Transcript: Building a PMO Services Roadmap
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Welcome to the PMO Strategies Podcast + Blog, where PMO leaders become IMPACT Drivers!
Today we are talking about one of our favorite topics, building a plan, right? Many of us live and breathe this project management stuff and today we get to talk about building your PMO IMPACT delivery roadmap. So much fun. You ready to dive in with me?
An Alternative to the “PMO Charter”
First let’s talk about that PMO Charter that many of you have had or have heard you’re supposed to put in place first. When you build a PMO, don’t do it. Forget it. Terrible idea. Why? Because unless your PMO is actually just a project office for the management of a single project or program, it’s probably a sustainable business unit or meant to be a sustainable business unit, which means you don’t build a charter.
We don’t build charters for business units. We build business plans for business units. So if you are building a PMO that is meant to be a business unit, a sustainable organization that’s providing IMPACT, just like marketing it, sales or even finance, all of those departments have a role in helping the organization achieve its objectives. And your job as a PMO is also to help the organization achieve objectives.
So why do we put a charter in place?
We put charters in place for projects and projects are by nature temporary endeavors with a start and a finish, they go away. The project doesn’t live forever. That’s operations. Operations don’t have charters.
Business plans are for sustainable business units, operational activities, running the engine, the IMPACT engine, as I like to call it.
The first thing that you want to do when you’re at the planning stage of figuring out how you’re going to deliver your high IMPACT solutions to the organization, like we talked about last week.
Which by the way, if you have not listened to last week’s episode on defining the solutions or the episode before that assessing the organization for IMPACT opportunities, you may want to go back and listen to those episodes first. Then come back to me here because every single one of those episodes in the next couple are all going to build upon each other.
All right, so where was I?
After we build our business plan, we then need to start thinking about how we’re going to go about implementing the solutions. We got to create our IMPACT delivery roadmap and my advice to you is to do something I think you may have heard of before called the kiss principle. The K.I.S.S. method is most notably coined by the U.S. Navy in 1960 as Keep It Simple Stupid. The idea was don’t overcomplicate things unnecessarily. Keep your approach and your methods simple.
Make sense to me! I am all about simple is better. I say don’t boil the ocean or even sometimes if we really want to take on a big effort, we don’t need to boil the ocean. Just put one pot on the stove at a time.
Don’t boil the ocean or even sometimes if we really want to take on a big effort, we don’t need to boil the ocean. Just put one pot on the stove at a time.
Many people use the term, boil the ocean to mean trying to do something that is impossible. You can’t actually boil the ocean and I don’t really mind taking on the impossible. In fact, if you know anything about me, you may know about my nonprofit project management for change where we live in the world of making the impossible possible all the time. Taking on the impossible can actually be a lot of fun, but the only way the impossible or even the possible happens like when it comes to building and running a PMO. That is completely possible. The only way that’s really gonna happen is if we take a big effort and make it a small effort. We don’t try and boil the ocean. We don’t try and do everything all at once and we keep it simple.
When we attempt to boil the ocean, we are allowing ourselves to get carried away in a really big effort that is doomed from the start. And why is that? Because big things are really, really hard to do well.
Let’s say you are building a PMO but you can insert any big complex project here. Building a PMO can certainly be seen as a project, but not running the PMO. Running the PMO is a business unit, business plan, operations. Building the PMO or building these solutions, the services and capabilities, could be a project.
You decide you want to build out a bunch of templates and tools and process and standards for the organization to follow, portfolio management, and governance. Hire a team of project managers and maybe even add some solutions like coaching and training for project managers in the organization. Maybe going on a marketing communications campaign to help people understand the solutions that you’re providing and how you’re solving their problem.
What’s wrong with doing that?
Well, nothing, unless you try and do it all at once. Trust me here. I’ve tried that. It does not work.
What happens to me is I get what’s called Thanksgiving eyes. Yeah, you heard that right here in the U S we have a holiday Thanksgiving, but I’m sure there’s holidays around the world that have food as a major component, right? So imagine whatever your holiday is that has food as a central part of coming together and celebrating and when you start building a PMO and you get what I call Thanksgiving eyes.
It’s what happens when you try to serve all the needs of all the stakeholders all at once. You will get yourself into some pretty hot water. It’ll start feeling like that ocean is boiling and that you are twisting with the sharks. Think about it, you’ve been given this new role and you have so many different business groups that you’re trying to get to engage with your PMO.
As you build credibility on top of that, you have been taught that the customer is always right, right, so you have to say yes to all of their different needs, right? Well wrong. If you say yes to everything and try to start building it all at once, a few pretty bad things will happen and trust me, I know one time when I was working in an organization and had learned so many things from prior experiences that I knew that it was critical for me to assess the organization for IMPACT opportunities before I started defining my solutions, my services and capabilities I was going to deliver. So I did that. I went around to different parts of the organization and I asked people what they needed. I talked to them about their pain. I talked to them about the solutions that might help them and with each new conversation I found myself saying, absolutely, we can do that.
You better believe we can do that. Sure we can do that. By the time I’d gone around to every single business unit and talked to the business leaders in that business unit about their pain points and the things that they needed, I had created quite a long list of requirements from the organizations leadership team. I told them all “absolutely yes we can do that” and I didn’t tell them when they’d get it and because of that I now found myself in a situation where everybody thought they were getting their thing first.
I now had in front of me a scope of work that was much bigger than the patience I was getting from my stakeholders. You can imagine all of the missed expectations and frustration because my stakeholders were wondering when the heck they were going to get their requirements completed.
This is why all of the work that we have done already with the assessment stage and defining and prioritizing our solutions is so important. Then the next step is putting that into a reasonable roadmap that you then must validate and then communicate to your stakeholders so that you can set expectations and everyone is on the same page with what’s gonna happen when. It’s also why is it really a bad idea to say yes to everything all at once.
If I haven’t convinced you with that example, let me give you a few more reasons.
You will take way too long to have IMPACT and show value. The business leaders you serve are all watching you to see if you’re going to get this right, if you’re going to be successful. They are testing you. Even the ones that like you are still waiting to see how you do with this because people have what I think of as an ever decreasing attention span PMOs and their leaders do not have the luxury of waiting two years to meet the intended objectives which are presumably to further the business and have a positive IMPACT.
If you take too long to start showing IMPACT and a return on their investment, you are likely going to find business leaders that get what I refer to as something shiny object syndrome and move on to the next idea. They think will help them get their objectives accomplished. Your window is short here to show value, so don’t squander your time by building the big stuff first.
Now we already talked about the importance of making sure that you prioritize the solutions, the burning platform, the resource with their hair on fire, right? We talked about that last week, so you still want to make sure you’re staying focused on those pain points, but then you really have to chunk things up and we’ll talk more about that in a minute. Here’s another reason you don’t want to try to boil the ocean. You will likely take in too many conflicting sources of guidance.
Everyone’s gonna have their opinion about how you should implement your services capabilities and in what order you do things. That’s why it’s so important to assess the organization, gather those inputs, hear what everyone has to say. Then put together a framework and have them as a team prioritize the solutions so you can avoid the situation of all of the different conflicting priorities.
I’ve had the pleasure of working in organizations that truly valued relationships over productivity. Yes. They actually told me that when I went through the 17 interviews I had to go through just to be taken seriously for the job. They definitely valued everyone’s opinions and all of the relationships, so I had to get input and feedback from every major leader in the company so they could all put their stamp of approval on the PMO I was building, giving it their blessing, telling me how it should be built and run and what they needed from the PMO.
Well, as you can imagine, that led to a ton of conflicting data and needs and wants and recommendations and I had to try to address all of that. And of course everyone’s needs were all number one priority.
I felt like I had no choice but to say, yes, we can do that. And they called it collaboration, but I called it insanity. At least it was driving me to the brink of insanity. It’s a no win situation when everyone’s opinions count and count equally, so you’ve got to do your part to make sure that what you focus on is a reasonable small chunk of activities or solutions one at a time and the roadmap will be your communication tool for saying, “here is the thing that you guys all agreed was number one. That’s what we’re going to do in our first 90 days and then we’re going to do this next thing in the next 90 days.”
After evaluating and getting feedback on that first solution we put in place, you’ve got to put that back front and center with them. Otherwise you’re going to find yourself in that situation of everyone’s conflicting priorities and opinions and you’ll never get anything done to a level of satisfaction.
The third reason you want to make sure to break this down into big chunks is if you don’t, you will lose credibility.
You begin by saying yes to some things and then a few more and then a few more. On top of that, you have people making up their own ideas about what you should do, developing their own expectations and even speaking on your behalf about what you and your PMO will accomplish.
You aren’t even aware of all the expectations running around out there about what your PMO should do. Jeez, for some, it’s here to save the world. For others it won’t ever work no matter what we do. And then others have that laundry list of things that it will solve for them, for their team, for their organization. Some of those things on their list might not even be on your list at all. They might belong to the HR department, for example, or the IT department, but you won’t even know it. You’re failing before you’ve even started. That’s why having this roadmap is so important because it puts front and center based on everyone’s inputs and blessing from a prioritization perspective, what’s gonna happen when.
Another reason that you want to avoid big, is that big is complicated and messy. Now notice I didn’t say impossible, but complicated and messy for sure. It’s just harder to do big complicated things and the harder and the more complex something is, the more risks associated with the process.
The bigger the issues are you’re likely to face, the more it costs to do, the more people you have to get involved and on and on and on. Why make it so hard on yourself? Especially if you’re in a situation where you’re building the PMO from the ground up or you’re building a PMO that maybe has had a bad rep in the past, or your rescuing a PMO or you are putting a new level of services and capabilities in place.
Why make it hard for yourself now?
I’m not saying that hard is a bad word here. I was recently at a conference where we heard some really inspiring stuff about Harvard and my favorite quote was “hard work was the price of admission to a life that is not mediocre.” So hard is okay when it’s necessary, but you’ve got plenty of hard when it comes to just managing all the relationships in the stakeholders, managing people, engaging stakeholders.
All of the stakeholders you need to engage is hard work in and of itself. So why complicate things even further if you don’t have to? So just another argument for chunking things up and making them more reasonable.
The last reason I want to share with you that you really don’t want to do the big bang approach is that you could get it wrong. What if what you think the PMO should do and even what your stakeholders told you they wanted and needed is not actually what’s gonna move the needle for the organization. Yeah, I know they told you that they needed that, but it turns out that it didn’t really move the needle, that you’re not seeing that higher return on investment and you’re just getting started with something that you’ve been planning on working on for months and months and months. You start to roll something out and it’s totally off the mark.
You could spend months or years building something that it turns out doesn’t really help the organization accelerate project delivery and getting to high IMPACT outcomes. It doesn’t really help them achieve a greater return on investment. Now was it really worth it? All that time’s gone by and where are you now?
These are just a few of the many reasons I could get into as to why you don’t want to boil the ocean, make it so complicated, or try to take on the world. But I think you get the point. So what do you do instead? You just put one pot on the stove to boil at a time. By starting with something simple, you may find out that you didn’t need the whole ocean to begin with. At the very least you can use this as a way to make some real IMPACTs, some real progress early and often, which is the secret of this, which is the secret to this IMPACT delivery roadmap that I talk about with its 30-90 cycles, which I’ll go into in a second.
An Iterative Approach
You actually get to have a more iterative approach to IMPACT delivery and you start getting motion much faster. So what does it look like? First we talked about prioritization last time we talked about the fact that you need to prioritize the solutions that you’re bringing to the table. It’s okay to get input from the entirety of your stakeholder group, but you must prioritize the work and services that your team is going to take on and start with those solutions that you think will yield that highest happiness factor and IMPACT for your business leaders. Whether that’s providing coaching services to project managers all over the organization, setting up some basic templates for example, or more likely giving them a basic view into all the projects happening in the organization. And of course addressing those hair on fire situations that help you put the existing fires out before you start preventing the new fires.
What else do you need to do?
You need to set expectations and this is where your visual of that roadmap comes in in order to avoid losing credibility before you ever have a chance to be successful as a PMO. Once you have prioritized the solutions, be clear about what solutions you’re going to provide, when you will provide them, and then provide detailed, this is how it’s going to work, explanations to your stakeholders because people will fill in the blanks with their own definitions and ideas of what the PMO will do, what the services should be, and how they should operate. In the absence of that information, don’t allow that.
Be clear about who, what, when, where, why, and how. You’re doing what you’re doing so that you can make sure everybody knows what to expect from the PMO. A critical part of your roadmap is laying out the solutions you’re delivering every 90 days and then as a part of that, you can point to places on that roadmap and say, Hey, stakeholder, this is where your solution will be delivered, and you walk them through the who, what, when, where, why, and how of that solution, but they get to see their place on the journey and it helps them feel like they have a solution coming.
Oftentimes we do all of this work to gather the requirements. We assess the organization for IMPACT opportunities. We define our solutions, we prioritize the solutions, and then what are many PMO leaders do? They go into hiding. They forget the critical importance of managing ongoing communications.
I believe so strongly in this that I have a whole lesson on marketing and communications in the IMPACT delivery stage of the IMPACT Engine PMO training program. The reason for that is that you’ve got to control the message. You’ve got to be the one that’s setting those expectations and laying out what people will get and when and how it’ll work and all of those components because in the absence of information they are making up their own stories, so you need to develop a strong marketing and communications plan that clearly lays out exactly what they can expect and then we get to do the fun part.
We actually make it a project, make the big not so big by breaking it down, breaking down that body of work into pieces that you can accomplish in short chunks of time. Anyone starting to get giddy? Thinking about building work breakdown structure, I know I am. I literally build work breakdown structures all the time because I love breaking down the work into chunks because it becomes more reasonable and it becomes easier to see the path towards getting that work done and it can make the impossible feel quite possible. When you break it down, chunk it up and then lay it out onto that roadmap, onto that timeline. You want to put that work into a schedule a roadmap and manage it like you would any other project. Remember the work to build the new things, the solutions, the capabilities and services. That part is absolutely a project, so manage it as such.
In fact, you should be the sponsor as the PMO leader and have a project manager specifically assigned to the building the PMO project. I can tell you that the times that I have been most successful with my PMO making the IMPACT and seeing that IMPACT happen, I had a project manager dedicated to running that project. It wasn’t me because I had other leadership responsibilities and other things to do. If you have the luxury of having other project managers, a part of your organization or even someone you can borrow from somewhere else that can help you manage the project work of building out these solutions, the better off you’re going to be.
Imagine that the project delivery was better with a project manager. Hmm. You also want to be the sponsor specifically because when it comes to the solutions you’re creating, you’re really the sponsor of that.
Then you have of course, all those stakeholder inputs from all over the organization. And when you have a project manager assigned to building the PMO, that allows you to be the barrier remover and the ultimate accountability for the outcomes in the success of the solutions, which is the role of the sponsor. You can use the ultimate business leader that champion the PMO as your sponsor, if that makes the most sense politically in your organization to get the support you need and the right encouragement and sustained engagement, but you want to be there front and center. Just be careful though because oftentimes when the sponsor has a stake in the outcome, like every sponsor should, the sponsor and the project manager are likely to butt heads, right? Because I can tell you when I was a PMO leader, I just kept getting those Thanksgiving eyes and kept making commitments to people in different parts of the organization.
This method of breaking things down and making sure you’re actually getting things done also allows you to show wins early. The faster you can solve a problem for your business leaders, the faster your credibility rises as a solution to the company’s problems, not simply overhead winds give you more time and space to create more wins and then even more. You do not want your PMO to be thought of as administrative overhead. Trust me, you don’t because if you are considered administrative overhead as a PMO, you’re the first thing to go the minute the organization needs to cut back on funding in one area or another, they won’t be saying, “well, we’re just gonna cut out the IT department or the marketing department or the finance department” because those are business units.
Make sure, again, your organization is treated as a business unit, not a project.
Another important thing to think about when you’re chunking up your project is to think agile. And I don’t mean big a agile as in your project must be an agile implementation methodology project. I mean implementing the PMO in an agile way. It could be, but just at least though think iteration.
Start simple and develop pilot programs or solutions for your stakeholders in smaller chunks. This allows you to focus and roll something out as a pilot program and let a group of stakeholders be a part of helping you design the best way that that solution or service should be put in place. Long term people don’t expect it to be perfect if it’s a pilot and they know they will have to be a part of the solution improvement process.
Perfect. What you’re doing is you’re building more stakeholder engagement and support and building champions for your change because they’re not having changes done to them that are a part of the solution and those that sign up to be those early adopters will be your change agents that you use to later bring on other business leaders and business units, other groups. The fact that you included them in the pilot and incorporated their feedback means they will own the solution with you and the perfect champions and advocates for your PMO come from that process. And the last piece to think about is rinse and repeat. Once you go through all of these steps and you have collected all that feedback and you’ve prioritized and you’ve laid all of the solutions out on a roadmap and you’ve and you’ve got that approval to move forward and you’re constantly communicating where you are on that roadmap and what people can expect next and where they can find their solution to their pain point on that road map, you start rocking and rolling and making delivery happen.
You collect feedback from those stakeholders that were part of the pilot program. Then you start rolling things out more broadly. And all along the way you are measuring do PMO and the solutions the PMO is providing towards creating a greater IMPACT for the organization. You develop an IMPACT targets and measurement plan. So as you’re going through this process, you have every solution tied to the IMPACT it will have on the organization and you use that to fuel your communication strategy and continue to get buy in and support and excitement and engagement and acknowledge the wins that you’ve had. That’s what it looks like to have an IMPACT delivery roadmap. It becomes your communication tool and your guide to how the PMO is really getting it done for the organization.
Well, I hope that gives you a few ideas to maintain your sanity and make the daunting task of planning out a roadmap of solutions to IMPACT delivery for your PMO a little less daunting.
That is our process, we have asked the right questions before we started our PMO or before we’re making changes to Uplevel our PMO. Then we assessed the organization for IMPACT opportunities. Then we defined the IMPACT delivery model that we’re going to use in the solutions we’re going to create. Now we just went through building our IMPACT delivery roadmap and coming up, we’re going to talk about how you actually deliver these capabilities and bring people with you through the change process and then our last step in the series is going to be to sustain and evolve your PMO to continue to meet the shifting needs of your business stakeholders. Now if you’re anything like me, a little bit impatient. Okay, well, I’m a lot impatient and you may want to just have all six steps laid out for you at once in one training.
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