PMI Talent Triangle: Business Acumen (Strategic and Business Management)

Welcome to the PMO Strategies Podcast + Blog, where PMO leaders become IMPACT Drivers! Today you will find out how to be more clear and direct in your communication style, this is step 5 in the IMPACT PMO Mindset. If you haven’t listened to episode 000, the Introductory episode or 001, The PMO Reset, 002 Instill Focus, 003 Measure Outcomes, 004 Perform Relentlessly, 005 Adapt to Thrive, or 006 Communicate with Purpose – definitely go back and listen to or read those first. Reviewing all the steps mean that you have your oxygen mask securely fastened BEFORE helping others transform their mindset.

It Starts with YOU

The last and maybe one of the most important pieces of an IMPACT PMO leader’s success is how we think about our role as leaders. The demands and expectations on PMO leaders continue to grow, but the shifts we need to make are not insurmountable. In fact, these new expectations are exactly what we have been waiting for. Haven’t we been asking for a “seat at the table” with the other executives driving organizational strategy delivery? Here’s our chance to not only earn that seat at the table, but be invited in because of our perspective, knowledge, information, and resources that the leadership of the organization need. The keys to mindset shifts start with us, the

PMO Leaders. We must look at our role differently and understand the ways we can further the organization from a strategic perspective. Now is our chance and it starts within. We cannot start shifting the mindsets of those around us to this new way of thinking about PMOs and their value until we understand and transition our own thinking about our role. The final step in the IMPACT PMO Leader Mindset includes taking on new roles that prepare you to complete the transition. You will embrace the entrepreneurial approach to solving business problems. As an IMPACT PMO Leader, you become the Strategy Navigator by positioning your PMO as the nexus of information and IMPACT. You will proudly accept your fiduciary responsibility to the organization to achieve the highest possible return on investment. Your advice and guidance will position you as a Trusted Advisor to leadership. You will take the time to build a strong partnership with your PMO sponsor and cultivate strong capabilities in the sponsors on your projects. You will appreciate that it’s crucial to start the PMO correctly by laying a strong foundation of permanence and equality to other business units. You will work hard to bring people with you through the change process instead of spending countless hours fighting change resistance. And finally, you will appreciate being empowered to accelerate your own growth in your career and understand that your options are limitless once you shed the stigma of being powerless take charge of your future.

1. Embrace Entrepreneurial Thinking

To achieve this IMPACT nirvana, you must shift the way you think about solving business problems and the way you operate within your teams into more of an entrepreneurial approach. You must look for opportunities to challenge, ask questions, try new ways to do things, and accelerate progress. The typical entrepreneurial leader is constantly asking, “How can we do better, faster, cheaper and get to those results more quickly?” without limiting beliefs about the way things should be done. PMO leaders need to understand that the PMO is not synonymous with a waterfall implementation methodology. The way you choose to implement projects, if your PMO does implement projects, should not be a defining factor in the PMO value proposition or brand. We need to stop limiting our thinking to project delivery and a specific implementation methodology. It’s killing the reputation of the PMO and is incredibly short-sighted when we look at all the possible ways a PMO can deliver IMPACT. The entrepreneurial PMO leader looks for ways to solve business problems differently and get to those results faster. This might mean that you employ different ways to implement projects, among so many other things. For example, you might look at better ways to gather data, facilitate communication, train staff, build PM competency, etc. Each of these business opportunities is another chance to find the best way to get something done and get to IMPACT quickly. Challenge everything that currently exists and the process you and your team employ to create new value. Allow your team the space to be creative and develop the best approach, not relying on the way it’s always been done just because it’s always been done that way.

2. Shift the Way You Think About Your Role

Think about your role the way your business leaders are thinking about your role. You are not the overseer of projects or the taskmaster extraordinaire. When a business leader wants to create change, they develop a strategic plan and then they invest time, money, resources, and energy into making that strategic objective a reality. You, the PMO leader, are the manager of their investments and you have a fiduciary responsibility to the organization to ensure that those investments are managed properly. Projects are investments in the future of the organization and your job is to be the manager of those investments and ensure that you get the highest possible return on that investment. Think about it like you would for any other type of investment. If you have an investment or retirement plan, you put your investments in the hands of an investment manager and they are expected to look across the entire portfolio and evaluate how the funds are allocated to ensure that you get the greatest return possible on that investment. You are doing the exact same thing as PMO leader. You are responsible for taking that funding and turning it into a return, as worthwhile IMPACT to better the organization and deliver on organizational strategy. Also, be thoughtful about how you talk about the work you are doing as investment manager. Your retirement plan manager doesn’t talk to you about all the tools and process they put in place to get to those outcomes. Instead, they focus on getting you those outcomes and talk to you in terms of the outcomes they are creating for you, that bottom line reason you should keep giving them your money to invest – they are getting you results. Same thing here. Focus on the outcome you are creating; the investment returns you are creating instead of talking so much about the work that must happen behind the scenes (the PM speak and process) to make that happen. Of course, we want to put the basics of project management and portfolio management in place to help ensure we are doing it right, but as we do so, we need to do it with a different focus. That focus needs to be on leveraging only what is absolutely necessary to drive those strategic outcomes.

3. Become the Strategy Navigator

For so long now, I’ve heard PMO leaders complain about not having a “seat at the table” in executive discussions about driving organizational strategy. They tell me that they have very little control over the destiny of the PMO and how frustrating it is to be treated as a second-class citizen within the organizational ranks. While the pain is real, the lack of control is not. We are doing it to ourselves with our limiting beliefs. Leadership wants your help to lead, even if they haven’t said it quite that way. Executives want answers. They want information to make educated and informed decisions. They want you to be a business leader. They want the outcomes that the PMO can provide to help them define, guide, and implement their strategic objectives. After all, that’s why they are supporting the PMO. They want those outcomes. So, give them those outcomes. Give them the resources they need to make the decisions, to know where the best opportunities are, to know when to cut their losses and move on, etc. Help them guide the strategy of the organization to create the greatest IMPACT possible. The way you and your PMO become the Strategy Navigator for the organization is to facilitate strategic project delivery and help them make the right decisions from a portfolio management perspective for the organization. You have the tools, and now you have the mindset, to Get. It. Done.

4. Embrace the Role of Fiduciary

As we covered when we looked at how to Measure Outcomes to redefine PMO success, your team must think differently about the investments leaders are making in the PMO and in projects. As a PMO leader, you are an investment manager for the organization. And as an investment manager, you have a fiduciary responsibility to the organization to drive high ROI for all projects and for the PMO and the services that it provides directly. Manage the investments the organization makes in your PMO as if it was money coming out of your wallet and it will be clear to them that you have the overall organizational best interests in mind when making decisions. Speak the investment language so leadership understands that you see the world the way they do. They will know that you understand the true purpose of the PMO and that you will ensure the PMO drives IMPACT and a return on their investment in the organization designed to solve business problems. They will also see that you can help them ensure that every project they create to realize the organization strategic objectives will be done in a way to maximize throughput, thereby leading to ROI realization fast.

5. Become a Trusted Advisor

The enviable role of Trusted Advisor is quite attainable for PMO leaders. In fact, there is no other role quite as well positioned in an organization to hold the keys to the most important priorities that the organization undertakes. The PMO is the driver of change. The PMO can be the home of business transformation, the way the business will launch into the future to bigger and better opportunities. When executives need to make decisions, they’re looking to you because you have the right information that can help drive those decisions. You have oversight and insight on the portfolio of projects that are happening, and you can help them drive the outcomes they’re trying to look to accomplish across their strategic objectives. By applying the mindset shifts and techniques that we have covered in the IMPACT PMO Leader Mindset framework, you will become the “go to” resource in the organization to help inform business thinking and decision-making, thereby making you and your PMO an invaluable strategic asset critical to the future of your firm.

6. Take Time to Train Your Sponsor

We make a lot of assumptions about our sponsors for the PMO and our projects. We expect a lot from them and many times, they don’t live up to our expectations. However, most of the time there are things we could do to help them understand their role and provide the right level of support for the PMO. First, make sure they are the sponsor. Do they really care about this PMO and have the ability and capacity to support the effort and champion the changes you are bringing to the organization? If not, then you may want to seek other stakeholders that will truly be a champion for your PMO and engage them to support you where you need it. Second, make sure to give sponsors the resources and information necessary for them to support you. Prepare them for meetings, provide them the right level of detail to help guide and support your PMO, and make sure they know what is expected in the role and how to support you.

7. Make the PMO Permanent

One of the first things many PMO leaders do when they start a PMO is create a charter. A charter isn’t the right mechanism for communicating the business plans for a PMO UNLESS you are intending to create a temporary organization. Charters are for projects or temporary endeavors. If your PMO is intended to support a single project or program, then you really have a project-specific office and the charter for the project or program itself is sufficient. If you are creating a PMO that is meant to be a sustainable business unit managing, supporting or guiding multiple projects, programs or portfolios, then you need to create a business plan. Business plans are for sustainable business units that are meant to last beyond one project or program. Think about the other business units in your organization. Does the marketing department create a charter? How about the finance team? Nope. They create business plans to show how their business unit will drive IMPACT and support the overall organization. Set your PMO up for success from the beginning by treating it like a sustainable business unit. You don’t want people to have a tentative or “half in” mindset. You want people thinking that this PMO is going to be here for the long run, like any other business unit. That means they can’t ignore it and need to engage.

8. Rethink Change Resistance

There’s a huge misunderstanding about change resistance and how it influences what we can do with our PMOs. When you are creating a PMO and defining and implementing capabilities and services for the organization, you are creating change. Everything the PMO does is about change. We create change when we manage projects and we create change when we help the organization think, act, and perform differently through the shifts we are making with the PMO. Yet, many of us face resistance to the change we are creating and chalk it up to humans simply being “change-resistant.” I do not believe people are inherently change resistant. Think about how many people initiate change in their personal lives. Ever know anyone to get married, have children, change jobs, or take up a new hobby? These are all changes people are “doing to themselves” and seem to be quite happy about it. What people are not interested in is having change done to them. Yet, so many of us, when we are creating change through our PMO, do change to people instead of with people. It’s no wonder we hit so much resistance. What people are reacting to is losing control. People like to have control, maybe not of others, but certainly of themselves. They want to choose their work environment, the people they work with, the work they do, etc. When you threaten that, the safety of their environment, and take away their control and choice, you have a problem. IMPACT PMO Leaders completely rethink change resistance. They understand that the best way to remove the change resistance that plagues so many is by ensuring that they bring people through the change process with them. They take the time and spend the energy cultivating relationships, building confidence and credibility with stakeholders, listening instead of talking to hear the real pain points that need to be addressed, and then partnering with stakeholders to develop the best solutions to those pain points together. As you may notice, the theme of organizational change management techniques is peppered throughout this entire framework. If you want to Get. It. Done. with your PMO, you must do it with your stakeholders, not to them.

9. Take Charge of Your Career

The tide is turning whether we like it or not. In fact, the ocean in our industry is almost boiling. Business leaders are demanding that these IMPACT PMO Leader Mindset shifts happen and that they happen quickly, for the very survival of these organizations rests on the ability for leaders to lead strategically. In the past, many project managers and PMO leaders have been pampered. They have had their training paid for, they have had their conferences paid for and many have had free personal and career development at their fingertips whenever needed. This might even apply to you…I know it did to me for many years. Life was good. As annoying as this is, the fact is that companies overseeing employee career development and ensuring staff get the skills necessary to succeed is becoming less frequent. Business leaders are expecting you to come to the table with all the skills necessary and many want you to find the time and money on your own to develop any skills necessary to perform in your role. In fairness, this is what they are paying your salary for. Now, on the surface, this seems like a very frustrating situation, “Really? I have to pay for my own training even though they need me to develop these skills?!” However, I’m here to shift that mindset with you because it may seem negative but really this is empowering. Let’s look at what exactly empower means, so that we are sure we are on the same page. Empower (verb) 1. give (someone) the authority or power to do something. 2. make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights. See, the industry and your company are giving you the authority over your own career, more control, and more confidence. They are paying you a salary for you to perform at a certain level and if you need more career development to do this, that’s on you to figure it out. This allows you to make a bigger IMPACT in your own life and your company because you can choose how fast you grow and how much you can contribute. That’s why I am taking the time to dive deep with you on the entire IMPACT PMO Leader Mindset. I want you to feel empowered to take charge of your future, your career, and know that I am here with you to help you develop your IMPACT PMO Leader Mindset. Together, we can shift the direction of the PMO industry, so we can all take charge of our own careers and our own success, as well as drive ever-higher IMPACT through the PMO and project management. Take the time to focus on you. Many of us put ourselves last. We pour our energy into our jobs, our families, all the extra things we said “yes” to that we probably shouldn’t have, and then we are left with very little time or mental capacity to take care of our own career and personal development. Remember, you must put your oxygen mask on first before you can take care of those around you. Make a commitment to put yourself first and take charge of your career.

10. There Really is a Better Way

As an IMPACT PMO Leader, you are making some very important shifts in your role, your mindset, and your actions. You will Instill Focus with the team and organization to accelerate IMPACT delivery. You will provide the information necessary to Measure Outcomes and IMPACT, showing the PMO value and building the organization’s capability. You will Perform Relentlessly and build credibility within the organization as an agent of change and transformation. You will Adapt to Thrive so that your PMO is always ready and able to support the current and future needs of the organization. You will Communicate with Purpose to drive effective decision-making and accelerate throughput. And finally, you will Transform Mindset, first your own and then the mindsets of the other stakeholders in the organization that are critical for long-term PMO sustainability. Thank you for joining me on this journey through the 6 pillars of the IMPACT PMO Leader Mindset. I hope this has resonated with you and you recognized yourself in some of this and now maybe even thinking a little differently about your role and the IMPACT you can make as a PMO Leader.

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Laura Barnard