Author: Peter Taylor

How Successful is Your Own PMO? Take the 5 Question PMO ‘Acid’ Test

Who

‘Call up your CEO and then count the number of seconds before he recognizes your name…’
If your PMO is really connected to the business, at the right level and with the right profile, then your CEO will know you and your PMOs work. You don’t have to start with the CEO, you can try this out moving up the organisation level by level – who at two levels above you knows you and the PMOs work? For those that do say ‘thanks’ and for those that don’t; well tell them about it.

What

‘What happens when you call up a project manager do you get straight through or do they adopt an avoidance strategy…’
A call from any member of the PMO should be a welcome event and not something to hide from or fear. Consider if there are certain individuals or teams or departments that are resistant to what the PMO is trying to achieve. Ask yourself why this is and plan a charm offensive to demonstrate that the PMO is their friend.

When

‘When was the last time that a project manager contacted your PMO asking for some form of help? …’
If this has not happened in some time then perhaps your PMO is not as accessible and open as you may wish it to be? Run a survey or open session to gain some insight in to the reasons for non-contact with the PMO. It may link to the ‘what’ question above i.e. fear of the PMO, or it may be just a lack of awareness. Go out of your way to help key people, regardless of if it isn’t really in your PMO remit – by winning influential supporters the word will spread about the PMO being a ‘go to’ group.

Where

‘Do people ask many times over where they should go for project information or project help…’ 
The PMO should be the automatic first call for anything project related when project managers or others need some guidance, make sure yours is easy to access and quick to respond.
Market what the PMO does, create a menu of service items that the PMO can deliver ‘off the shelf’ and advertise this tirelessly.

Why

‘Do people ask why they should use the PMO and do they know what your PMO does…’ 
You should have marketed the value of your PMO throughout the organization and people should easily access a ‘service menu’ or what the PMO can do to help them. Success stories really help here with proven benefits of PMO involvement, invest your time in developing some and get people outside the PMO to write them or at least validate them.

How

And finally question number six – the ‘how’ – how can you improve the PMOs’ work and profile, its performance, its acceptance and its role in your company?
How can you do this?  You need to think and plan and act.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below,


Peter Taylor’s background is in project management across three major business areas over the last 26 years, MRP/ERP systems with various software houses and culminating in his current role with Infor, Business Intelligence (BI) with Cognos, and product lifecycle management (PLM) with Siemens. He has spent the last 7 years leading PMOs and developing project managers and is now focusing on project based services development with Infor.

Selling Project Management

‘Our customers really love us, so they don’t care if their projects are late and don’t work.’

Is this what you think? Is this what your project ‘customers’ are really saying?

How about this?

‘We figure it’s more profitable to have 50 percent overruns than to spend 15 percent on project management to prevent them.’

Do you ever get to hear that one?

Now I am not sure what sort of project world you exist in, but in my world, the commercial software world, there is often a challenge in getting customers of our products to accept the need to invest in project management from us as the product and services supplier.

Here are some ideas on how to address some of the common ‘pushbacks’ that you might receive in this situation:

 ‘I’m just buying the software and support from you; I don’t have a project…’

  • Your response – By investing in our technology, you are internally committed to deploying a solution and as such you need to consider the management of your investment in terms of scope, deadlines and budget

‘This is just a Pilot project…’

  • Your response – Pilot projects are a real showcase for the potential of performance management and will form the platform for future deployments. Therefore, a structured project approach is imperative in maximising this opportunity for your project team and your sponsor.

‘I’m very relaxed about project deadlines and budget…’

  • Your response – Someone in your organisation must be serious about this project and the associated (significant) investment. Therefore, the expected return on investment should be managed to deliver that ROI in a reasonable timeframe. This very statement is a project risk.

‘I have my own project manager and your project manager would not understand my business or project team anyway…’

  • Your response – Project Management requires a significant amount of domain expertise, I know. Our project managers are there to complement the skills and experience of your existing project manager. Even if we are part of a delivery team using SIs, Partners and your resources, we should have a project manager in place for effective planning and communication.

‘I can just use the support organisation for any issues I encounter…’

  • Your response – Yes you can, but this is a very ineffective way to deliver a project, there will be no coordination of resource requirements, promised timelines and scope can never be delivered against and your ROI will reduce as your own internal resources assimilate a new set of products.

And, perhaps the most common one?

‘Your project management is too expensive…’

  • Your response – What is the cost of failure for your project? What, therefore, is the value of de-risking that project by investing a relatively small number of days of project management?

I believe that a lot of the above also applies to ‘selling’ project management internally in organisations. Here are a few more perhaps typical comments that you might have come across:

Organizing to manage projects isn’t compatible with our culture, and the last thing we need around this place is change’

‘We aren’t smart enough to implement project management without stifling creativity and offending our technical geniuses’

‘We might have to understand our customers’ requirements and document a lot of stuff, and that is such a bother’ 

‘Project management requires integrity and courage, so they would have to pay me extra’

‘Our bosses won’t provide the support needed for project management; they want us to get better results through magic’

‘We’d have to apply project management blindly to all projects regardless of size and complexity, and that would be stupid’

Have you heard any of these? How have you managed to address them and ‘sell’ the value of project management?

People, if you look at the wisdom of sales methodology, generally ‘buy’ something for a number of reasons. Two of these are:

Fear

They are afraid that the consequences of not buying will be significant or they already have an issue that is causing them problems, or embarrassment, or concern. Sadly — and I have done this myself — when selling project management it is all too easy to reach for the latest project success report and declare that most projects fail, and not having a project manager in place is a major contributor to this failure. This is a negative and does not do much for project management (or the project manager). The tactic is to scare people into accepting project management and, whilst it can work, it will be a challenging task to prove the value of this forced decision.

Gain

Alternatively, people ‘buy’ something because they believe that they can gain something as a result, image enhancement, acceptance, better performance, reduced risk to them personally, etc. This is a far more positive approach and one that benefits project management, and if used successfully, brings project management to the point of a partnership with the buyer.

There is a lot to be done in the selling of project management, but to be clear, ‘Our customers really want to love us, but they do care if their projects are late and don’t work.’

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.


Peter Taylor is a dynamic and commercially astute professional who has achieved notable success in Project Management. His background is in project management across three major business areas over the last 26 years, MRP/ERP systems with various software houses and culminating in his current role with Infor, Business Intelligence (BI) with Cognos, and product lifecycle management (PLM) with Siemens. He has spent the last 7 years leading PMOs and developing project managers and is now focusing on project based services development with Infor. He is also an accomplished communicator and leader and is a professional speaker as well as the author of ‘The Lazy Project Manager’ (Infinite Ideas) and ‘Leading Successful PMOs’ (Gower) and ‘The Lazy Winner’ (Gower).

Project Management and the Alien Encounter

PMvsAlien1I suspect that you will all know this story, but here goes anyway:

Six blind men were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant’s body.

The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe.

A wise man explains to them: ‘All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all the features you mentioned’.

. This is a good story which shows that to explain and understand something that is complex requires the full picture. Each of the blind men was correct but together they had the greater understanding

Through a number of LinkedIn discussions I asked the following question:

‘We all know the terms of definition for project management but, to get outsiders to understand what we do, how would you simply describe project management to someone who has no idea what it is.’

Now it may just be me – but I am pretty sure it isn’t – people outside of project management don’t get project management. It’s like we’re aliens! My family have no idea what I really do and here’s a test, ask any project manager you know to answer one simple question. They must answer quickly, no thinking time; just respond! OK. Look them in the eye and ask them ‘what does a project manager do?’ – I bet half them will mumble something along the lines of ‘they manage projects …’

Not very helpful!

So back to the ‘alien encounter’ and I feel that we need to get a few things out of the way here. Naturally as expected people responded with comments ranging from ‘If an alien arrived here from outer space then they probably know more about project management than we do’ – a fair point – to a comment written in ‘Klingon’ (and thank you to another contributor who sent me a translation) – and of course the classic ‘I thought that project managers were aliens’ – very good and ‘no’ but the sponsors could well be.

So here are some of the good suggestions along with some of my comments (and I of course thank all of you who submitted ideas):

  • ‘Makes sure that it doesn’t cost you more and take longer than planned to do something all the while anticipating any adverse conditions or obstacles that may stop you from achieving your goals and planning how to overcome those if they occur. Coordinating people to do the different activities as they occur and making sure that we achieve the end goal. Actually when I explain it in simple terms like this people look at me as if to say well that doesn’t sound very hard surely anyone can do that!’

[Lesson: Describing things in a simple way may make them appear simple to do.]

  • ‘A way of reducing the pain’

[This makes us sound like a headache pill]

  • ‘Project management involves thinking before acting, making good choices based on good knowledge, keeping everyone informed who needs to be informed and balancing the need to do a job well within the limits of our purse.’

[Nicely put!]

  • ‘If they got here, shouldn’t we be asking them the question? No offence to the team from NASA, but we must learn from the market leaders.’

[Warned you about this type of response but I like the market leader concept]

  • ‘Getting something new and exciting done with a group of people!’

[Sweet and looking at it from a different angle]

  • ‘The true definition of a project, according to modern acceptation, is a vast undertaking, too big to be managed and, therefore, likely enough to come to nothing.’

[A little negative perhaps but I hear the pain]

  • ‘As we travel through the space and time continuum, project management is the universal tool that enables our journeys to take the shortest route through space, over the shortest duration of time while using the smallest number of qualified carbon units possible.’

[I like the agile style here and there were a lot of ‘journey’ based explanations suggested]

  • ‘It’s worth pointing out to the aliens that project management also requires the ability to perform miracles, and that project managers are actually miracle workers. Like Jesus who fed multitudes with two fish and five loaves, we also have to miraculously deliver unrealistic expectations in unrealistic timescales with a limited budget. That takes a very special skill, which makes project managers very special beings.’

[I go along with the proposal that we are special beings but not quite sure of the supernatural skills – I am hearing more pain]

  • ‘It’s a recursive scientific art aimed at achieving the goals that were set at the beginning and which needs to be achieved within the boundary of inherent applied or existing constraints. Of course this would have to be followed with the legitimate explanation…’

[Over my head for sure]

  • ‘Project Management is a verb, not a noun.’

[A good thought, slightly off topic but I do like it]

And so they went on (thank you to everybody again) – a mixture of desperation, humour, and deep thinking.

So why is it so hard?

Here we are with an alien (or friend or relative or neighbour) and we have five minutes to tell them what we do. Surely it should be simple?

Albert Einstein said ‘If you can’t explain something simply; you don’t understand it well enough’

Really? I think that we know project management pretty well and we certainly have plenty of documentation on the subject to help us out, and we have been doing it for quite some time now.

Leonardo da Vinci declared ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.’

So we are all unsophisticated now as well? Definitely not! It feels like I have started a journey but have not reached any destination with this one.  The LinkedIn discussions I mentioned earlier are still out there, so maybe you might add your thoughts and see more of what other PMs have volunteered.

In a final desperate attempt to get something useful to conclude this article I texted the online answer service 36663 who declare themselves ‘the UK’s most accurate text question and answer service, knows pretty much everything’. After five minutes I got this reply:

‘Project management is the planning, execution and finalization of projects. It involves identifying resource requirements and ‘Project management is the planning, execution and finalization of projects. It involves identifying resource requirements and controlling quality.’

I mentioned this to the alien that lives in my teenage son’s room, mostly playing on the X-box, and he just said ‘What?’

That’s life!

Don’t forget to leave your comments below


Peter Taylor, despite his title ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, is in fact a dynamic and commercially astute professional who has achieved notable success in project management, program management and the professional development of project managers: currently as Director of a PMO at Siemens PLM Software, a global supplier of product lifecycle management solutions. He is an accomplished communicator and leader; always adopting a proactive and business-focused approach and he is a professional speaker. He is also the author of ‘The Lazy Project Manager’ book (Infinite Ideas 2009) – for more information – www.thelazyprojectmanager.com  – you can also subscribe to a series of free podcasts on iTunes (The Lazy Project Manager) – and experience his eLearning course at www.thelazyprojectmanager.net.

The Lazy Project Manager. Part 2 – The Importance of Position

This one is not my tale; it is the story of a friend of mine, a friend who is, of course, a project manager; a project manager I know to be very good at team building, a real ‘people’ person.

Picture a new project with a new project office. Apparently the company my friend was working for had reserved some brand new office space in a building that they were going to move other departments into in the coming months. In the meantime the project team could take over one floor.

Now, I have been in many project offices over the years ranging from a single desk to a temporary office unit (grey boxes that get lifted in to place by a crane and officially described as ‘relocatable and modular accommodation’ apparently). But, by all accounts, this new building that my friend moved into with his project team was superb.

He chose a nice new desk by a window and with a view facing the doors so that he could see all that went on, people coming and going, working (or not working I guess), and so on.

And so life was good and thus did the project move forwards in a pleasing way.

The only feature that was lacking was a decent coffee machine. They had a temporary one to begin with but the team waited with baited breath for the new, top of the range, super-dooper, hot beverage dispenser.

It arrived one weekday morning, wheeled in on a trolley. My friend was elsewhere at the time on important project business. When he arrived back in the project office he was somewhat surprised to see that his desk now had a new neighbour. A coffee machine.

‘Hey, grab a coffee, its great’ was the general cry from the project team. I am sure that that is what he did, before walking the two feet back to his desk.

The project office was full now and so it was too late to move desk. Oh well, a great project office with a great coffee machine was not something to make too much fuss about.

And then things went downhill:

Day 1. People started saying ‘hello’ each time they lined up for a coffee at the machine by his desk.

Day 2. People started conversations as they waited for their freshly simulated brewed cup of java by his desk.

Day 3. People started sitting on his desk, whilst they waited for coffee, said ‘hello’, engaged in conversation and were generally sociable.

Day 4. People asked him where the spare coffee cups were and what ‘error 54g’ was.

Day 5. People asked him what the telephone number for the coffee repairman was so that they could report ‘error 54g’ and get the coffee machine fixed.

Day 10. People started using the phone on his desk whilst waiting for a coffee etc.

Day 15. The project manager left the building.

In actual fact he did move desks, he manage to secure a small space across the landing from the main project office. It wasn’t ideal as he was now removed from the project team but, on balance, it was better than the alternative.

It doesn’t matter that you want to espouse an open door policy, in order to be as accessible as possible to everyone, if you want to get on with your job you do need some space. To be right at the centre of everything all the time is not conducive to being a good project manager.

It was the coffee machine or the project manager, and the team made it clear that the coffee machine won hands down!

A Final Comment

So for the ‘productive lazy’ project manager it is perfectly acceptable for the lights to be on and for no one to be at home; not all the time, obviously, and at critical times access and visibility are all too important. But for the rest of the time, why not let your project team work a few things out for themselves, take some degree of responsibility and decision making, and generally get on with the tasks at hand.

Being there when you are really needed and being there all the time are very different things indeed.

‘You never know till you try to reach them how accessible men are; but you must approach each man by the right door’. Henry Ward Beecher

Don’t forget to leave your comments below


Peter Taylor, despite his title of ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, is in fact a dynamic and commercially astute professional who has achieved notable success in project management, program management and the professional development of project managers, currently as Director of a PMO at Siemens PLM Software, a global supplier of product lifecycle management solutions. He is an accomplished communicator and leader; always adopting a proactive and business-focused approach and he is a professional speaker with City Speakers International. He is also the author of ‘The Lazy Project Manager’ book (Infinite Ideas 2009) – for more information – www.thelazyprojectmanager.com.

The Productive Lazy Project Manager and the Open Door Policy

6629058Be Accessible in a Controlled Way

I’m all for being there for people, honest I am. It’s just that people take advantage of it if I am.

 

So for the ‘productive lazy’ project manager, I would suggest that it is perfectly acceptable for the lights to be on and for no one to be home; not all of the time obviously, and at critical times access and visibility are all too important. But for the rest of the time, why not let the whole team work a few things out for themselves, take some degree of responsibility and decision making, and generally get on with the tasks at hand.

Being there when you are really needed and being there all the time are very different things indeed.

Being reachable in a controlled manner, and within an acceptable timeframe, to answer appropriate questions (and not stupid ones) is equally important. The last thing you want is a long line of people queuing up at your desk waiting to ask advice, and your phone flashing with an ever increasing number of messages, and all the time your inbox is reaching capacity with demands for your attention.

This can lead to the ‘lights on all the time’ syndrome, a very dangerous condition:

“What should I do now?”

“Breathe” you might reply

“In or out?”

You have so many more useful things that you could be doing, like reading a good book in the comfy chair for example.

Applying the ‘Productive Lazy’ Approach

Avoid the Swamp

This is linked in so many ways to the communication topic already covered. If you create a communication plan that guarantees to swamp you from day one, what is the benefit; to you or to the project?

None!

The plan should ensure you are not seen as the oracle on all matters, nor that you become the bottleneck for a constructive information flow within the project team. Most projects develop communication plans that are the documented strategy for getting the right information to the right people at the right time. We all know that each stakeholder has different requirements for information and so the plan defines what, how and how often communication should be made. What project managers rarely do is consider and map all communication flows, official, unofficial, developmental or complete, and do a load analysis across the project structure of these communication flows. If they did they would spot bottlenecks much earlier than they normally do; usually this problem is only identified when one part of the communication chain starts complaining about their workload.

Consider the Open Door Policy

The open door policy has become a real management cliché.

“Of course” managers pronounce in a firm voice, “my door is always open to you all, day or night; I’m really there for you.”

Empowerment in this way has become more an entitlement for the project team than a project manager’s choice. They just expect you to be there when they want you to be (and not even when they need you to be there, either). An open door policy can easily transform a project manager’s role from that of an authority, and managing figure to that of a subservient accommodator, with little chance for exercising control on those that demand access.

Be a Good Manager

The best manager is the probably the one who reads the paper or MSN every morning, has time enough to say “Hi” at the coffee machine, is isn’t always running flat out because they are “late for an important meeting.” By that I mean that a good (an obviously productively lazy) manager has everything running so smoothly that they have time to read the paper or MSN and so on. This is a manager who has to be confident in their position and capabilities.

A good manager will have time for their project team, and being one who has everything running smoothly, will allow that to happen.

A good manager does not need to be on hand twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. They do not have to have the answer to every question, nor do they have to be the conduit to the answer to every question. There is a whole project team out there – go talk to some of them – they probably will have a much better answer to hand, anyway.

Think about Number One

You honestly want the best for yourself as well as for the project; I understand that, so give yourself that chance. Have you ever met a project manager who has put themselves down as a project risk? “Yeah, well I am just too nice a guy, can’t say no, can’t turn someone away, love to cha”‘ – likelihood 80%, impact 100%, mitigate now!

But hopefully by now you also want to apply the productive lazy approach so consider this; let the team deal with 80% of the communication, 80% of the questions, 80% of the issues, and let the 20% come through to you for consideration and guidance. You don’t even have to solve that 20%. I would further suggest that only 20% of this 20% are likely to be answered by you in an adequate manner; there are always others that can provide better advice.

Think about the Rest

OK, you have dealt with the’thinking about number one thing, now what about your team? Well by dealing with number one you will have already done the team a huge favour. You will be accessible when you need to be accessible. The lights will go on as and when they are really needed – it is a kind of ‘green’ project management policy.

The worse thing that can happen is that just at the moment when there is a ‘clear and present’ need for someone to speak to you, whether about a project or a personal matter, you are just too tied up with trivia to even give them the time of day. Remember the whole ‘respect’ and ‘reputation for team support’ we spoke about earlier, well this is a major contributor to that.

Analyze and Reduce

And this is not a one-off action; you need to keep on top of this as well. Projects change, communication develops, and roles are in flux. Do a quick analysis of what information and queries flow through you and how, and regularly re-assess. Can others deal with some of this? What are the important components that you should be involved in? Are there too many questions and communication from particular sources? And so on.

Make sure that everyone knows that the light works and when and how they can turn that light on fast if they really need to.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below


Peter Taylor, despite his title of ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, is in fact a dynamic and commercially astute professional who has achieved notable success in project management, program management and the professional development of project managers, currently as Director of a PMO at Siemens PLM Software, a global supplier of product lifecycle management solutions. He is an accomplished communicator and leader; always adopting a proactive and business-focused approach and he is a professional speaker with City Speakers International. He is also the author of ‘The Lazy Project Manager’ book (Infinite Ideas 2009) – for more information – www.thelazyprojectmanager.com.

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