Having worked in the (Middle East- North Africa) MENA region for a number of years, it is quite disheartening to encounter PMOs that suffer from acute identity crisis and are locked in endless battles with other departments to prove their worth.
What is interesting to discover is that the usual culprit behind PMO failures i.e. the lack of executive support, is not the primary cause. The common denominator behind the failings of such PMOs can be attributed to the role played by management consultants in setting up PMOs. There are three distinct areas where management consultants have played an instrumental role in creating PMOs, with major structural defects and no matter how hard one tries to fix it, the defects remain as an indelible stain.
If You Had to Choose, Would You Add a Project Manager or a Business Analyst to Your Team?
This was one of several questions posed to a cross-functional panel of industry experts encompassing the product management, project management, and business analysis professions at Project Summit and Business Analyst World Chicago. The resulting dialog shed light on several topics that underlie current practices.
A couple of days ago I fired up my online calendar and started to schedule a meeting with my manager. Our meetings are typically less than 30 minutes long, but I had a lot to talk about, so I was going to make it an hour long. Yessirree. I had a lot of stuff on my mind, I needed an audience, and he was the logical person to hear me out!
Fortunately, we have a little meeting protocol where I work. In our organization, you can’t schedule a meeting without identifying the objective of the meeting and the desired outcome. At first, I didn’t think it would be difficult to get my thoughts around those things and document them. (Did I mention I had a lot to talk about?)
Change Management is Misunderstood
“The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.” ~George Bernard Shaw
There is a misconception, in many organizations, that if we simply keep moving along with the changes, without officially acknowledging or evaluating their impact, that everything will work out in the end. People with this naïve approach believe:
- The project will be within the budget.
- The end product will ultimately be better and support our project Return On Investment (ROI) and strategic value.
- The cost and timeline will still be met.
- No one is worse for wear.
Managing a project can require up to 50 different types of documents for planning, tracking and reporting. Feasibility studies, resource spreadsheets, financial and project plans, supplier contracts, post-implementation reviews, change request forms and project status reports are essential ingredients in successful project management. They are the components of “project documents,” which are the definitive record of a project that details the project cycle from inception to conclusion.
Risk Management is simply defined as identifying, analyzing and managing the uncertainties in a project -both positive (opportunities) and negative (threats). The benefits of risk management are instrumental to a project’s success. By proactively addressing uncertainties, in combination with a strong project management program, problems within the project can decrease by as much as 60 or 70 %.
The International Organization for Standardization identifies the following principles of risk management.
The question often looms: Why do we work? Perhaps it doesn’t really matter why – we all have to work to some degree or another. Some people work to live and others live to work. Some find a balance between the two where one flows naturally and seamlessly into another. We spend every day doing stuff and it turns out, oddly and intuitively enough, that the people we encounter and work with influence our experience at work as well. Our colleagues, clients, peers and bosses, all of those we cross paths with at work bear some weight on our satisfaction, productivity, creativity and diligence for the little niches we may find or cultivate.
Sprint Planning takes the form of a meeting involving the Product Owner, Scrum Team and Scrum Master. The Product Owner discusses the current Product Backlog, with a focus on the top-priority User Stories. The conversation involves the Product Owner’s explanation of the Stories, including the Acceptance Criteria and the Scrum Team seeking clarification so that they may make informed choices with respect to estimating and what they will commit for the Sprint.
Communications is, of course, the single biggest indicator of project success or failure. As project managers, we have to think about all aspects of communications, including how much, to whom, in what format, etc. We also get pretty savvy at knowing which communication channels to use.
A lot of project work gets done through informal, undocumented communication channels. This is not only OK, it’s actually necessary. Imagine if every conversation or information gathering effort we conducted required a documented plan. The fact is a lot of good data can be mined from the water cooler and coffee klatch gatherings.
There are two types of this informal network: the grapevine and the rumor mill. I would suggest that while both are informal, undocumented communication channels and that they may include many, if not most, of the same people, they are significantly different. The grapevine is an asset worth using; the rumor mill is something to avoid.
How are they different and what makes one an essential part of a project manager’s communication strategy and the other a liability? In my mind, it comes down to content and effect.
First, the nature of the content is qualitatively different between the two channels. On the grapevine, information is rooted in truth. It may not include the whole story, but the information available is fundamentally true. It is often a great source of information about prevailing attitudes, for example. A project manager might tap into the grapevine to find out how people are responding to an organizational change of some kind.
In addition, grapevine content is generally not specifically about individuals. The vine is more about ideas and things, and less about who did or said what.
Content on the rumor mill, on the other hand, is highly specious. Often the information obtained from the mill is patently false or so distorted by innuendo or editorializing as to be of little value. Of course, it’s not presented that way. In fact, you can usually tell if you’re tapping into the rumor mill by a qualifying comment such as “My brother’s roommate’s cousin heard….” The qualification serves the purpose of creating distance between the information and the person spreading it; it’s a way of deflecting ownership for the information.
Furthermore, the rumor mill is generally where you hear a lot more about specific individuals and a lot less about ideas. Name dropping on the rumor mill is rampant – and generally not a place where you want your name mentioned.
Still, it’s not always crystal clear as to which channel you are using based on content alone. Effect is also important to consider in order to distinguish between the vine and the mill.
The effect of the grapevine is positive (or at least not negative). Use of the vine results in shared perceptions, level setting, or improved understanding. The effect is not damaging or demeaning to others. When you are working the grapevine, you don’t feel uncomfortable about getting the information. Grapevine conversations don’t inspire ducking into empty conference rooms to avoid being seen. You come away from a grapevine conversation feeling like you could share what you learned with others without feeling like you violated a confidence or compromised anyone’s integrity. You are comfortable with your name being associated with grapevine information.
On the other hand, the effect of the rumor mill is generally negative. The purpose is really to provide cheap entertainment. It’s the “You’re not gonna believe what I heard” factor. When you are grinding on the rumor mill, you may look behind you or over your shoulder to see if anyone sees you. These are the conversations that make you want to find an empty conference room or somewhere to avoid being seen. Rather than about ideas or things, the rumor mill is almost always about people, and it’s generally not flattering. The effect is usually that someone is shamed or demeaned or at least presented in an unfavorable light.
The savvy project manager will always make good use of informal communications channels in developing relationships with stakeholders, getting buy-in, managing expectations, and keeping the project on track. The ethical project manager will also know which type of informal channel they’re using, when it makes sense to use it, and when it’s best to disengage.
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Andrea Brockmeier is the Client Solutions Director for Project Management at Watermark Learning. Andrea is a PMP® as well as Certified ScrumMaster. She has 20+ years of experience in project management practice and training. She writes and teaches courses in project management, including PMP® certification, as well as influencing skills. She has long been involved with the PMI® chapter in Minnesota where she was a member of the certification team for over eight years. She has a master’s degree in cultural anthropology and is particularly interested in the impact of social media and new technologies on organizations and projects.