What we're reading book review - Things your PMO is doing wrong, May 2016

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Posted by APM on 10th May 2016

Title: Things your PMO is doing wrong
Author: Michael Hatfield
Publisher: Project Management Institute
Date when published: 2009
ISBN: 978-1933890555
Number of pages: 73







disruptive [dis-ruhp-tiv]
1 causing trouble and therefore stopping something from continuing as usual
2 relating to or noting a new product, service, or idea that radically changes an industry or business strategy, especially by creating a new market and disrupting an existing one

"Things your PMO is doing wrong" is a short book, just 73 pages, that sets out to show a better way to embed project management controls into an organisation. Its fundamental premise that is that many existing (best practice?) methods to deploying new capability are flawed and thus doomed to failure.
The book is disruptive, not least because it rubbishes many of the approaches that we are familiar with and may have used, or continue to use.

Part One:
In part one of the book, seven chapters are dedicated to the things that a PMO does wrong, which are:

  1. Leveraging organisational power - getting higher-up managers to mandate / command / coerce staff into using a specific approach. Using authoritative power to force things into a reluctant organisation makes managers unpopular. Unpopular managers don't last long in a position. Any gains that are made through coercion will typically be short lived.
  2. Training & certification - believing that these are drivers, that when people are qualified they will immediately adopt the practice that they have been trained in. Expertise is a factor and an enabler of success, but it is not the sole answer.
  3. Forcing the tool - assuming that project management will succeed if a tool is deployed. The author asserts that this fails for two reasons: that it needs the leverage of organisational power to get its use mandated; and that no single tool is flexible enough to give management the information they may need and therefore thinking and approach within an organisation may be constrained to what the tool is capable of, as in the old saying "If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail".
  4. Procedures and guides - assuming that if you develop detailed processes and guides on how to do project management that everyone will follow them. PMOs can invest a huge amount of effort into producing such material, only to have them ignored. This is often compounded by their being little or no comeback / consequence for those who do not comply.
  5. Consultants - employ a third party specialist to recommend ways of working. Often consultants will have limited experience or a limited range of solutions to offer. Their default behaviour is to criticise the existing way of doing things and also those who try to argue against the consultant's findings. The author also asserts that most consultants' approach is to leverage organisational power, but they do this without any of the negative consequences, because they aren't the ones made unpopular by trying to get reluctant people to comply.
  6. (Lack of) Intertia and the need for drivers - many initiatives fail without strong PMO leadership. The PMO manager needs to understand what is the right technical solution, be able to articulate that approach so that it is fully understandable to others, and must commit to pursue the deployment of the solution.
  7. The Graded Approach - specifying different levels of project management according to the type/size/risk of the project. By stating that some project need a lighter touch or no project management at all, people will find a way to make their work fit into that category. The author also introduces the concept of the "slow roll", or "silent veto", a tactic to hinder project management implementation through insincere cooperation - essential creative destruction of the initiative.

All in all, a pretty depressing read to a seasoned PMO manager / consultant like me.
Part Two:
So, what does work? Well the good news is that Hatfield's recommendations are neither difficult nor revolutionary. In part two of the book, before he proposes a solution, he shares some information about how people react to change. Using the standard distribution bell curve diagram he sets out four categories of people (see diagram below):

  • Type A, a small number who embrace change naturally. They will be willing participants.
  • Type B, a large number who will cooperate if it is demonstrated how they or their organisation will benefit from new capability.
  • Type C, a large number who will use silent veto, slow roll, or even active opposition to a change. However, they can ultimately be won over with coercive strategies.
  • Type D, a small number who will actively oppose a change and will never be won over. These are people who need to be marginalised or eliminated if a change is to succeed.

With this in mind he then sets out the following strategy for getting any change to succeed:

  • Leverage type A's to assist
  • The change must be simple and compelling for participants (to win over the type B's).
  • There must be an immediate response to those who attempt to opt out (to coerce the type C's). Ignoring non-compliance reinforces one of the major reasons for it happening, i.e. that there are never any consequences and that simply staying silent is a valid option
  • Everyone who complies by participating is golden, even if their data/responses are initially suspect. Better response can be taught, participation cannot (to give positive reinforcement to everyone in type B's and eventually the type C's who begin to cooperate)

So, to the centrepiece of Hatfield's PMO solution. He proposes that the performance of all projects should be monitored/reported through the use of a de minimus Earned Value Management System (EVMS) and it should be rolled out through the aforementioned approach. This, he argues is the best solution for indicating both cost and schedule performance.
Part Three:
In part three, Hatfield sets out some of the hazards along the way:

  • Politics - people with political agendas may get in the way of your efforts. He defines politics as "that energy spent pursuing a personal agenda that is incompatible with the macro organisation's stated technical agenda". Dealing with such people is difficult and there is no easy answer.
  • Rival systems - others may propose and try to implement systems or ways of working that go against your efforts to implement a de minimus EVMS. Such rivals are a waste of time, effort, and money. They should be identified and stopped.
  • Frontal assaults - resistance that comes from within the PMO itself, from within the company, or even from customers and the competition. The PMO manager should work quickly to identify and confront the source of the opposition and its technique.
  • The need for consensus - waiting for consensus for change can feed those who try to oppose it using the slow roll. To counter this the PMO needs a very clear view of where it is, where it needs to go, and how to get there - using a path that avoids some common PMO pitfalls.

In summary: I like this book. Even if you don't agree with Hatfield's assertion that the solution is to roll out a de minimums EVMS, you can learn a lot from each of the three sections - tactics that don't work, tactics that do work, and hazards along the way. It will challenge and disrupt your thinking. It is certainly great food for thought and at just 70 pages is worth the investment of a few hours in something that might give you a new way of looking at deploying or improving the maturity of PMOs.

PMO SIG committee member

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