by David Kashiwagi and Grace Keller
When was the last time someone asked you how to do something and you had a workflow diagram and a narrative ready to go? Work life is so much easier when a process, template, or procedure has documented, consistent instructions.
Project Management Officers (PMOs) are the shoemakers who keep Project Managers from going barefoot. A mix of people, tools, and processes, a PMO defines and maintains project management standards across a company and acts as a central depository for project documentation and resource management.
In an organization as large as a State government department, standardization and quality are critical. But often, different teams have varying project management practices, little insight into what other projects are happening throughout the department, and difficulty getting access to cross-functional resources.
If those frustrations sound familiar, it’s time for a Project Management Office optimization effort.
When an organization’s PMO wants to modernize, three steps must occur:
1. Define the “As Is” state. The processes, templates, and procedures that are currently in place need to be reviewed and the documentation updated to reflect the way work is being done now (not the way project managers intend it to be done).
2. Assess any new information. The optimization team assembles a dossier of lessons learned, best practices, and recommendations to modify processes and create new ones that adapt to our changing world.
3. Create the “To Be” state. The resulting changes to current practices give the PMO an opportunity to evolve and mature their work methods and tools. As a bonus, this fresh approach energizes the organization and incentivizes the team to be a part of positive change.
This chart shows the levels of process maturity in a PMO, from Initial (unpredictable process that’s poorly controlled and reactive) on up. Notice that there is no end state for a Project Management Office. The most refined stage of process management is Optimizing—not Optimized. The best PMOs continuously refresh and hone their “To Be” state as the organization, leadership, and customer needs change with the times.
Working with State departments to navigate the three steps to PMO optimization, we’ve noted some trends along the way.
1. Documentation doesn't always follow organizational change.
With all the internal and external changes occurring in our work world, documentation always seems to fall lower on the priority list. Sometimes it falls off the list entirely.
After all, a State government department can’t stop projects during their PMO optimization engagement, as nice as that would be. They’ve got a public to serve! Unfortunately, when you combine busy people with a feeling of being uprooted, it’s easy to drop something. (Especially if that something isn’t exactly the most fun, engaging part of the job.)
Even if there are mechanisms in place to maintain libraries of templates, workflows, processes, and procedure manuals, sometimes changes occur so rapidly or are so large that it’s hard to accommodate the change, let alone update the descriptions.
Lesson learned: PMO optimization isn’t just about project management—it’s about change management. People have to be on board with the vision: an organized, centralized, standardized set of people, tools, and processes that make everyone’s job easier and help them access what they need, when they need it.
Once people are sold on the vision, they’re much more likely to take part in the heavy lifting of getting to that result. An outside vendor helping with the PMO optimization process can also be a big help here.
2. Inconsistent internal practices point to a greater issue.
Invariably, when we start looking at a State government department PMO’s processes, we find multiple groups doing the same function—using completely different methods for that function.
How does that happen? Generally, it’s a side effect of a greater organizational tendency toward siloing—a lack of interaction and sharing between teams that leads to each team operating as an independent unit. Sometimes there are deeper problems that lead to siloed processes, such as a competitive or secretive atmosphere that precludes collaboration. But often, it’s just a matter of difficulty finding opportunities to communicate across teams, especially in an increasingly distributed world.
So how do you break down those communication barriers and standardize a function’s method?
In our experience, simply collaborating on the “As Is” stage brings this issue to light for the whole department. Sitting various groups down together draws out good, hard questions about the best methods for these functions, and results in eliminating methods that have caused confusion or role blur.
Lesson learned: To clarify processes, procedures, and templates can seem overwhelming on top of all the other changes happening in the organization during the PMO optimization process. However, it ends up reducing time and effort—a huge win for the whole agency.
3. Once practices are formalized and documented, make sure you share them.
Possibly the greatest potential pitfall of a PMO optimization effort is failing to normalize all the work your department has done. Creating the “To Be” state is one thing. Getting the entire organization there is another. That’s why it’s vital to share the changes throughout and after the engagement.
As we complete the various tasks with the department, what emerges is a package of information that can be shared to develop better and more consistent processes, templates, and procedures—if you communicate them.
For example, often there are multiple entry points by which a project can kick off, and various methods for determining how to route the project to the right team. More feedback can determine what way is the best…or if it’s best to give project managers some degree of freedom. Nothing is set in stone, but the only way up is through rigorous iterating, with the entire group committed to contributing.
Remember, the key is to always be optimizing, using the best of what you’ve got: people, tools, and processes.
PMO optimization is all about embracing the opportunity for improvement and higher productivity. For state, local, and federal public-sector entities, that means assimilating and growing your org with the changes that happen outside the office. That’s how you’ll work better together…not just in your department, but in your community, too.
For more about PMO optimization and change management efforts, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.