2010 New Year’s Resolutions: Project Management/PMO

Along with the holiday festivities, the last half of December turns everyone’s thoughts to New Year’s Resolutions. If you adopted any of our project management resolution suggestions from last year, please leave a comment and let us know how that worked out for you. And, if you haven’t taken our survey about project success, please do. It will take you only 5 minutes, and we’re looking for both IT and business perspectives.

For 2010, we’re expanding the scope of our resolutions to include a few PMO resolutions as well. (Don’t worry, we’ve filed a change control request and had it approved by the proper authorities!) We approached 2009’s resolutions with an eye toward cost reduction, based on a grim IT budget outlook. 2010 looks like it will not see further cuts, with most companies either keeping budgets in line with prior year, or boosting IT spending by a modest 4-6%.

In this budget context, it’s still wise to consider ways to work smarter, not harder, and tighten up the alignment of all of your projects with the overall strategy of the business, realizing that the strategy often changes over time.

So, without further ado, here are our 2010 Project Management/PMO resolutions:

1. Writing up your meeting minutes is not as critical as limiting the minutes your team spends in meetings. Don’t get me wrong: published meeting notes are important, and they should still be distributed within 24 hours of each working meeting.  The following mental exercise will bring home the importance of running tight, efficient meetings:

1. Count the number of meeting attendees.

2. Multiply by the length of the meeting in hours.

3. Multiply by the number of meeting occurrences over the project lifespan.

4. Multiply by a fully burdened hourly rate.

A weekly internal status meeting for a year-long project could be adding significant cost to your project. Limit your agenda to the essentials: It’s not so important to review what everyone has done or what went well. Use the meeting time for resolving issues and managing exceptions.

2. Revisit the charter for your PMO and make sure it serves the business, and does not ask the business to serve the PMO. PMOs that exist to enforce consistency and police compliance with a methodology often end up slowing down project execution instead of enabling project success. Standardize project plan templates at the highest level necessary for tracking milestones across projects, and let individual project managers develop work breakdown structures within that framework, to a level that suits the needs of individual projects.

3. Develop a less adversarial attitude toward change. Much is written about scope creep and change control in project management circles. There may be a tendency to take too hard a line toward change. The reality is that business conditions, needs, and strategy may well change over the lifespan of many projects.

Let’s move our definition of project success away from the old metrics of “on time and within budget” toward more realistic measures of business success. Some more appropriate ways to judge success of a project include:

  • Did the project fulfill the objectives, as defined in the original project charter (if you don’t do project charters or business cases, add that to thei list of resolutions) and all subsequent change requests?
  • Are end-users satisfied that their requirements have been implemented, and can they easily perform their daily tasks using the new system?
  • Some metrics are specific to the type of project, such as:
    • For business intelligence projects: Has this project enabled the business to make better and quicker business decisions by putting better data and drilldown capability into their hands?
    • For projects that install new transactional systems: Have we improved overall efficiency and accuracy of critical business transactions?

4. Develop an efficient framework for project triage. Not every project needs the same level of support. Some projects need to be suspended or rescoped as business needs change. Regular project triage is a best practice that helps organizations make sure they are keeping IT budgets aligned with business needs. Make a commitment to quarterly triage in 2010. Incidentally, if you haven’t taken our project triage survey, we would value your input in this area.

5. Re-order the priorities of your project managers. Make sure that they understand that their most important responsibility is maintaining a healthy working relationship with the business. Tracking status, updating the plan, and managing the tech team are not the key enablers of project success.  The most valuable skills to strengthen in your PM staff  are related to communication, conflict resolution, consensus building, and salesmanship (they will often have to “sell” reluctant stakeholders on compromise solutions).

New Year’s resolutions are really just an attempt to institutionalize a project management best practice that should become standard operating procedure throughout the year: periodically re-examine your approach and commit to continuous improvement efforts. That’s the real secret to successfully building a high-performance project management office within your organization.

Reshaping your PMO to Beat the Recession

There’s been some buzz lately on how PMOs can help your company spend wisely during a recession. In wading through the recent buzz, it’s important to know that not all PMOs are created equal, and the skills of the PMO leadership can make or break your ability to use a PMO as a weapon in your recession-beating strategy. Because the economic climate has changed drastically, you may be in danger of overspending if you don’t re-evaluate and re-engineer your PMO to meet the needs of the day.

Kristen Caretta, at Search CIO-Midmarket discusses how project management offices are uniquely positioned to cut projects that have spiraled out of control and identify those critical to meeting changing business needs and increasing business efficiency.

An article at CIO.com includes key metrics for gauging PMO success. It’s important to reconsider your metrics during the recession, however, because the shift in business climate may require you to track against different targets.

Look critically at your PMO and the way it operates to see if your organization is guilty of any of these behaviors. All of them can actually cause a drag on your bottom line.

  • Undue effort spent on policing project teams fpolice-monkeyor adherence to a standard methodology. A highly functioning PMO evaluates requests for exceptions to methodology standards and helps the teams run with a lean and mean approach that speeds up progress while imposing an identifiable and acceptable level of risk to the business.
  • Hyperfocus on metrics. Don’t let the endless trackinbusiness-chimpg of metrics become an end unto itself. The only thing that needs to be reported and addressed are the exceptions-those projects that are riding off the rails. It’s a waste of corporate resources to publish lengthy status updates on projects that are humming along without any problems.
  • The half-day weekly PMO meeting withmeeting-monkeys a cast of thousands. Be very clear on the purpose of your regular PMO meetings. Using them to resolve cross-cutting issues and refine project strategy or reprioritize the project portfolio and realign resources is a good use of time. Dragging every project manager through status updates for each project only makes sense if the projects are somehow inter-related.
  • The IT PMO-in-a-silo. The biggest bang for ymonkeysour PMO dollar is in its ability to foster alignment between business needs (which may in fact change over the lifespan of a project) and implementation projects. You can only do this if your PMO is an enterprise (as opposed to an IT) entity. The director of your PMO needs to have a solid record of experience in advising and negotiating at the C-level, in addition to rock-solid project and program management skills.

To navigate the recession, don’t assume that your current PMO is already providing exactly what you need to win in a difficult economy. If you don’t have a formal continuous improvement approach in place, a semi-annual review and realignment of PMO approach and operations may be in order.