Apply Care for Program Success

As my current program moves into another sprint retrospective tomorrow I have been reflecting on some of the learnings I have been able to successfully incorporate in my day to day approach to the program and project management areas during the full solution delivery process. While there is not a one size fits all nor a magic bullet on what it takes to successfully deliver IT solutions there are some key theme areas that should be reconsidered periodically. This is not an all-inclusive list, and these are not in any priority order.

Building Real Accountability – Do the program team members exhibit behaviors that highlight ownership and engagement? One of the easiest ways to ascertain this is when you see people step forward after a mistake is made, own it, learn from it, and we can move on. Once your team feel safe that it is ok to be wrong they tend to be more apt to try new and innovative ideas.

Resolving Pernicious Problems – Are problem areas being raised to the right level and are they being resolved timely? If you have fostered an environment on your program where every stakeholder has a mechanism to report and support risk and issue management this becomes a continuous activity. The project management team should not have all the onus to document and manage risks and issues. By providing the tools and the expectation that this is part of the day to day team activity you will see more transparency in the internal workings on the program.

Creating Effective Plans – Has enough attention been paid to the planning processes? There is an art to planning a program. Identifying the work that needs to be completed, and supporting the internal processes that are built to ensure quality deliveries are sometimes elusive. The tendency is gloss over the importance of stakeholder analysis, activity dependency identification, and resource capacity planning. If these are not done well and continuously managed you could find yourself with a perpetual end date.

Reflecting Upon Leadership – Have you spent enough time thinking about your role as a leader and how you are affecting the outcomes? Each of us have our own leadership style. There are a multitude of factors that need to be considered based on our own comfort zones and the environment/culture we are leading in. For instance, you do not want to over use an authoritative style in a highly collaborative culture. Make sure and take the time to understand your own style and how that style can be leveraged in the corporate and team cultures you are delivering in.

Yenning Informed Thinking – Do enough team members consider the big picture, or is the big picture thinking happening at the top? Not everyone has the ability or experience to think both strategically as well as tactically. To ensure that the strategic thinking does not only come from the top you should work to identify key team members that have this ability and encourage them to participate in the overall planning efforts. Tactical thinking is made easier by process management.

Recognizing Beneficial Celebration – Are you taking the time to appreciate successes and celebrate key milestone achievements? We spend a great deal of our time at work, and most people have a need to be shown that this time away from their family and friends is worth more than a paycheck. It is important to recognize individuals for their successes. It is equally important to understand how your team members like to be recognized. You do not want to publically recognize an individual if they would prefer to be recognized privately. It is also very important to stop and celebrate key milestone achievements. This is an opportunity for the team to step away from the grind of the day to day and recognize each other for the commitment to the continued success of the program.

Supporting Avuncular Behavior – Do you have mentoring behavior on the team? It is important as you build your team to recognize where more experienced professionals could support more junior team members. Either by establishing a formal mentoring relationship or pairing key program activities up to support the transfer of knowledge and experience. It is not always easy to identify individuals that are willing to impart their wisdom with others, but once you find those that are willing and effective your program and project team will reap the benefits.

Evangelizing Solid Resources – Are there key tools in place to support content management, planning and execution, and defect management? You will want to make sure at the beginning of the program that you take the time to identify what tool will be used for what purpose. Once this is done you will want to ensure that all the team members are educated during the kick-off and subsequent on-boarding activities about what each of these tools represent and are used for. This will cut down on the amount of noise created by missing or misunderstood information.

Cultivating Sound Environment – Does the team culture align with the corporate guiding principles? Each organization comes with a defined culture and with that culture are focused leadership competencies and behaviors. It is important to take stalk and recognize what these are and ensure that you are consistently leading by example. If you are hearing the statement “this is the way we do things around here” you will want to spend time to understand at the core what is driving these statements and what you can do as a leader to either foster or dissuade the behavior.

In conclusion, there are a multitude of areas to ponder when you approach solution delivery and these are just a few that I have found helpful in achieving my program delivery successes. Many of these come through the hard knocks of the project management profession, so I would encourage you to APPLY CARE!

Progress Your Project with Processes

Processes benefit projects. Effective processes enable efficient communications, foster collaboration between teams, and maintain consistent project controls. Most importantly, processes can push through brick walls that block your project’s progress!

I have used the idiom “progress your project with processes” quite often in my career. I originally used this term to help my team understand that if the project and resource management processes on our program are effective then these processes could and should be used to resolve conflict. These processes should also be used as guiding principles for the way the team interacts with one another. Processes will, in essence, take the emotion out of decision making when faced with hard decisions.

Project managers spend a great deal of time at the beginning of a project to ensure that the Project Management Office (PMO) processes are clearly established with their project teams. However, as most of us know, the PMO processes only take you so far. There is a fair amount of process definition that needs to be completed for each project based on a multitude of factors. These factors include culture, resource location, project size, regulatory requirements, and other similar characteristics.

One common “brick wall” is change and change management. If you have done a good job of determining the change management process up front, then effectively using that process to manage through ideation to completion can help resolve many conflicts on a project. In other words, if what is change and what isn’t change has been defined up front, then this is your guidepost when faced with change requests. You will be able to take the human conflict out of the equation and instead focus on working through the impacts by following your processes.

Another area is schedule management. As a project manager, it is extremely important to establish a schedule that focuses on both the methodology and related deliverables—as well as the actual deliverables needed to meet the project’s objectives. When the initial schedule is built, you will be working with the stakeholders on your team to determine their work packets and any dependencies they articulate. Once your resource capacity and leveling has been established in your schedule, you can then use this structure to clearly outline any future impediments when scheduling conflicts occur based on slippage in those deliverables. You will be able to rely on the process to help you articulate the problem and guide you in fostering a resolution.

There may be a perception in some organizations that processes are overused or overrated. In other words, there is a diminished value perceived from process management. This perception typically appears in start-up or small companies that have to be agile and react quickly to changing market demands. But, even for these organizations you can right-size the processes to ensure limited rework and still maintain solid delivery cycles. You may also observe this perception in large organizations. It is the project manager’s responsibility to define up front the processes that will and will not work given the environmental factors. This approach will help with the “too many processes” perception in these organizations.

In conclusion, design effective processes up front and use them to push through the brick walls that block your progress!

A special thank you to Jerry Johns for acting as my editor on this article!

ABCs of a PMO



Many times in my project and program management career I have looked to my company’s Project Management Office (PMO) for help and support.  A PMO will offer leadership to help solve difficult business and technology problems, serve as a sounding board to explore new approaches and strategies, and provide a framework for a standard project methodology in order to initiate and execute projects utilizing industry best practices.  The PMO will also help identify the best resources for the area of expertise a project manager requires to fulfill a project or program need.  Typically the PMO is staffed by individuals with an abundance of project and program experience so that they can offer mentorship that supports the project, program, or portfolio environments.  Without a PMO in place there could be inconsistent approaches and delivery standards which could lead to poor project outcomes.  The organization may not realize the return on investment for the business case driving the project delivery without a solid PMO practice.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a PMO as “An organizational body or entity assigned various responsibilities related to the centralized and coordinated management of those projects under its domain.  The responsibilities of a PMO can range from providing project management support functions to actually being responsible for the direct management of a project”.  The PMO’s focus should be on continuous improvement and support to improve the organizations’ and individuals’ project management execution capability resulting in faster delivery.  I have worked in organizations where the PMO has provided support along with audit functions and in other organizations where the PMO has provided direct management and execution of projects.  I want to cover some key observations from my experiences, where the PMO helps contribute to successful project implementations whether they are vendor lead or internal application development initiatives.

Availability of Support Resources:  Most of your project management responsibilities occur during normal business operating hours (unless your stakeholders are global) so the PMO should have resources available during these hours or be flexible enough to work around project demands.  It is assumed that all of the tools, templates, and the lessons learned repository(s) are available electronically at all times. This is a critical aspect of a project’s success and your PMO should play a key role in it.

Support versus Roadblock:  PMO processes and support should not be so onerous that they stall or delay the activity of the project. A great PMO offers partnership with the project manager in a way that enables success. The PMO should monitor the perception of their audience and adjust their approach to ensure they are fostering project success.

Current Process Framework: The PMO should provide current and easily used project management tools and templates. All new processes and tools should be implemented in support of the defined project methodology being utilized within the organization.  There should be an analysis by the PMO of the cost to implement changes in the process or tools from a resource knowledge perspective and organizational change management perspective.  The PMO should also validate that any changes in process or tools adhere to the vision, mission, goals and objectives of the organization.  There should be an active auditing function of the tools to ensure the ongoing effectiveness is realized.

Training and Career Progression: Many times project managers believe their first responsibility is to successfully execute the project they are working on and support their team member’s growth.  This leaves very little time to focus on their own skills and stay abreast of new practices within their profession.  The PMO should offer training that is in support of the variability of the project. This would include online sessions held in the evenings or weekends, white paper soft-copy distribution, and finally classroom courses that can be taken either during project downtime or in between assignments.  The PMO should also encourage Project Managers to continue their education as a requirement for career progression.  This would also support the requirements of PMI for the project management certification continuing education requirements.

Resource Competency: Project managers look for and value guidance from experienced professionals who have walked miles in their shoes, and have lived through tough project battles.  The experience gained while working through diverse and challenging engagements help the PMO better support the project management team.  PMO resources should be very familiar with the daily challenges facing their project managers and their skillset should be highly experienced.  They should continuously look for new and more efficient ways to execute projects within the organizations culture.  

Resource Availability: Project managers look for resource availability from the PMO to staff their respective projects.  Once a project manager identifies the types of resources they need to staff their respective engagements a process and tool should be outlined by the PMO to support the acquisition of resources needed.  The PMO should have visibility of all the organizational project and program resources needs in order to support the organizations ongoing business strategic initiatives.

In summary a PMO is a very valuable area within the organization when there is a clear understanding of the role the PMO plays within the organization based on the culture and resource needs.  The PMO should be looked at as a center of excellence that provides support and a framework for those that are effectively executing projects.  The PMO should also provide clear direction and quality resources for the project managers within the organization.  Finally the PMO should be looked at as a valued corporate service or function by providing thought leadership and project management direction for the organization.  If these processes and functions are in place then an organization will be able to reap the benefits of consistent delivery of business driven strategic goals.