Early Wins, Happy Customers
Sabrina Janstrom, Portfolio Director, Fujitsu, Brisbane, Australia
ILLUSTRATION BY JOEL KIMMEL
TITLE: Portfolio director
LOCATION: Brisbane, Australia
Sabina Janstrom joined Fujitsu last year determined to change how the multinational IT equipment and services organization handles portfolios and projects. She's since worked to introduce portfolio management to her organization and its customers, and implemented a project management office (PMO) that bolsters project and program delivery. Her nine full-time project managers and three PMO administrators oversee up to 50 projects at a time, including AU$4 million in infrastructure projects for the state of Queensland.
After earning her bachelor's degree in psychology two decades ago, Ms. Janstrom found that field “a little too intense,” so she shifted to project management in IT. For the past 15 years, she has worked in IT solution delivery and set up PMOs in Asia, Australia and Europe. Along the way, she earned an MBA degree.
I have two main areas of focus. The first is pro-actively helping to shape our customers’ project portfolios, and the second is project delivery. Our customers tend to be large organizations, like governments and universities. They come to us for both managed services and specific projects. We primarily deliver infrastructure, like data centers, and transformation projects, like taking a customer to the cloud.
It's very important to find out what motivates a person and then provide them work that's aligned with that.
What does your portfolio management involve?
It's understanding the business problem our customers are trying to solve and then going to them with a technology project roadmap that actually helps solve that problem—rather than making sure they get the latest, shiniest tech or replacing aging hardware with the same again. And because we do that with efficiency and consistency, we make it a lot cheaper for our customers than if we're just reactive when they come to us with a project they want to do.
Why did you implement a PMO?
Some of our customers at other Fujitsu locations have a PMO through their managed services contracts. Here at Fujitsu's Brisbane location, none of the customers did. So I implemented a PMO that's not specifically for any particular customer. That way, Fujitsu doesn't need to wait for a customer to want a PMO. We can show them the value of it. Now I'm on an education campaign to show customers they don't pay extra for the PMO; it saves them money by controlling expensive project manager resources.
How does the PMO support your project managers?
Because of my background in organizational psychology, I think it's very important to find out what motivates a person and then provide them work that's aligned with that. I find that good project managers love to communicate. But if project managers have to spend a lot of time on documentation or reporting or providing me statistics—all those things the organization rightly needs—that's not something they enjoy. The more processes we can systemize and automate, the more time project managers have to do the complicated stuff, which generally involves people. The PMO helps match project managers’ tasks to their intrinsic motivation.
How does the PMO improve those processes?
Through specialists or automation. Rather than having the customer pay for a very expensive resource, a project manager, to do the documentation, I'm able to offer the same service with less expensive resources: administrators in my PMO. And our project managers now put all their reporting information into one place, an in-house project portfolio management tool, and reports are pulled from that platform. So our customers get the project manager and they get the documentation, but in a more cost-effective way.
What challenges do you face when introducing a higher project standard to customers?
They don't all understand the value of the higher standard we want to deliver. For instance, they might not understand why we want a full-time project manager on their one project. Or they might have had project managers who kept all the project details in their heads and somehow pulled the project together at the last minute. We explain the difference between that model and what we do—where they can always see where they are with the schedule and budget. And we show that the time we spend results in lower risk and better outcomes. Once they see that, they come around.
How have these changes been received internally?
Really well. We now have different areas of the business coming to us with projects and asking to use our PMO. And the rest of the organization is coming along on this portfolio management journey. When we have early wins and happy customers, we get organizational confidence that we're on the right track. Now, everyone understands it's the only way we can provide something that our customers either can't get internally or don't get from our competitors. It's our competitive advantage. PM
What's one skill every project manager should have?
Being able to truly listen to people. Team members will sometimes tell you things are going well when they're not. You've got to listen to the verbal and nonverbal conversations people are having around you.
What's the best professional advice you ever received?
Don't get too hung up on the first thing you do out of university because it will probably be the first of three or four careers you have.
What's your favorite off-the-clock activity?
Boxing. It's quite difficult and you have to concentrate, but by the end you've had a really good workout and are much less stressed.