Business Agility: How can Project Management Practice and the PMO Adapt to Uncertain Times
The only certainty in today’s fast moving and globalised world, is that businesses can expect uncertainty.
Change is on the increase and coming in hard and fast from a variety of directions. A term that is used to describe the environment we are experiencing is VUCA. This stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. It is harder than ever before to plan for what might happen next, as curved balls sweep in from the side and unexpectedly complicate matters. Organisations have to adapt quickly to survive. But what do they need to do? Is the PMO impacted, and if so, how can it adapt to best support the business?
How Organisations Need to Adapt
Faced with a business landscape of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, organisations need to reorient themselves. New threats that were unlikely to have been conceived of in the past are being introduced with some regularity. Businesses that operate on an old fashioned model will be unlikely to be able to respond sufficiently and rapidly to the intensity of the threats faced. Instead of acting like the bureaucratic, slow moving machine of the past, organisations must become nimbler and ready to react quickly to change. Doing so will give them a much greater chance of surviving the array of ever-changing challenges faced.
The ways in which organisations must adapt are manifold. These include looking for opportunities to minimise waste, reduce handovers, increase transparency, empower people, and of course, to cut out needless bureaucracy. This is likely to require cultural change in some cases, so that people can adjust effectively to the new “way things work around here” for them. The organisation will best retain its relevance in the market by optimising its operating models. This will be likely to involve restructuring, introducing new frameworks, tools, processes, roles and responsibilities. Team members must also redefine themselves, as teams change and adapt to help the organisation do what it needs to, in order to adjust and survive. Teams from software development to HR to Finance to Marketing must all change across the entire value stream, right up to the CXO office.
How is project management practice and the PMO affected?
Just as every other team in the organisation is affected, so too is the PMO. Perhaps the PMO is hit the hardest in some ways, as it works on projects for all other areas of the business. Projects must be delivered faster, and priorities are constantly changing, as the organisation identifies the best way to adapt to the shape of the business environment. Where in the past there might have been a five year plan, with the PMO knowing way in advance what it would be working on in future months, there is likely to be much less certainty now. This clearly has significant ramifications for project management practice, since activities like planning, project management itself and managing project change all must be performed faster and more efficiently than in the past.
How can the PMO adapt?
The PMO needs to adapt so that it can offer versatility to the business in the face of these fast changing times. In the first instance, the PMO and all team members within will need to develop a passion for change. The culture of the team needs to be one of embracing change and positivity towards the volatility faced. After all, it does offer tremendous opportunity to be involved in some very exciting projects, in a fast-moving environment. Helping the team members to see the opportunities, rather than grumbling about the speed of change will make all the difference as the PMO works to adapt to better support the organisation.
Another helpful approach for those PMOs not already using it is to bring in Agile project management. This helps the organisation to reduce the planning time needed and to move faster to deliver projects. It is quite significantly different from the Waterfall methodology of the past. Agile project management works in iterations, or short development cycles. Each iteration is considered by the project team and the key project stakeholders, such as the business owner. Once the review is carried out, the next stages of the project are determined. This allows the project management team to respond quickly to issues as they arise. While this may make you worried about change management, actually putting in place the right change at the right time saves money and the agile approach is much better for helping projects to stay on time and to budget.
This aside, leadership in the PMO needs to get the team onboard to look at everything they do and assess its purpose in the brave new world. Ask the tough questions: Why are we doing this? Do we still need to? Can we drop it? In many cases, processes develop over time, and sometimes it can get to the point where no one even really knows why something is being done any more. Sometimes these types of processes and activities can be dropped. Do your due diligence to make sure there will not be any damage caused, and then cut these tasks to focus on what must be done instead. If it genuinely is not needed, then dump it, fast. You simply will not have time for it in the future.
To survive and thrive in a business environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, organisations must adapt, and fast. Gone are five year plans and the bureaucracy of the past, and every single business function is impacted. Teams must move faster and prioritise more effectively. For the PMO this means adapting how projects are delivered, to ensure that this is as efficient as possible and that continual change can be responded to very rapidly. It requires a long hard look at what team members do and dropping what is no longer necessary. It also means taking on board an agile mindset and a passion for change.