The Key to Project Success

Rolondo Talbott, Director, Project Management Office (ITS), Pomona College
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Rolondo Talbott, Director, Project Management Office (ITS), Pomona College

Rolondo Talbott, Director, Project Management Office (ITS), Pomona College

As Project Management Professionals, we have a wide array of metrics that help us manage all aspects of a Project – from ideation to completion. These metrics help us anticipate changes in scope, analyze, and mitigate risk and plan out realistic schedules – all to deliver Projects, on time, within the scope, and under budget. But there is one metric that many Project Managers fail to measure which can indeed make or break a Project Manager’s ability to complete a Project.

Several years ago, I found myself in the quintessential Project Management Office. This position was a Project Manager’s dream! We had distinct processes, all the latest and greatest tools, and templates and most importantly, all the resources a Project Manager could want, in funding and human capital – we were primed for success. Projects completed ahead of time, and costs savings were through the roof. Our progress was so substantial that as a PMO we decided to shift our operations into more of a strategic focus by implementing Portfolio Management. This ambitious project was designed to take our organization to the next level, and we were all looking forward to evolving as Project Managers.

It was during this Project that I was approached by a senior leader who expressed concerns that several of the Junior Project Managers could benefit from my coaching. Engrossed in our transformation into Portfolio Managers, I gave the Junior Project Managers some online resources and sent them on their way. Not long after that, I was approached by a Project Team that felt they were being taken advantage of by their contractor and wanted to know the best course of action. Again, online resources became the answer, and I sent them on their way. Shortly after that, another leader commented that some of our processes were out of date and did not reflect some of the recent changes in the industry. I deferred the update of the procedures, knowing they would have to be changed again Portfolio Management was right around the corner, and you guessed it, I referred the leader to some online resources.

Fast forward several months, Portfolio Management had arrived. Following the pattern of so many Projects that came before it, we completed our effort ahead of time and within budget. We were beyond ecstatic to present Portfolio Management to our CIO. The presentation was so flawless the CIO did not have a single question! What he did ask for, was some time to consider the work that had completed and benefits we outlined of Portfolio Management. Long story short, the CIO did not support this transition, and in less than a year, the Project Management Office disbanded.

How did we go from being high-functioning Project Managers, part of arguably the best Project Management Office this side of the Mississippi, to losing our CIOs support and ultimately the dismantling of the PMO? We struggled with this question for some time. Some Project Managers felt that we focused too intently on Portfolio Management while ignoring other high-profile Projects. Other Project Managers felt that a better job in Change Management – helping the CIO understand the benefits of Portfolio Management, would have made a difference. I struggled with answering these question too but then it hit me – there was a metric we all but ignored – Perceived Value.

 What happens when you achieve stasis? You are seen as a partner, not just a resource.  

If “perception is in the eye of the beholder” then Perceived Value, in this context, would be the value of the Project Managers and the Project Management Office, as seen or evaluated by those who consume their services. Each time many of the other Project Managers and I were approached for help, that was outside of our concentration in implementing Portfolio Management, our “perceived value” was eroded. Over a period, our behavior had leadership and ultimately the CIO asking themselves, “what is the value of these Project Managers and this Project Management Office?” We never had an opportunity to try to answer those questions and found ourselves quickly replaced with contracted labor and online tools.

There is a strong argument to be made against organizations having Project Managers or PMOs, in the first place. A loss of control, coordination breakdowns, security issues, and interpersonal conflicts are all significant disadvantages of project management. Additionally, organizations may incur higher costs by outsourcing work or by hiring new employees to complete the project. Sometimes Project Management can interfere with daily operations or go drastically wrong.

The fact of the matter is, Project Managers and PMOs are not demonstrating the perceived value to their constituents, despite the more traditional values that commonly are measured as a determiner of Project Success. In other words, Project success, for many organizations, is less about completing Projects on time, within the scope and under budget, but more about the value that stakeholders experience when engaging Project Managers or the Project Management Office. The landscape is changing. What organizations recognize as Project Managers or PMOs today, might not be what they see in the future. For example, Gartner expects the number of IT PMOs to decline as a result of the digital revolution, though some will transform into change management functions and become part of the C-level strategy function. The analyst firm also expects that, by 2030, partnerships between humans, smart machines and artificial intelligence, will eliminate some 80 percent of the work that represents the bulk of today’s project management discipline, practices, and activities.

So how do Project Managers and PMOs fight back against these assertions and establish perceived value? I’m glad you asked. The solution is – Entrepreneurial Project Management. An Entrepreneur, as defined by Tony Robbins, “In action, is the ability to fuse their unique X-factor with an unforeseen blank space in the marketplace. This combination, once fulfilled, so fundamentally changes the experience of people everywhere that being without it seems impossible.” Or put differently, “At the end of the day, an Entrepreneur is a problem solver…they are not turned off by things that are difficult, they see what they want, and they find a way to get it.” – Simon Sinek. Project Managers and Project Management Offices are Entrepreneurs by definition!

If you accept this premise, then the next logical question to ask is, what does an Entrepreneurial Project Manager or Project Management Office look like? What does it do? How does it establish perceived value? These are excellent questions, in part, because I came up with them. I believe there are four essential ingredients that are needed as the foundation Entrepreneurial Project Management.

1. Project Managers and the PMO should be seen as a service organization with a stated commitment to customer service and dedication to all that comes with it

2. Proactive and continuous improvement and innovation. Develop the ability to anticipate the needs of your customers in a unique and innovative way

3. Redefine Project success as going beyond being on time and under budget. Determine the intrinsic and extrinsic goals of the Project and add those as additional success factors.

4. Replace Benefits Realizations with Perceived Value. The real benefit of the Project is realized when the perceived value is achieved.

What happens when you achieve stasis? You are seen as a partner, not just a resource. You get the proverbial seat at the table. Your emotional intelligence will increase as you become more in tune with your customer’s needs and learn to anticipate them, you become a trusted advisor to leadership, and you ultimately own your success!

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