictures communicate more information in less time and with greater accuracy. If you haven’t studied work by Edward Tufte then do so. The expression of information is vital in our work for so many reasons.

3. Answer the three questions above. If you don’t, you will be asked these questions every time. Take care of this up front.

4. Tell a story. Make your report more that a point in time snapshot, show the past and predict the future. Some models are good at this – EVA has a lot of potential. One that I use is to show simply actual expenses against budgeted. I use a graph with a line showing actual expenditures up to the current date with a colored in area showing past and future budgets. Bind the past, present and future together in a consistent flow that tells a story of your project(s).

5. Keep the format consistent – same things at the same place on the page every time. Do not make the recipients of the report search for the information every time.

6. KEEP IT TO ONE PAGE – oh – you get the idea – really if they want more they’ll ask. Trust me – you don’t get to Senior management by being shy – keep it to one page, everyone’s life will be better for it – and you will rise to the challenge of presenting just enough information just in time!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Week 20 - (Building a PMO) Reporting

I’ve been thinking about reporting a good bit lately. What makes good reports? What type of reporting is the PMO responsible for? When? What? To whom? And so on. I have been working recently on streamlining the reporting we are doing on the project and yet providing more information in a more useful and timely manner.

I am a minimalist at heart. I believe in one-page. From a reporting perspective, there may be a need for more than one, but I think that the PMO that provide management with a one-page comprehensive status report has found the Holy Grail of reporting. My quest is probably equally romantic and impossible, but I think there is a lot of room for improvement out there.

Let me start with two components that I have been struggling with lately – I call them the “Justs.” They are Just enough information and Just in Time. I’ll start with the latter as that is the more familiar.

Just in Time started as an inventory management practice and Dell showed the world how effective and profitable this can be. Just in Time reporting refers to the freshness of the information. We have all walked into a meeting with management to review the reports we sent out yesterday knowing that some (perhaps many) pieces of information were no longer accurate. Face it, by their nature, projects change quickly and frequently and they have a terrible habit of being unpredictable. Part of the problem is the ever popular hierarchical reporting methods.

To use my current situation as an example, I have a weekly board meeting every Wednesday morning. At this meeting we discuss the current issues, action items, and status for the two programs we are managing. These programs consist of multiple projects from multiple departments. One of those departments is IT. I get the final set of IT information on Monday afternoon for presentation on Wednesday morning. Let’s look at how that information gets to the board.

Working backwards – On Monday the consolidated IT reports are reviewed by IT management and approved for general release. These reports are created on the previous Friday afternoon from a collection of status reports by each project. These individual project reports are due by end of day Thursday. Each project team puts their report together in the day or two preceding Thursday. In this case the IT information that the board reads on Wednesday morning is a week old. A lot can change in a week. Unfortunately this means that we often report tasks as incomplete and behind schedule when they were actually completed on time.

We take a different approach on the business side. Here, there is a full program meeting on Tuesday morning. At this meeting, each project leader and team member reports their status as of that moment. The project manager updates the schedule, issues and action items right there. The program level report is published immediately after the meeting. Since the PMO is present in these meetings, we are able to produce the business components of the weekly status right after the meeting as well. This means that on Wednesday morning the board is hearing about information that is less than 24 hours old.

There are two circumstances that influence the difference. First, the business organization is less hierarchical and less formal than IT. This allows much quicker communication. My observation is that IT is oriented around structure, process, exactness and consistency – all of which contribute to some excellent, stable and reliable systems. Unfortunately, this means that non-emergency information has a long way to go to be seen.

Secondly, the PMO is directly present in the lowest level of the business meetings while we are not present in the lowest level IT meetings. This means that we get the unvarnished “raw” information straight from the people who know it the best. This enables us to better understand the information and to weigh its importance and urgency. This is not the case with IT.

I think the solution is two fold. First, set up a system and process that has the shortest amount of time between the collecting the information and reporting it. Second, eliminate every step possible between the collection and reporting. The fastest this can be done is obviously to have the person collecting the information turn right around and report it. Even better have the recipients of the information hear it first hand. Of course, it is rarely possible to get today’s busy executives to spend that much time listening to details. Don’t forget, your value-add in the reporting cycle is to aggregate, summarize, separate useful from useless, and elevate the important.

To parallel this to Just In Time supply management, getting information from the business is like going to the orchard to pick the oranges while the information from IT has to be obtained by driving to their grocery store and waiting until it is stocked on the shelves. Go to the orchard, pick the best fruit and get that to your board right away.

Monday, January 15, 2007

PMO Reporting

Reporting is often viewed as a less-than-glamorous responsibility of the PMO. I think that reporting is probably one of the most visible methods that a PMO can show value. The PMO reports go to management and those managers and executives make decisions based on your reports. By providing accurate and timely information in those reports, you – the PMO – are ensuring that the foundations of corporate decision-making are solid and built on the best information available.

With that as your mission, there are several different types of reports that the PMO may be responsible for: department reporting, project reporting, portfolio reporting and PMO reporting. Let’s take a quick look:

Department reporting takes several different forms; one common form is resource management and projections. These focus of these reports is to give information on a department or group.

Project reporting is probably the most familiar, this can take the form of your red/green/yellow status reports, buffer reports (for those using CCM), or earned value. These reports give information on a project or projects.

Portfolio Reporting gives information about a collection of projects, some common reports are the pipeline report which shows where each project is as it moves thorough the project lifecycle. Other reports include a project priority list, resource and cost projections, and possible other more sophisticated sets of information. While project reports are more tactical in nature, portfolio reports are used more for strategic decision-making.

Lastly we have PMO reporting – This is simply reports that tell how the PMO is doing. Some examples are budget reports, balanced scorecards, staffing and others.

Each of these reports offers you a great opportunity to demonstrate your PMOs independence, neutrality, honesty and consistency. They are also a great marketing tool.

Marketing your PMO

Yes, Marketing your PMO. Good, bad or otherwise, this is one of the primary jobs of the PMO Director. If the leader of the PMO is not doing this, then who will be? You want your organization to grow in knowledge and capability and you want to share how Project Management can help your customers better achieve their goals. There is nothing that helps you communicate this more effectively than the practices of Marketing.

If you’re like me, you’ve seen that vague smile and zombie-like glaze that comes over your loved ones when you start talking excitedly about how you were able to streamline the change management process by reducing the number of steps, modifying the forms and blah blah blah.... – Now imagine if the people you were talking to didn’t love you?

There is a lot to learn in Marketing and I won’t pretend to be an expert, but let me suggest three simple steps - I think you will find these effective, I have.

First - Find out how you can give value to your customer through project management.
Second – Give them that value with no strings attached.
Third – Talk to them about how you were able to achieve what you did.

I can’t tell you what your customers will value, but they can. Talk to them and begin your marketing campaign.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Week 19 (Building a PMO)

Distributed v Centralized PMOs

Yeah, I’ve skipped a few weeks. My official excuse is that those were the holidays and not much was happening. Since you all know it’s because it was the holidays and I got lazy, let’s just pretend.

A comment I got a few weeks ago about staffing has had me thinking about PMO models. There are a lot, but the two extremes that come to mind are the highly-centralized versus the distributed. Let me just set my definitions of these two and then talk about where I see the problems and possible solutions.

Centralized PMO – this PMO would contain almost all the project management work, knowledge and oversight for a single group or organization. Within this department would be all the project managers, PM trainers, methodology and tool experts, mentors, and PM specialists. If you want project management, this is where you come.

Distributed PMO – in this model, the PMO is very small and probably contains no more than a few people who have primary responsibility for the tools, methodology and maybe reporting. The PMs and specialists are distributed in the teams, and PM training would be part of corporate training.

There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages to these models. I still hold that the centralized model is more effective to the larger organization overall, but that is not the point of this post. What I have been thinking about is how to use the best of these models in a more effective manner, so here are my thoughts on a hybrid model.

First we start with the model of a centralized PMO, but we limit the involvement of PMs from this area to only certain types of projects (strategic, cross-department, high profile…). Or – and I think this is one of the key benefits of a centralized PMO – these PMs would be available to help departments that do not have their own PM. All other projects are handled at different levels of the organization by “imbedded” PMs. This removes some of the staffing and inequality issues related to a central model.

Next we need to address the tendency of distributed models to move toward entropy with the PMO becoming ineffective methodology police. I have a real personal bias towards this, because I did not get into this career to run around telling others that they needed to run a phase-gate review using forms 21 – 36 before they could go on with their project. I believe that this creates an atmosphere of compliance and that is not what we are about.

So, how to move from compliance to integration where all PMs regardless of location use the same practices and procedures because they are the right ones, not because they are the only ones? I don’t have a full answer, but I think there are several steps in the right direction.

  1. Project Manager Rotation. This can be pretty tricky, but I think we should look at having this as part of a PM’s career path. The project manager would serve a certain period of time in the PMO (as a mentor, trainer, strategic PM, portfolio manager…) and another period as an imbedded PM. In fact moving from group to group would also work well. With the addition of timeframes such as no less than 6 months and no more than 2 years, we can keep up the circulation without constantly upsetting workflow.

Cross pollination of team members will create a group of project managers who have worked in multiple areas of the company. They have shared their knowledge, and learned about the business. This is consistent with the value of integrating project management within the organization. This also creates a cadre of professionals who have a wide understanding of the business and of management – not bad for any organization.

  1. A simple, flexible methodology. I know I harp on this a lot, but complicated methodologies are difficult to sustain, manage and follow. The truly useful and efficient methodology will be very simple, flexible and will not change often. Maybe methodology is the wrong term, maybe better a set of guidelines, practices, values and a framework. Trying to integrate a methodology with hundreds of forms and process steps is irrational in almost all cases.

Some other ideas come to mind, more on those later. I have to go move a refrigerator.