What makes a successful PMO? A great deal of hard work? Definitely. But there are some other ingredients in that “special sauce” that enables a PMO to succeed. Let’s explore.
A few years ago Jack Welsh of GE fame lead a keynote speech on large programs. He was presenting to the business leaders of some of the largest enterprises in the world. The speech began something like this:
Expanding beyond team/social collaboration to business collaboration
The term “collaboration” has become one of the primary hot topics for businesses and analysts throughout the industry lately. At its most basic level, “collaboration” simply means “working with others in a coordinated fashion toward a common goal.” But few actually attempt to define what it really means in the context of business and PPM.
A quick trip to Wikipedia yields the following definition for resource leveling: ‘a project management technique used to examine unbalance use of resources (usually people or equipment) over time, and for resolving over-allocations or conflicts.' In other words, through resource leveling we can ensure that the project schedule is reasonable and realistic from a resource perspective - that the people or equipment needed to execute the work will be available when and where they are needed.
Sounds simple? The reality is that resource leveling needs to take multiple factors into account and can be anything but simple. And, like anything else that's really complicated, most of us are looking for better tools to help us accomplish the task. That's when the question about automatic resource leveling comes up.
While some project scheduling tools provide a process to see if resources are overloaded, others also provide a function that will recalculate the schedule to eliminate any overloads. As exciting as it may sound, in practice, it's common to see that managers either never use it or even if they do, they don't use the resulting schedule without making a lot of other adjustments. Why? Because even though automatic resource leveling can quickly ‘resolve' overloads, it typically does it by delaying tasks until the resource is available. What it cannot do is account for human or project variables; all it does is throw some simple numbers. The solution uses elementary level math to solve a calculus-worthy problem.
Although the Clinger-Cohen act was passed in 1996 that mandated a capital planning and investment control process, PPM as it's found in the private sector is only just making its way to the federal government. As a recent memorandum from the Executive Office of the President notes, ‘the stove-piped and complex nature of the Federal enterprise has led over the years to a proliferation of duplicative and low priority investments in information technology (IT).'
I was talking with my mom the other day about some of the differences between what I experience in the workplace now and what my dad experienced while I was growing up. It struck me that one of the biggest changes has been in the boundary between "work-time" and "off-time." When my dad, who was a manager at a large communications technology company, was away from his desk, he was truly away from his desk - and all of his normal work-related activities waited for his return. This was true when he was home for the evening, on weekends, on vacation, on business trips, or even sitting in meetings. If he wasn't physically in his office, he was truly disconnected from his regular everyday activities.
In today's connected world, this is no longer the case. I can't remember the last time I was home in the evening or over the weekend, or even on vacation, when I wasn't regularly checking email and responding to the ongoing demands of my job. And hardly a meeting goes by when I don't see a handful of people responding to some time-critical request via their phone or tablet.
Mobile devices allow us to stay connected to the goings-on of our job regardless of our location - we're no longer tethered to our desk phone or desktop computer, nor do we need to be in order to remain productive and involved. And this business trend isn't just a flash-in-the-pan trend, either. According to Strategy Analytics, iOS and Android smartphone device manufacturers shipped a total of 21.3M units in the US in the 2nd quarter of 2012 alone. And smartphones aren't the only mobile game in town any more. During that same quarter, Apple sold 17M iPads across the globe - and other tablet devices are appearing with increased frequency.
What's in a name? As far as PMOs are concerned, it matters quite a bit. Standard parlance maintains that PMO stands for Project Management Office. Back in the days when the PMO literally ran a single project or program, the name was fine. But over time the PMO has evolved. Its scope of work has increased manifolds- first, it performs its core responsibility- to run all projects, next it sets up a methodology, and finally serves as a center for strategic portfolio planning. The charter of the PMO has now evolved to a point where the acronym bears little relevance to its traditional meaning.
To begin with, there is this notion that the new strategic PMO can be run by a good project or program manager. Indeed, most PMO Directors that I've met come from the project management ranks. While many perform admirably, their first inclination is to enforce methodology discipline - the death knell of many a PMO. Without a solid business background PMs are often ill prepared to handle the strategic trade-offs of the portfolio selection and planning process. Portfolio management is in essence a business process requiring strategy and operations expertise. In fact, analyzing competing business priorities does not require PM skills at all. It requires keen facilitation skills to handle the contentious debates that crop up between VPs arguing for their pet projects. Furthermore, a solid understanding of what makes a company tick while holding business stakeholders accountable for business cases.