The Walking Around PMO

Jonathan Becher (@jbecher)—SAP’s Chief Marketing Officer—has an excellent, longstanding blog named “Manage by Walking Around.” I could not help but think of Jonathan as I heard another former colleague’s presentation at the 2015 PMO Symposium. Lou Pack from ICF International (@ICFI) served with me on PMI’s Global Executive Council. He gave a talk today on a PMO’s Role in Mergers & Acquisitions and Other Organizational Transformations.

Lou made many great points. His bottom line is that PMOs have a rare opportunity to differentiate themselves by assuming a leadership role in these organizational transformations. In particular, Lou highlighted “making connections” as a key PMO function in an organizational transformation. This point engaged the audience, which crystallized an idea in my mind. If you’re not comfortable with managing by walking around, you will struggle in merger/acquisition leadership.

I have been through a couple of these—acquisitions and split-offs—and my experience is the typical barriers between vertical functions are multiplied in an organizational transformation. In fact, Lou used the vertical vs. horizontal metaphor to help us visualize what the PMO needed to do: work across the barriers to build connections among these verticals. Another set of verticals spring up in M&A: each affected organization has its own vertical. Even worse, many modern-day acquisitions involved an outsourced function or three, which multiplies the verticals again.

Let’s take one challenge: there is a ton of tacit knowledge to be surfaced when marrying or divorcing organizations. It will not get on a status report. The nature of the information is that “everyone just knows” what is supposed to happen, how something works, etc. However, this information is time, place, and yes, function-specific.

For example, by sitting in on meetings where I was not invited—I was not even really welcome– –I realized there was a big miss. At the same time that this integration streams asked me “what was I doing in their meeting,” other colleagues came up to me afterwards for informal chats over coffee. They could not tell me what exactly wrong, but the symptoms quickly made it clear. Our vendor and we had wildly different definitions of “done” in that function…and none of the principals realized it.

In other words, our vendor was claiming certain tasks were completed, so we could check them off as done on the status report. However, there were weird issues cropping up on other teams: e.g., we could not ping servers, could not find databases, etc. It turned out that the vendor considered a server ready when it was physically on the pad in the data center and power was available. Yes, the servers were not even powered up yet! Without a PMO leader “making connections” across teams, it would have been a long time before that mismatched “definitions of done” surfaced in a formal report.

And when it did…well, that was a meeting to write home about!

NOTE: This post was originally published on the PM College Blog.


Project Portfolios in Practice

I attended—with my PM Solutions colleagues—the 2015 PMO Symposium in Phoenix. I’d like to share some of the great knowledge and experience on offer, therefore I’ll have a quick blog series on some key topics. I live tweeted the conference @pm_college and via the conference hashtag #pmosym.

The first session delved into a big topic: project portfolio management. Both speakers brought a mix of practice and research on the keys to project portfolio implementation: strong processes and capabilities, leadership and sponsorship, and an enabling culture. The first speaker made two points I strongly endorse:

  1. Your project portfolio will almost certainly have a mix of winners and losers. Does your culture support that mix? Does it recognize that innovation—if that’s what your organizations wants—almost certainly will involve failure? Is failure a learning experience or a “terminating” experience?
  2. A significant number of projects can be held or topped without a detrimental impact on value. Research shows that 10% of initiatives deliver 80% of value.

The second speaker fleshed out the idea of simplicity: Initial portfolio implementations are usually over-engineered. My experience agrees: I’ve had to de-scope process and practice that looked good on paper, but took forever to implement. Simple, quick, and complete beats complex, slow, and never finished. We often gather data just because we can. Know what information is valuable for decisions, then get that right. Strong portfolio process doesn’t equal heavy process. Management by exception is a good way to manage complexity and focus your capabilities.

Portfolio management isn’t magic or incomprehensible. Done properly, managing project investments collectively brings coherence to implementing strategic and operational initiatives. It also helps the organization create sustainable value in the long run. To that end, we have two courses that address these issues with practical guidance:

  • Strategic Alignment of the Portfolio: This one-day course focuses on strategy and its evolution and strategy alignment through projects. It also provides an overview of portfolio execution processes.
  • How to Design, Build, and Manage a Project Portfolio: Over three days, this course offers tools, techniques, and best practices for managing project portfolios. It presents a “how to” methodology to design, build, and manage a portfolio.

Five Ways To Tell Stories That Stick

During my latest Strategies for Effective Stakeholder Engagement course, I related my Babson strategy professors admonition that stories are at the core of how humans communicate. Stories are how we conveyed knowledge and memorized facts long before the written or printed word. To that end, here’s the open of a Babson entrepreneurship post on storytelling when selling initiatives or other start-ups:

Entrepreneurs are constantly pitching, sharing their vision and venture in order to secure funding, make a sale, meet a new contact, and build out their team. Business plans are boiled down to bullets, and financials become memorized statistics.

Although these elements are vitally important to a successful pitch, the real power comes from telling a compelling narrative story.

This brief post then lays out five ways to ensure your stories stay with your audience. You know the drill, follow the link.

Source: Entrepreneurship Of All Kinds blog, “Five Ways To Tell Stories That Stick

The Zero B.S. Method To Recruiting A Killer Sales Force

Another great @a16z blog post, via @Forbes and Lars Dalgaard (@LarsLuv), founder of @SuccessFactors. Had never thought of this approach to determining sales recruit fit with your firm’s business(es):

Before the interview, have recruiting (or you can) ask the candidate to submit their W2 and fill it in with information that foots to their W2 — the previous years payroll — including commission in the last X-years they’ve been a sales rep. Put that data together by year and preferably quarters and then calculate numbers of deals done. Then let the spreadsheet show vs. tell their average and median deal size. You will find it often paints a different picture than the one people highlighted on the outside. It’s like an x-ray: Immediately, a pattern — is this a consistent killer performer or a lucky puncher? — emerges around their performance, which helps determine their likelihood of success in your particular business and its dynamics.

The advantage of this approach is that it doesn’t rely on competitive disclosure: everything can be anonymous, save the pattern.

Read it all, as they say: The Zero B.S. Method To Recruiting A Killer Sales Force

A Leader’s Guide To Deciding: What, When, and How To Decide

I liked this @stevesi piece and its emphasis on the decision-making role of the CEO. In PM-speak, it’s a responsibility assignment matrix (RAM) framework designed for a leader herself. This approach corrects the deliverables-focused tendency and problematic terminology of most RAMs. A senior leader will likely not drive the definition of his role(s) in standard frameworks — RACI, PARIS, etc. — and may not get the full richness of her role as “accountable, responsible, etc.”

While Sinovsky poses this against the RAM constructs, I propose that they’re complimentary. The traditional RAM is a better fit for work done by the core project team, there’s something different about “leader work” that he’s captured. Perhaps these categories would be useful in building a sponsor assignment matrix for at-risk deliverables, communication events, etc.

Source: A Leader’s Guide To Deciding: What, When, and How To Decide

You’re Gonna Need A Bigger List: Greatest Movie Quotes of All Times

I’m not sure how I missed this — I’m familiar with the AFI lists — but these quotes are great. My favorite is #18: “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” That was James Cagney’s closing quote as Cody Jarrett (White Heat, 1949).


Source: You’re Gonna Need A Bigger List: Greatest Movie Quotes of All Times

I’ll be at the PMO Symposium 2015: Phoenix, AZ (8-11 November)

Are you headed out to the Phoenix PMO Symposium in November? We’ll I’ll be there too.

I’ll be on site from about 2 PM on Sunday until midday on Wednesday. I’ll be circulating, but I’d love to be booked up w/ meetings! Reach out to me via the comments or @crossderry.

Hope to see you then and there!


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