Transcript: Importance of Assessment First
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Welcome to the PMO Strategies Podcast + Blog, where PMO leaders become IMPACT Drivers!
Today we are talking about a really important topic when it comes to building and running a PMO that makes a big IMPACT. Last week we really dove deep on the questions you want to ask before you start your PMO and today we are going to dive deeper into what I call the assessment process.
The purpose of this stage is for us to really dig into the ways your PMO can make an IMPACT and make an IMPACT quickly. Making IMPACT quickly is key. I think we are in constant conflict as PMO leaders with the need to drive change and drive change quickly and also we understand that if we’re going to make something sustainable and truly drive IMPACT in our organization, it’s going to take awhile.
What do you need to do to ensure the PMO that you set up, the PMO that you are running is really hitting the nail on the head, doing what is most valued, what is most important in your organization so that you truly have a sustainable IMPACT Engine PMO?
If you have not listened to last week’s episode about the questions you should ask before you set up a PMO or they could be the questions you use to kind of do a litmus test or a validation that your PMO is on the right track. I would suggest you go back and listen to that episode because then this episode and the next several episodes are going to build off of that one.
Today we’re going to take step one, which is to assess the organization for IMPACT opportunities. Now everything that I share with you is based upon the framework that I have built with more than 20 years experience building and running PMOs, before starting PMO Strategies.
Six years ago I built and ran PMOs inside organizations for 15 years. My very first PMO was back in 1999 now in all of those years and in the many years since being in the hot seat like you probably are, I learned a ton about what it takes to build and run PMOs and I finally, after a couple of decades of doing this codafide what I had created in a way that helps me share it with others. What I did was I broke down every step that I follow in building and running PMOs and took all of my best practices and all of my lessons learned and all of my mistakes that I’d made and figured out how to do it the right way and put it into a framework I call the IMPACT Engine PMO.
What I’m sharing with you in these episodes is based on that framework, and it works. It’s the actual boots on the ground experience that I’ve had and that my students have had and my consulting clients have had. We use this same framework so you know what you’re learning here will work for you because I’ve proven it in large organizations, in small organizations, in organizations around the world, they have all seen success from using this system because this system is laser focused on helping you achieve the outcomes and the IMPACT that your organization is craving that your business leaders are begging for.
As we go through these steps, know that this framework will help you get to those outcomes and quickly before your executives or stakeholders run out of patience and try and find another way to get done what they’ve got to get done. The PMO can be front and center in leading the charge in strategy delivery for an organization and I’m going to help you do that.
How to deal with impatient stakeholders and sponsors
Let’s get back to our impatient stakeholders and sponsors…when we’re trying to set up the PMO, we are feeling this constant push and pull the desire to make an IMPACT quickly. We are feeling that pressure from our executives to start showing value and start solving their problems.
At the same time, we feel like we need to have a foundation in place. We need to have some basics in place before we can set up a PMO before we can start showing value. Right. Okay. Yes and no. I believe that there’s a reason that a lot of PMOs often face being shut down before they’ve really had a chance to show value. We have no patients anymore. Business leaders want instant feedback, instant results, and instant IMPACT.
That signals that we have to do the PMO thing a little bit differently. We can’t take two years of building process and templates and tools and all of these things that we think our business leaders need. Instead, we need to focus on what they’re asking for, which is for us to get them a greater return on investment and drive project throughput so that we can get outstanding results quickly on every project. Your executives are investing it, but that doesn’t have to happen after you’ve built all the templates and the tools and the process and all that other stuff that we think has to come first. If you really ask your business leaders what they want, it has nothing to do with how many PMO leaders spend their time and energy.
You may have heard me say this before, but I will say it again and again. Your executives are not going to say to you, “hold on, wait a minute..no, no, no. Come back when you have five more templates for me to fill out.” That is not going to happen.
What we have to do instead is say, okay, what they’re really stuck on is that they don’t have transparency for their projects or their projects are not happening in a reliable or consistent manner or they’re just not seeing the return on investment for the project that they were expecting to. Those are the pain points we need to focus on. What we need to be doing is looking for those pain points, those challenges, those opportunities for change. Then we need to show them how some things that you can do quickly, some shifts that you can make, can help them realize the benefits that they need very quickly. And if you do that and do that really, really well without shoving a bunch of templates or process or a bunch of project management speak at them, you’re going to start seeing the IMPACT that you were trying to make.
Just go fix something, build your credibility by fixing something, solving a business problem. And then from there, once you’ve earned their respect and the credibility, you can continue to add some of the things that you know they need some of that medicine. You know they need to take, but only after they trust you and believe that you truly have their best interests at heart.
I promise that there is a time and a place for the methodology, the templates, the tools, the process, et cetera, and in fact that’s what we’ll dive deeper into next week. But before we can do that, we have to find those places to make that IMPACT quickly. Last week we talked about looking for quick ways to make an IMPACT. Now I’m not talking typical quick wins where you’re just shoving some kind of a template at someone and saying, okay, great, now we’ve got a win. We can declare success.
No, I’m talking about looking for the places that we can show value, solve a problem, decrease a pain point. Those are the kinds of things that we want to be doing quickly, and if you’re listening and you’re asking the right questions, your stakeholders will tell you what’s wrong. They will tell you why you’re there and what problems they need you to solve, but you’ve got to be asking the right questions.
Last week we explored that very first question you want to ask, which kind of lead you down the why are you here in the first place path, which is what is the business problem we’re trying to solve now, how do you go about getting that answer? You ask more questions. What do the business leaders need? What does the staff need? What do the project managers need? What do the external stakeholders need?
And then when you’re thinking about what pain points you can solve our project, realizing their intended benefits, our projects taking too long or costing too much, our project managers valued in this organization. There are tons of questions you can ask and I think it’s really important that you ask them in the right way and in the right order.
What questions are keeping your executives up at night?
First, start with your executives. Make sure that you’re asking them the questions first because at the end of the day, they’re writing the check and they’re probably the people that asked for this PMO to be set up.
What’s keeping them up at night? What are people complaining about? What do you hear that needs addressing when you’re listening to your executives talk about pain or the next frontier that they’re going to conquer? Where is the opportunity for you to help assist with that journey and also what’s happened historically with PMOs and project management in this organization?
If they’re asking for the PMO, why are they asking for it? What problem do they think the PMO will solve? By the way, sometimes PMOs are started for all the wrong reasons. There might be a case where your executive went off to a conference and they’re talking to their colleagues or they attended a session and they said the answer to all of your problems is a PMO.
Well, it really depends on the problem as to whether or not the PMO is the right solution and when executives are doing that, “keeping up with the Joneses” and they see that other executives are getting a lot of value from the PMO, therefore they should do it too. That’s not a good reason to start a PMO.
We’ve got to make sure we really dig in and uncover why that PMO needs to be there from their perspective because it’s quite possible that the reason they want to set up the PMO frankly has nothing to do with something a PMO will normally do.
That doesn’t mean it can’t be done because remember I’m all about solving the business pain points and the business problems and doing it quickly. However, if it’s really something that has a lot more to do with an area that another part of the organization might be better suited to handle, like let’s say human resources, then you’re going to want to the real focus and energy and maybe guide the executives on a different path than a PMO. I know that goes counter to what a lot of you might be thinking if you’re saying, yeah, but then I don’t have a job. Not necessarily. Let’s just make sure the PMO is set up for success from the start and we really understand why the executives are asking for this PMO.
Now, if your executives are not asking for this PMO, you have a whole different problem. You’re going to have a really hard time getting the support and the funding and the focus and energy and resources you need to make this PMO successful.
If your executives don’t even see the value and if you’ve paid attention to anything else I’ve told you over prior episodes, you should not be selling the PMO to executives. If the executives do not see the value, then this is where you need to spend your time and energy asking questions, not convincing or selling, but understanding what their pain points are, what things they really are struggling with that they may not even realize could be solved with better project management or more governance and focus on driving the right portfolio decisions, et cetera. That’s where you want to focus your energy, but don’t stop there. You also want to talk to a lot of different stakeholder groups, customers, internal and external customers, other project and program managers inside or outside of the PMO in different parts of the organization, project team leaders and team members, project support groups.
When to partner with other areas of the organization
Is there another part of the organization that provides support?
This is a great way to partner with parts of the organization that are doing agile, for example, and find ways to collaborate, support them, provide training, provide support, provide that bigger picture governance and portfolio perspective that a lot of agile initiatives don’t really have under their normal capabilities and services.
You want to talk to your peers in other departments. Let’s say you’re at a director level, then you’re gonna want to talk to other directors in the organization that do different things that may or may not be able to leverage a PMO in the future. Of course, you want to talk to the members of your PMO team if you have them, and just remember that the way I look at a stakeholder is anyone that can positively or negatively influenced the outcome of your PMO directly or indirectly or believes that they can.
Anyone that feels like they are influenced by the PMO, that their lives will change because of the PMO or that they have a stake in that outcome. Those are the people you want to make sure you’re talking to because you’re going to hear things that you may not necessarily hear if you just stay focused on what your executives have to say.
For example, if a PMO has already existed in the past and it didn’t work, why didn’t it work? You’re going to want to know the answer to that question and we talked last week about the tlovers the haters in the just don’t cares. Really look at who those different stakeholder groups are and talk to all of them because they’re going to give you some great insights as to what has worked in the past, what has not worked in the past, and why, and that will help guide you with respect to where those low hanging fruit opportunities are to show value and also help you avoid the roadblocks or the risks that could really derail your PMO success.
What are the typical stakeholder challenges you need to look for?
What are some of those typical challenges that you might hear when you’re talking to stakeholders? You might hear things like: “there’s really a lack of clear return on investment for the projects. Projects are taking too long. They’re finishing later than expected. They’re costing too much or they cost more than they are supposed to or their estimated to project information is missing or inaccurate.” (Therefore, executives and stakeholders can’t make decisions.)
You might hear, “I don’t even know what’s going on with these projects as a typical thing that I’ve heard.” I’ve even heard things like, “there’s no overall picture of all of my projects.” I had executives come to me and say, “I don’t even know what projects are going on in my organization, and then I’ve had stakeholders who are purposefully trying to hide that overall big picture because they want their pet projects done.” So if we don’t have any clear picture of all the work that’s taking place, how can you possibly make educated, informed decisions about that work and prioritize it to make sure that you’re working on the right projects? These are the kinds of things you want to be looking for.
A big one I’ve heard a lot is, “I really don’t know where my resources are spending their time and energy” or “it seems like we have a lot of bottlenecks or we just don’t have high utilization of our resources.” This is really common when you have billable resources and you need them to be 80 to 90% billable and instead, they’re hovering around the 50% mark.
Well, this is a really clear place that you’re going to want to spend your energy because that IMPACTs the bottom line and that’s the kind of thing you can actually help solve in pretty short order when you really peel back the layers of what’s going on.
The first step is asking those questions so that you know where the pain points and the opportunities are, but you also need to understand a little bit more once you’ve asked those questions because in order to show the whole picture, in order to make the case that this is where the PMO should be spending its time and energy and solving these problems or in cultivating these opportunities, you’re going to need to be able to talk about it in a measurable.
That means we need to understand how much pain this is causing or how much opportunity will be missed if we don’t take action. These are the kinds of questions that help you actually make that case because once you say, Hey, I’ve identified this pain or we’ve talked about this challenge, you still need to do something to get them to take an action to support you in being able to really put a solution in place because they might not know how painful that pain is or what the real cost is to their organization. So we need to ask more questions and do some more research in order to understand if they say that there’s a problem with resource utilization, can we show them just how big of a problem that is. Many times when you put the numbers in front of your executives, they start saying, wow, Oh my goodness, we’ve got to fix this right away.
Quantifying pain points
So it’s not enough to just say, “Hey, there’s pain here” because until that pain can be quantified, they don’t really understand the IMPACT or the cost to their organization. You need to be able to look at this in an emotionless way because sometimes some of these slowdowns or these bottlenecks or these ways that the process is tying up the project or the resources could be things that the PMO put in place and you’re going to have to do some trade-off analysis to determine is that step in the process that we’ve added truly helping to enable project throughput or are we slowing things down?
So here are some questions you need to ask and get answers and be able to make that case for the solution you want to provide:
- What are the costs of these pain points to the organization when they say there’s a resource utilization challenge?
- What does that really costing in terms of the number of projects that are not getting done or that could be getting done that aren’t?
- If you had double of a resource, that’s really a big bottleneck. What would happen if you could allow that bottleneck resource to focus on one project at a time and staggered your projects?
- Could you get a lot more projects actually through your whole portfolio process faster?
- What value can be achieved by fixing these pain points?
- Why have these pain points not been fixed before?
- What’s the reason we’ve allowed this bottleneck to be there?
- Has anyone tried to fix these pain points before and failed? How? Why didn’t it work?
History and prior knowledge and experience will help us understand what didn’t work before and how we can do it differently next time. We’ve got to make sure we’re asking the question as to what it takes in order to fix this problem. This can save us a lot of time in repeating the same mistakes over and over again. If we slow down to speed up and do some homework to understand what’s been tried before and why that failed, then we can focus our energy on some different solution or figure out what didn’t work with that prior solution and try something different. Make sure you’re digging for these root causes and not just the symptoms.
Sometimes we will see, a particular resource that is stuck and we think that if we just double the number of resources that our throughput increases, but then we find out that it’s not that the resource was getting bogged down as much as it was, that the information coming to them was so bad that they were having to spend so much time going back and forth and asking questions and refining things that weren’t even right in the first place. And then if you fix what comes to them, they actually can roll things out pretty quickly. So sometimes we will put a bandaid on a problem by saying, Oh well the problem is obviously this bottleneck resource. Let’s get two of them. And then we should be able to double our throughput. But then what happens is now you have two people dealing with bad quality data that comes to them or requirements that are unfinished or too much back and forth in the process before it even gets to them.
That creates more confusion than actually helping. When somebody says, “okay, well we have this resource that has been tied up, why?” Then we ask why and then we go talk to that resource and we ask them why and they say because of this and then you ask another why and then you say because of this and then you ask another why and you go back and forth and do that until you get to the final real problem. Which for example, in this case, has nothing to do with the bottle-necked resource, but with the information coming to them.
The same could be evaluated in a different kind of problem altogether. Let’s say that the projects are taking too long and it’s not a particular resource, but they’re costing too much. When you ask why you find out that every single project team member on every single project has six projects they’re working on at once. Now you have a bottleneck problem on steroids.
You have everybody that’s a bottleneck because they’re completely distracted. They’re spending an hour on this project and they’re having to run to a meeting on another project and then they’re going to a third project and they are shifting gears so many times during a single day, they have no time to focus. It turns out that the problem we were thinking was that we just didn’t have enough resources, really was a much bigger question around prioritizing these projects effectively. If you are splitting their focus and their energy between six different projects in a given week, there’s just no way they’re going to be effective.
Instead of throwing more resources at it, more bodies at a project, the answer is we prioritize our projects according to the IMPACT they’re going to make on the organization and give everyone a clear picture of the work that’s taking place.
Instead of trying to do 16 projects with five resources, why don’t we stagger the projects and allow our resources to focus, and then they’re going to be able to get each of those projects done more quickly. You see there’s a lot of different ways that you can solve the problems. And if you don’t keep asking why you’re not going to necessarily know the right solution and you could put a bandaid on something that really isn’t the root cause.
What to assess if your PMO is already in place
Let’s shift gears and talk about what you might want to do if you already have a PMO in place, the exact same thing.
You’re going to want to ask the same questions and have the same conversation, whether you’re starting your PMO from scratch or you already have a PMO up and running. In fact, that’s the whole mindset that I have around building and running a PMO is that you take a very iterative approach.
In my IMPACT Engine PMO training program I have you go through 90 day cycles specifically because you’ve got to keep asking those same questions. Yes. When you set up your PMO, you’re going to start by asking those why questions and assessing the organization for IMPACT opportunities and then defining the way that you’re going to provide value and deliver and then you’re going to build a roadmap that shows you iterating through sets of changes and then evaluating whether those changes are working or not. Then you deliver that IMPACT and you bring people with you through the change process and then you have a point of reflection.
You look at ways to make the organizations stainable and continue to evolve and part of that evolution process is going and assessing the organization for IMPACT opportunities. The moral of the story here is you always want to be asking these questions. You always want to be engaging your stakeholders and hearing where their pain is now. In order for your PMO to become a sustainable business unit that continues to drive IMPACT, you’ve got to know when the needs of the organization are shifting and the only way you’re going to know that is if you keep asking questions.
Another thing that you can do if your PMO already exists is conduct a SWOT analysis. This will help you uncover your strengths, your tangible assets, resources, differentiators, delivery capabilities that you already have in place that are working well. Your opportunities for continuing to make improvements to increase throughput, to drive higher return on investment realization.
You’re also going to want to look at your weaknesses. Where do you have a weakness or a lack of a strength that is important to the organization where the organization is now and the pain points they have? Now you’re going to want to look at your limitations from a resource perspective. Where do you have gaps in knowledge? Where do you have gaps in capabilities that you could be delivering and your threats and there are many threats to a PMO. The culture could be a threat if you feel like you have a lot of change resistance in the organization. If there are competing priorities that the executives are focusing their time and energy on, you might not be able to get the attention you need. Get the funding you need, get the support you need in order to put certain capabilities in place to be able to run pilot projects when you’re rolling out new services.
All of that needs to be evaluated if you have an existing PMO. If you don’t have an existing PMO, then when you get your PMO up and running, I recommend as a part of your 90-day cycle process that you conduct a SWOT analysis and evaluate where your PMO is and use that as a part of your assessment for your next 90-day cycle.
I believe so strongly in this that I dive super deep in the IMPACT Engine PMO training program on the entire assessment process from asking those why questions and understanding where the opportunities are to solve pain, to really capitalize on opportunities through the executive questions, the stakeholder engagement, the SWOT analysis. There are also other areas I think are really important for you to ask questions and do some assessment work before you determine the capabilities and services you’re going to deliver. You want to evaluate the organization as a whole.
It’s really important to understand the way that decisions are made in the organization because that will determine how you implement your PMO and what questions you ask and where you need to go get answers to those decisions. You need to know where the PMO is going to sit in the organization because that will influence the focus.
If you report to the CEO, you’re going to have a different focus and a different set of questions you need to answer and opportunities. You need to realize then if you say are working in the marketing department or the IT department. Where the PMO sits will drive the influence the PMO has as well as the focus it has. You’ll want to understand the structure so that you can navigate that decision making process. Are decisions made by committee or can you have one single executive sponsor that is driving all final decision making? Those answers will make a big difference?
You also want to understand where there are conflicts in the organization or conflicts with what you’re doing and what another department is doing?
For example, are there other PMOs in the organization? Is there a shared services function? Is there an agile organization? Are there other places that you should be collaborating and engaging with an order to make sure that what you build is not duplicative or is not going to create conflict with other organizations? I highly, highly recommend you invest a lot of time and energy in collaborating with your peers in like organizations. Find ways to make sure that you are not redundant and find ways to make sure that you are supporting other parts of the organization if they have anything to do with the project life cycle, even if it’s not or the same projects. If there are PMOs in different departments, collaborate with those PMO leaders, understand what they’re doing, find ways to share, to leverage, learn from their mistakes.
Anything you can do to save yourself time and energy will set you up for success quickly. And if you aren’t thoughtful about all of these things, the PMO can kind of get lost in the shuffle. Meaning that if you’re not finding ways to be present and top of mind for your executives, if you’re not clear on where you sit in the organization and how you’re going to get the support and the energy and the focus you need, if you don’t have the ability to influence and set direction and help move projects through that life cycle more effectively, then you may not last very long. If you are redundant with what other parts of the organization are doing, you may not last very long. So instead of getting into a battle of who’s got the best of the same set of services or capabilities, find ways to provide different value.
For example, if there is a part of the organization that is all about best practices, then maybe you should leverage those best practices and instead focus on execution. Now what about your team? What about your stakeholders? It’s really important that you understand your team’s capacity and their capability because if you’re going to build a team that’s going to thrive, you’ve got to know who’s with you and what they’re capable of. You want to do some work to understand where your team is from a change perspective. How familiar are they with this change you’re trying to create? Are they on board?
Assessing your team
As a PMO leader, you’ve got to understand what capabilities your team has.
Do you have somebody that’s really great at the templates, tools, and process? Awesome. You will need that at some point. What about somebody that can help you set up the project portfolio? How about somebody that’s really good at bringing people through change? It’s a great time to assess the strengths of your teams so that you know what you have so that when you figure out what you’re going to do and what you’re going to deliver, you already know the strengths of those on your team. You’ve got to understand who’s with you so that you know where to focus your energy as well.
Assessing your Sponsor
This is an opportunity to look for ways where you can help those people that didn’t really care about the PMO have a stake in the outcome. Another big area of focus is your sponsor. Now there’s a different kind of a role in a sponsor that is helping with the set up of a PMO versus a sponsor that might be there when the PMO is a sustainable business unit up and running. There’s the project of setting up the PMO and then there is the that the PMO becomes, and I know that’s not the only kind of PMO, but the kind of PMO I’m talking about here is that sustainable business unit that needs a different kind of support. For example, your boss might be your sponsor or your key department that you support might be your sponsor for the PMO set up, but you could have a different sponsor that’s helping you and supporting you through the build out process.
It could be the same but not always. So why is it important that you understand and assess your sponsor? An unsupportive sponsor can completely prevent or derail progress. Uneducated sponsors won’t know how to help you. Uninterested sponsors won’t be able to get the necessary resources like time, money, people accessed information, et cetera. Unengaged sponsors won’t be ready to remove barriers when you need them. It’s critically important that you understand where your sponsors sit on that scale and find ways to engage them in a thoughtful conversation and in a thoughtful, meaningful way so that they can help you make sure that your PMO is successful.
What about your culture? See, the culture will influence the pace of the PMO. When I was inside an organization that was very large and I had found a way to build a PMO that worked for the first time in this particular part of the organization. The only way I was ultimately successful was to slow down the pace of change that that organization could digest was definitely not fast enough for me.
I sought the guidance of executives in the organization and learn that if I wanted to be successful, I was going to have to slow way down. I had to remember that what I took as common knowledge and common understanding because it’s the way I understood the value of what we were doing. It didn’t matter to the stakeholders. They needed me to slow way down so that they could digest the change I was bringing to them.
So I found ways to slow down to work on things that were externally facing at one pace and work on things inside our team at a different pace. After assessing, I understood what those people that were guiding me were explaining which was they are just going to get information indigestion if you try and move too quickly.
Sometimes depending on the culture that you’re in, you might need to slow down if you ultimately want to speed up. You need to be patient with those in the organization and understand they’re just not gonna move at the pace you need them to move. Also don’t forget that the culture can override the organizational structure for decision making and sometimes the influencers in the organization are not necessarily at the top the org chart.
So you want to assess the organization, but you also want to assess the culture and see how decisions are truly made and if there are certain places in the culture that there are influencers or relationships that you don’t necessarily see on a formal org chart.
By the way, one of my favorite things to do is to print out that org chart and then draw lines where the relationships exist. If you don’t know where those relationships are, you need to make that job number one, because if you need to influence, if you’re driving change, you’ve got to know who likes who, who plays golf with, who, who do you see going on walks together or having lunch together and who do you see that has really difficult tension between them in meetings.
Those relationships or lack thereof will help you understand where the power is in the organization and who you ultimately need to influence in order to be effective and the history of the PMO in the organization can drive how the culture sees a new attempt at a PMO. That’s why it’s so important to ask the questions around, have we tried this before and what worked and what didn’t? Because you might be walking into an organization like I have many times before where before I ever said a word, they already hated the PMO because of what the PMO did to them in the past. That’s all extremely important when understanding the culture of an organization.
What to do after you assess
Now, once you do all of this assessment work, it’s critically important that you put together a proposal, a recommendation about what the PMO should be doing and where the BMO should be spending its energy and then get feedback on that.
Part of this assessment process includes laying out that pain that you heard, that opportunity you think that you can put in place that solution to solve that pain point, the way that that’s going to change the organization for the better and the outcome that you see that will be achieved as a result. That is my making a case for PMO framework that I talk a lot about and we’ll have a whole episode dedicated to that in the future. So make sure you’re sticking around looking for that episode.
We will go through my entire framework for making a case for the PMO or making a case for each of your services. And then of course this is all built into my IMPACT Engine PMO training program because you’ve got to know how to talk about the solutions you want to provide. And do it in a way that is laser focused on the outcomes you’re going to help the organization achieve.
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