Author: Yasar Ajlouni

True North PMO leadership

Bill George wrote a book in 2007 about leaders who have internal compasses that guides them to life success.

The book was called True North. True north leadership was described as a fixed point based on one’s values, passions, motivations and satisfaction. If one is detoured out of her true north for any reason, the internal compass puts her back on track. As leadership is about growing others, motivating them and making each team member go for one’s best, true north leadership can be very helpful.

As I have been leading Project Management Offices for quite some time, my catch is about true north and PMO clients. I keep asking every time I have a chance, what is really one of the most important success factors for a PMO to succeed?  Almost the majority of the answers I heard revolved around happy PMO clients. These clients maybe organization functions, customers, or sponsors who all have expectations. Now what we as PMO leaders, Subject Matter Experts, consultants or advisors, provide them with; are simply PM benefits that they need to use.  This is the reality they perceive, their happiness is simply the ratio between expectations and reality. In a previous post, I have written on LinkedIn about PMO tipping point, I have suggested that probably every PMO has a different and unique tipping point value, the point where you feel, know and can demonstrate that your PMO have gained enough momentum to get support from its clients. This is where your network is growing quicker, this is when you and your team are delivering.


Satisfaction of PMO clients is however never fixed, it changes with projects outcomes, and relative to the organization culture and in regard to several other factors. Bottom line is we need to keep it going steady regardless of all that change where sometimes the rate of this change is impactful to shake our PMO’s. What really could work here is visualizing and creating true north profiles for our PMO clients, we need to find out how our PMO benefits are sustaining these clients wants and needs, specifically their motivation, satisfaction and happiness. In Other words we need dynamic PMO leadership. Easier said than done , we need to keep prioritizing the PMO functions that deliver those changing PM benefits , so we need to act based on the true north of these clients , simply because their perception of satisfaction is based on how aligned they are with our most recent PMO benefits .  Once they become aligned again and again with what our teams deliver, we then get the best out of them, simply put we get to see the “real them” more often. Yes this is demanding, but who said PMOs never fail. Managing the relationship smartly is what I may call true north PMO leadership. It is based on keen stakeholder management related to those changing PMO benefits that we need to deliver.  Each client will then speak, listen and act from her true north, this is not a dream, and it is simply working towards those outcomes in dynamic modes that considers nothing is constant. This not only saves time spent on arguments, conflict resolution or politics but boosts efficiency and effectiveness of a PMO.

As humans and In our race with computers and machines, that are equipped with Artificial Intelligence, and “Machines Learning” and other digital technologies, we need to acquire new PMO skills, fresh innovative ideas and team members who can go beyond and to the end, and maybe new tools but most importantly we need to rethink how we think about our clients! 

Process and Project management joining forces

One can debate if project management was practiced before process management or vice versa, building the Pyramids was a historical project, unique and definitely with a start and an end.

Additionally and in ancient times; the Egyptian economy was a barter system where people paid the Government interest, crops and precious stones, and in return the Government kept the peace, and saved the food. This is perhaps one of the oldest processes from ancient history.

Regardless if process or project management came first, now a days, both contribute strategically to the success of any modern organization. As a matter of fact, project management is a process itself; PMI for example defines (Initiation, planning, execution, monitoring & Controlling, and closing) as process groups.

Stated differently, projects better succeed when the current processes are rightly managed. Moreover project deliverables are usually products, services or results, the latter can sometimes be in the form of new processes, as an example if we pilot an introductory Lean six sigma project , to introduce and test the practice ; we can after delivering satisfactory results , standardize the piloted process in conducting supplementary Lean six sigma projects .

Having shed some light of some of the possible interaction between processes and projects, one is now more aware of how interrelated both management disciplines are. The key difference between both practices is that any project is done once, while processes are executed on a continuous basis, other differences relate to optimization, processes are optimized for efficiency and consistency, while projects are optimized once the project is completed.

The real impact of process management and project management is challenged as the work gets done across departments. As organizations grow bigger in size, a process can cut across several departments horizontally, for example the supply chain process in an industrial organization links the sales process with the manufacturing process. Implementing an ERP System across an enterprise is an example of a cross functional project, looking at ERP implementation provides some illustration of process and project management joining forces. After selecting the vendor, the consultants start capturing the as is processes, the “to be” processes are “best practice processes” that giant ERP providers excelled in designing. Implementation is mainly migration to the new processes. An organization intending to implement an ERP solution is at greater advantage, if it already had its processes modeled by the BPM team, thus saving implementation time and costs. Additionally the BPM teams would take the process oriented approach, enhancing the ERP implementation success rate. Concurrently the presence of a project management capability in such organization intending to implement an ERP solution can strongly enhance the project success. It is not rare to find organizations with PMOs and BPM centers of excellence joining forces for automation and Artificial Intelligence projects. What are rare to find is organizations that have project and process management specialists working in one department.


The ERP implementation example, can also be looked into to demonstrate how project and process management teams can work together in functional organizations; It is worth mentioning that the introduction of ERP systems in the 1990’s obligated organizations to consider their positioning to process, as the ERP solutions offered an alternative to the functional processes used commonly at that time. Since ERP modules are predesigned, organizations started focusing horizontally, this led to creating new process roles like process owners and process stewards, and in some cases process designers, architects, analysts and process mangers.

In essence combined process and project management practices are ideal management philosophies to overcome functional barriers , end to end process management is sometimes managed though contracts between the supplier process and the customer process , this concept creates an additional internal customer, whereby the supplier process must meet its obligations to the customer process . Other organizations use SLA’s between business units or divisions and align the SLA interaction with the concerned process. This alignment keeps expectations and maintains governance. Project management on the other hand created the matrix organization for project coordination, what the matrix organization provided over the functional one; was literally the right balance between authority and responsibility. Projectized organizations completely work in project teams.

Capability Maturity Model Integration CMMI is a process improvement approach consisting of a collection of best practices where its value has been established over time. CMMI for Development contains practices that cover process management, project management, engineering, and other supporting processes used in development. If we explore the constituent process areas under project and process management categories, we shall come across process areas like integrated project management and Organizational process performance, these process areas themselves are in a sense integration processes, joining the forces of these integrated processes adds value as a cumulative integrative force, Noticeably it is then not rare to find process and project management functioning together in a process improvement model.

Whatever benefits are realized through joining the forces of process and project management, the final judge is the customer. In their premise to achieve successful customer outcomes, organizations can build and design their businesses outside in, starting from the customer perspective , in doing so they opt to join forces of process and project management to design and execute processes that produce products or services that meets and exceeds customer’ s needs and wants .