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The scenario here is a new IT Services Program that is about six months on a five-year firm fixed price contract, providing IT infrastructure and application O&M services for an organization that is world wide. All the teams, including the PMO, are suffering from still maturing processes and capabilities and teaming dynamics. There is a lot of intra- and inter-team conflicts that, while improving, is still adversely impacting performance.

The PMO, by its very nature, causes additional administrative burden on these struggling teams by way of forcing standardization, controls, and policies and rules. As a result, I have found an almost uniform and consistent resistance by the broader teams, not only on this program but also others, as well.

That said, it seems counter intuitive that the teams would NOT find inherent value from some or most of the PMO controls as these controls, if performed properly, should help them manage their portion of the work. For example, if this program was doing earned value, the project managers across the program would have early insight on their cost and, to a degree, schedule in order to make early interventions if they were accruing unfavorable variances. Otherwise, they are flying blind. Similarly, a program-level risk management process would/should/could help these project managers navigate from their threats or towards their opportunities.

Ultimately, I think the PMO should be both sort of the watch dog of a program to ensure compliance and control to the benefit of the project sponsors and leadership but I think it needs to provide real, tangible value to the project team at large, as well.

My question is: how can I improve value generation for the project team at large?

This is a type of question that may violate our rules here in that there is not likely a "true" answer and this may only generate opinions and lists. However, I need to generate opinions and lists because this scenario is real. Thanks!

  • David, this sounds like a culture in transition where leadership could make a difference in smoothing the transition. what's the culture like and what is leadership like? Is there a tradition of governance, standardization and continual improvement within the company? Whose idea was the PMO? Did it come from within the performing teams, with the consent of team leadership or was it forced on the teams and their leadership? – Mark Phillips Jul 30 '13 at 20:55
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It sounds like one or more of the following could be playing into the current situation.

Lack of understanding by the projects of what the PMO is doing. Maybe the PMO is offering the projects exactly what they need, but it hasn't been communicated well. To get some insight into whether this is a factor, do a quick informal survey to see what the projects feel that the PMO is providing them. Try to avoid asking questions in a way that biases the answers. Go over the results with the PMO, and see if there is a need for better advertising the PMOs offerings.

Lack of understanding by the PMO of what the projects need. Again, do a quick informal survey. This time though, ask the PMO what they think the projects need from them. Once that is done, go over the results with the projects to see whether they find these things useful (or if some adaptations need to be made). It is quite likely that different projects will need different things from your PMO.

Lack of available time. It could be that what the PMO is offering is exactly what the projects need, and that the projects know that they need it. But there are only so many hours in the day, and what the PMO is trying to help the projects with might appear to be lower on the priority list than the current fires that they are putting out. Look to see what high priority issues might be distracting projects from using the PMO offerings, and see which might have been avoided if the projects had been using the PMO's offerings in the first place.

Lack of maturity. You mentioned yourself that the processes and capabilities were still maturing. While six months seems like a lot of time, and it sounds like you've got a large distributed group involved. It may be that some training time is needed, or perhaps some on-hand coaching with individual teams.

In general, even if you think you're doing a good job of communicating between the PMO and projects, don't stop looking to see if there are ways it can be improved.

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TL;DR

[I]t seems counter intuitive that the teams would NOT find inherent value from some or most of the PMO controls...[that] should help them manage their portion of the work[.]

Your organization appears to be suffering from a lack of perceived value in the new process controls, as well as a lack of proper "tone at the top" in support of this process change. PMO controls should be quantitatively evaluated, and senior management must visibly sponsor all new processes and spearhead an organization-wide educational effort.

Quantify Design Effectiveness

First of all, whether or not the PMO is actually providing value is an a priori assumption within your post. There are no supporting details, so I'd start there: perform an actual evaluation of the PMO's controls to quantitatively validate their design effectiveness. This will certainly feed into the rest of the political and process engineering that needs to be done.

This is not to say that the PMO has not designed the right controls; it may very well have done so. The issue is that the design of the controls must not be seen as arbitrary or unsupported process overhead, and should directly relate to identifiable risks to the organization and its teams.

Quantify Operational Effectiveness

Secondly, even if the PMO is applying controls that are correctly designed, it is necessary to inspect and evaluate the controls to ensure that they exhibit operational effectiveness. If a control is "operating as designed," but isn't actually effective at controlling the associated risk it was designed to mitigate, then it is generally (and with some justification) seen as busy-work or useless overhead.

Invest in Education and Improve "Tone at the Top"

Finally, there's perception. Even if the PMO is applying well-designed controls that are quantifiable in terms of their operational effectiveness, education and "tone at the top" matter. It is the job of senior management and the PMO to ensure that the various teams and business units understand:

  1. The processes currently in place within the organization.
  2. How the new PMO-monitored controls work to mitigate risk.
  3. Where the controls should be applied within existing organizational processes.
  4. How the new PMO controls benefit other layers of the organization, whether in the short run (rarely) or in the long run (the usual case).
  5. How to effectively work with the PMO to iron out process roadblocks related to the new controls.

All of this requires a meaningful education program within the organization. In addition, it requires that senior management provide other layers of management with the appropriate political motivation to be active participants in the process. Socializing and supporting the new process is always an essential part of senior management's responsibility in any process re-engineering effort, and this responsibility can't effectively be delegated—it must start at the top.

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I think the problem you have outlined is fairly common. In my experience people in general want to see immediate, short-term benefits from initiatives. Longer-term benefits are often discounted altogether if getting to them is perceived as interfering with "real work". I liken it to a man going on a hike who can reduce his load by half at the start but chooses not to because he doesn't want to lose the five minutes it will take to empty his pack. It makes no sense but is very human.

In my opinion, the best way to get your teams to buy into the value of a PMO is to collaboratively tailor your PMO's methodology with the team to the needs of each project. During pre-project planning work your way through the methodology with the key stakeholders (e.g. PMs, team leaders, sponsors) and decide what pieces are must-haves vs nice-to-haves given the project's complexity and criticality to the organization. By engaging the teams early you will avoid a lot of problems. With a project that is currently underway there is no shame in hitting the reset button when it comes to governance, maybe the methodology being used really is too onerous for the needs of the project.

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The first is to help them acknowledge the fact that there are a lot of conflicts and that there is room for improvement. Followed by an agreement that in order to do achieve different results, then something must change.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. - Albert Einstein

This opens the door for a retrospection where one can inspect the current things that are impacting and causing the conflicts. Listening in a neutral discussion of the problems and then brainstorming ideas to bring about change.

This is the first lesson in agility (may be a bad word for your PMO, so use it with caution), that of inspect and adapt. The next is to establish regular points to inspect and adapt, thus preventing a rut happening.

There are many great articles on the web that will explain retrospection and how to run them.

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Some observations:

All the teams, including the PMO, are suffering from still maturing processes and capabilities and teaming dynamics. There is a lot of intra- and inter-team conflicts that, while improving, is still adversely impacting performance.

Can your organziation handle the pace of change? Are you trying to do too much at once?

Are you trying to impose standards on sub-teams and organizations that are still Forming and Storming? I'm not sure that is going to be successful; I believe you'll expend considerable political capital doing so.

The PMO, by its very nature, causes additional administrative burden on these struggling teams by way of forcing standardization, controls, and policies and rules. As a result, I have found an almost uniform and consistent resistance by the broader teams, not only on this program but also others, as well.

Forcing or enabling? Might be that the PMO should strive to provide solutions and facilitate growth and progress. Emphasize intervention in problem projects, and avoid meddling with projects that are working. Ultimately the PMO will succeed if project managers find the PMO's contributions of value. PMO force had better be backed by strong sponsorshp support. The kind of strong sponsor support that comes along once in a century.

What is the goal of the PMO? What is your sponsor's charge to the PMO? What value is the PMO accountable for delivering?

Yes, there will be some inefficiency and thrash from failing to execute the mandated processes and procedures. But I'm willing to bet that in the Storm & Form environment you're describing that inefficiency will be lost in the noise. If I were in your shoes, I would work with the sponsors to identify the N projects that are most in danger of failure and intervene there. (Where N is related to the resources & maturity of your PMO). Fight only the battles that all parties can win.

That said, it seems counter intuitive that the teams would NOT find inherent value from some or most of the PMO controls as these controls, if performed properly, should help them manage their portion of the work. For example, if this program was doing earned value, the project managers across the program would have early insight on their cost and, to a degree, schedule in order to make early interventions if they were accruing unfavorable variances.

Depends on your enterprise; if you are providing concrete products, then EVM is simple & helpful. We planned to produce 5 widgets, we produced 4, we're behind schedule. If you're providing services (which you say you are), then EVM is much more difficult. We had planned to make 5 people happy today, but we only made 3 people happy - is that because 1 of the people is devoted to discontent, or is it because the other person had a problem that was far more complex than anyone expected (patient presented with a hangnail, but initial examination revealed diabetes).

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