Last week, we set the stage for the IMPACT PMO Leader Mindset by looking at the reality that many of us face as PMO leaders today. We touched on where PMOs and the industry are now, and we even began to explore what to do about the shifts that are happening in the industry. The response has been phenomenal, so thank you for the feedback!
If you missed that article, please click here to read that first. Make sure to leave a comment on which parts of this PMO leadership story resonate with you.
Now, it’s time to get specific, literally. Step one in the IMPACT PMO Leader framework is Instilling Focus.
If you are like me, you like to have about 50 things going on at once. After all, there’s always a little downtime on this project or that one, and that’s just enough time to squeeze in some work on this one over here…and that one over there…yeah, that’s the story of my life. BUT, here’s what I’ve always found to be true…when I slow down and focus on just one thing at a time, I can get more done in the long run. If you are being completely honest with yourself, you probably know this is true for you, as well. As much as we want to think we are multitaskers, what we are really doing is a lot of task switching and creating a lot of rework and lost productivity time in the process.
So, here’s the techniques I learned to employ when I was a PMO leader inside organizations and this is secret #1 I share with my students and clients today.
Solve Business Problems
When starting a PMO, most of what you read or learn in courses suggests that you start by building a charter and creating your vision and mission. Or, even worse, they tell you to figure out your PMO model or type. Then, it’s off to building and creating process, methodology, and templates. Sadly, this is missing the most important step and assumes that you already know what’s best for the organization. But in much of the literature and courses, there’s no defined process to ask that most important, yet very simple question.
Successful PMO leaders understand that they don’t have all the answers. We have no business creating anything until we’ve determined what business problem we are solving. The most important step when starting or refreshing your PMO is ensuring you have answered the question, “Why is the PMO here and what business problem must be solved?”
First things first. We must assess the organization for IMPACT opportunities to understand your PMO purpose. Before you create the list of services you will provide or start building templates and process, you need a mission, a greater purpose that you are fulfilling through the PMO construct. Your mission is not to manage projects. Your mission is not to create templates and tools. Your mission is to get to outcomes that positively IMPACT the organization you serve by driving overall greater throughput and higher return on investment (ROI). To do that, you need to be very clear on the business pain points, challenges, or new opportunities that your PMO will help solve. Get crystal clear on that before you do anything else.
Even if you think you know what’s best for them, you are probably wrong.
Don’t guess. You must not assume you know what’s best for the organization. Whether you’ve been there 1 month or 20 years, you still aren’t inside the heads of the business leaders that are creating the opportunity for the PMO. Ask them. Talk to them a lot! They will eventually tell you what you need to know, but you must be listening for it because sometimes it’s not obvious or on the surface. Sometimes, the real reasons the PMO has been started isn’t even for the reasons they’ve been telling everyone. So, we have got to be listening intently for the truth. That means you must stop telling, talking, selling, and convincing and just listen, observe, and pay attention to the subtleties. The REAL WIIFM (what’s in it for me) for them will come out if you are looking for it.
But what if I do know what’s best for them?
Who cares? Not them. Sometimes people won’t take the medicine they really need until they trust that it’s really going to make them feel better. So, make them feel better first. Solve some easier to reach pain points for them to build trust. Then you can get their engagement to consider the medicine that they really need. But even when you do start giving them the medicine, you must do so in a way that is still very focused on the outcomes more than the process. More on this in the coming steps.
Drive Laser-Focus on Deliverables
Avoid trying to do too many things at once. You will only overwhelm yourself and your team and your stakeholders won’t be able to digest all the change at once anyway. As an IMPACT PMO leader, you understand that your job is to ensure that your team is dedicated to doing one thing at a time. Build it, drive IMPACT, get results, and then you can focus on the next thing. Use that IMPACT momentum to continue to build credibility and move on to the next service or capability when the organization is ready to absorb the next change.
It’s not enough for you to have a singularly focused mindset. Your team must also get laser-focused on driving IMPACT with you. Help them by coaching and guiding them on priorities and connect the work they area doing to the “Why?” and business purpose of your PMO. The clearer they can see the finish line, the faster they can drive toward it.
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 task master 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.
Don’t Boil the Ocean
When we’re starting out with a new PMO or repairing an existing one, we’re trying to build credibility in the organization and get our PMO the needed recognition and support. Many PMO leaders do the right thing by assessing the organization for IMPACT opportunities, they talk to stakeholders about the business pain points, and then sometimes they make a fatal mistake…the mistake that leads to so many PMOs failing to meet expectations.
Sometimes, PMO leaders say “yes” to everyone and everything.
Of course, our hearts are in the right place when we do this, but the fear of not pleasing everyone puts us in the painful position of not knowing what to say “no” to. Then, we struggle to find the time or resources to make a dent in all the promises or we spread ourselves so thinly that we don’t sleep and that takes a toll on us.
The desire to say yes is completely normal. After all, how can you build credibility if you don’t address the pain? I’m the first one to tell you that you don’t have long to make an IMPACT. Many leaders are impatient or have forces pressing upon them to get results quickly, so you won’t have months or years of building and building before you show your value and create a return for the investment they made in you and your team. However, you must be thoughtful about where you focus first. You will please no one if you fail to deliver quality solutions that get results. That requires you to slow down and focus on one thing at a time.
Not boiling the ocean means to find that most important pain point or quick win opportunity to show your value, then focus on that until you solve that problem. Then, you move on to the next one and focus on that until it’s done. This might mean that you have to say “yes” to starting with one business unit and then “yes, you are next” to the next business unit. All along, you are building credibility in a sustainable way without losing your sanity or making promises you can’t keep.
While it is so hard to contain both our excitement and desire, and pace ourselves appropriately, just remember that while saying “yes, but just not yet” to a stakeholder is MUCH better than saying “yes” and then failing to deliver or delivering poorly. Your goal is building credibility and delivering IMPACT. That means you must get it right and getting it right takes time and focus. You will be a lot more effective if you put one pot on the stove at a time instead of trying to boil the entire ocean at once.
Balance Tactics and Strategy
The IMPACT PMO leader understands that they must find that delicate balance between tactics and strategy. Many of us have heard that we must “be more strategic” to support the business. They say we have been way too tactical and unable to rise to the right level of vision to understand where the business is trying to go.
Sometimes, the reason for this is more in what we say than how we think. It might be that we can clearly understand the strategy of the organization, but then we throw a bunch of PM speak at them and talk about how we are going to process the heck out of that strategy. In other cases, we have been so busy focusing on the trees (the tactics of getting the projects done), that we haven’t taken the time to see the forest (that bigger picture strategy). When we do that, we can’t help the business leaders drive effective decision making across the entire portfolio because we don’t know how to guide them. They need our help in driving the entire organizational strategy and they must know you understand that big picture, as well as how to Get. It. Done.
The goal of the IMPACT PMO leader is finding and maintaining that balance.
When you understand the overall strategy and where the business is going, you are better positioned to help the organization realize their desired outcomes. You can help drive decisions more effectively and guide the project teams through IMPACT delivery with the right focus. But, if we stay 100% focused in the clouds, we can’t turn that strategic vision into IMPACT and the strategic perspective is meaningless.
I hope this has given you some things to think about as you Instill Focus within your team. In the next installment, we will dive deep into redefining how we measure PMO and project success by Measuring Outcomes, not just progress.
How do you Instill Focus in your organization? Please share your thoughts on these tips and the ways you’ve driven IMPACT with your PMO by getting everyone laser-focused.
Click here to read the next installment in the IMPACT PMO Leader Mindset series: Step 2: M– MEASURE OUTCOMES.
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