The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
This paper defines a formula for program office that is unique and powerful. The formula consists of integrating process modeling, project management, and transition management methods. In addition to managing the project portfolio, the program office also manages an organization’s key processes and the strategies that enable people to adopt new processes and project management methods. This approach empowers the program office to address the mechanics of process and project execution, and the “humanics” or human side of transitioning an organization to use and derive full benefit of the methods, skills and deliverables available.
Each practice is very effective but if integrated, each is more powerful and thus more successful than if implemented alone. The premise being, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” The result is a powerful program office that can address the demands of today’s organizations. It does so by providing a variety services that are valuable to individuals, teams, and the organization. Diversifying the methods and skills of the program office also provides possibilities for success and continued funding. Project managers that learn and add these practices to their toolbox will differentiate themselves, lead more successful project teams and open themselves up to new career opportunities. See Exhibit 1.
Process Modeling + Project Management
A Guide to the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) describes two major process categories, project management processes and product-oriented processes (PMI 2000). Project management processes are described in detail throughout the PMBOK® Guide and are referred to in this text as the project manager’s toolbox. The PMBOK® Guide provides examples of product-oriented processes in terms of project life cycles. This paper describes how process modeling can be used to develop product-oriented processes that are unique to the organization.
A process model captures the “who, what, when, where, how and why” of a process. Process documentation includes process flows, improvement recommendations, and identification of integration points with other processes. Once documented, an implementation plan that includes the rollout of training and metrics ensures the process is understood and monitored. The steps and tasks identified in the process model serve as the basis for a work breakdown structure (WBS), critical path analysis and eventually a schedule.
Process Modeling + Project Management + Transition Management
Transition management, sometimes referred to as change management, involves developing strategies and activities that help people overcome resistance to significant changes in the organization. In the context of implementing a program office, it’s critical that the impact to the individuals and teams are identified and managed properly. The program office should develop a transition management plan that helps people overcome resistance to using new processes and project management methods. The better the project manager is at helping people overcome resistance to using program office methods and tools, the more successful the projects.
Flexibility—A Key Ingredient
The power of the program office lies in its ability to use a variety of approaches to overcome organizational challenges. This requires that the skills of the program office staff be integrated. The PMBOK® Guide describes a number of formulas or processes that guide the project manager in applying the right tools at the right time with the right people to complete a project. But what if he or she is faced with an organization that has little understanding of project management? Strict application of project management practices will not be successful. The project manager needs additional skills to help the organization move forward. How does a project manager learn these additional skills? The best way is to work along side an expert who can train others while producing deliverables. This enables the team to be cross-trained in variety of tools and to develop a variety of skills.
Cross-training a program office team allows flexibility in terms of the tools they use, the format of their deliverables, their approach to problems and their relationship to one another. For example, a project manager who understands and is skilled in process modeling can develop a work breakdown structure that truly reflects reality.
Process Modeling and Documentation
A cornerstone of any organization is its processes; both those processes that support projects and those that produce products. The bulk of the organization’s time, effort and budget is invested these processes. A program office can provide significant value by modeling and documenting processes with the goal being the development of a process portfolio.
Developing a Process Portfolio
Various project management authors advise developing a project portfolio. This same concept can be applied to develop a process portfolio. A process portfolio identifies all the processes in the organization, the process owners, the priority and status. The process documentation should follow a common format and be modeled using a standard tool. Once the investment is made in modeling and documenting the processes, it is protected by continuous improvement and support of the process owners and users.
Process Portfolio Ownership
For some organizations just compiling a list of processes and who is responsible for each can be a significant accomplishment for the organization. The list can grow very quickly to include common processes shared by the entire organization in addition to those that are unique to various departments. Processes may be grouped by functional area or listed in order of how they relate to each other—main process vs. subprocess. For each process, process owners, participants, customers and affected parties are identified. Communicating process ownership throughout the organization gives leadership the means to make sensible decisions regarding a process by consulting with the process owner and allows everyone to know who is empowered to change the process, make improvements and answer questions.
Depending on the size of the portfolio, the program office may need to prioritize which processes are documented first. One approach is to develop process maturity categories:
• New—no documentation exists, inputs and outputs are unknown
• Stable—documentation exists, inputs and outputs identified
• Improvement—current process needs efficiency, effectiveness or adaptability improvements
• Consolidate—merge several redundant processes into one common process.
The program office steering committee or a core team of process owners should set priorities. The program office should develop a project plan for completing the process portfolio documentation.
Process Documentation Consistency and Integration
The program office should develop a standard process modeling approach and documentation format that is leveraged throughout the organization. Making an investment in common tools can save time and money vs. allowing various parts of the organization develop their own unique approach. Common tools ensure consistency and the means to integrate. For example, people from different departments are able to read and understand processes from one department to another. More importantly, the organization can start linking departmental process together to identify interdependencies. A network diagram that displays how processes are linked via inputs and outputs is a powerful tool. It can be used to identify the root cause of a problem and gaps or overlaps between processes. Departmental silos can be broken down and the “over the wall” syndrome eliminated. This is another way the program office can deliver on it’s value proposition to save time, save money and help deliver quality products and services.
Continuous Process Improvement
Once the investment is made in modeling and documenting the processes, each needs to be continuously improved. The integrated program office is the conduit for the flow of process improvement recommendations. For example, a schedule template can be created based on a repeatable process. As the schedule template is used for different projects, improvements and necessary changes are documented. The changes are submitted to the process owner for review and incorporated into the next version of the process documentation and schedule template. Over time, the processes are optimized and the benefits of the initial investment are realized.
Process Coaches and Technicians
The program office may name process coaches that help overcome the learning curve involved with implementing new processes. A process coach is available to answer questions and consult with users. Process technicians are trained in process modeling tools and techniques. They are experienced in facilitating teams of subject matter experts that provide the knowledge captured in the process model. The process coaches and technicians must understand how the processes support effective management of projects and how they can contribute to moving the organization to the desired state.
Process Portfolio Tools
Another valuable service the program office can provide is a recommendation for process modeling and documentation tools. Listed below are two important features to consider.
Process Documentation Quality
The value in documenting a process is to help people understand how the process works, what the inputs and outputs are, and what who requires and when. Therefore, quality is defined as how well the process model and documentation enables the process owner and users to understand the process. There is not much value in process documentation that no one can read or understand. One effective process graphics called a swim lane diagram. It is similar to a network diagram however; tasks are placed in swim lanes that represent task ownership. Each task is linked by arrows and labeled with outputs or inputs. This is an effective view because task owners can instantly see how they relate (in their swim lane) to what is happening in the process. They quickly understand what is going on around them, what they need from their predecessor and what they need to deliver to whom in sequence.
Ease of Use
It’s important to remember that the processes belong to the organization, not the program office. The tools and documentation should be easy to use and understood by everyone. Members of the program office should be expected to learn and use the process modeling tools in addition to traditional project management tools. The process modeling tools should not require “guru” knowledge or expertise. Process owners and users may also be considered users of the tools because they use the outputs.
The benefits of a program office may not be obvious to everyone. In fact, process modeling and project management methods may be perceived as mechanical, restricting individual creativity and freedom. The program office must balance the mechanics of the methodologies with “humanics” or the human factor of the users. Most people have an investment in the familiar because they know what to expect and what is expected of them. Resistance is the natural reaction to a disruption in the familiar and with the creation of a program office.
Implementing a program office may actually slow progress and productivity in the short term while the organization is learning new methods and processes. This can happen if major changes are introduced and not managed properly. A 1990 U.S. Department of Labor study showed people’s productivity decreases 75% during unmanaged change (U.S. Department of Labor 1990). The dramatic drop in productivity time is caused when people focus their energies on change-related concerns, such as “Will I still have my job?” or “What is going to happen next?” instead of on activities that contribute to the growth. A natural productivity loss is expected with all complex changes and there is a learning curve required to achieve the new behavior. The program office needs to be aware of the impact to productivity during implementation and should consider planning transition management activities as a means to reduce the initial decrease in productivity that may occur.
Transition Management Methods
No “TMBOK” exists that defines or prescribes Transition Management (TM) methods and activities. However, a substantial amount of literature is available about change management and transition theory. Project managers are encouraged to explore this realm of thinking. The following are suggested activities that the program office may consider using to address the “humanics” of implementing a program office.
The Project Human Resource Management knowledge area of the PMBOK® Guide focuses on “the most effective use of the people involved in the project.” In the context of this paper, TM focuses on how the program office helps individuals in an organization become successful. It’s not “What can people do for the project?”, but “What the projects, processes and program office can do for the people?” A successful program office must be introduced within a context of both Leadership Thought that supports a program office, and a clear understanding of “What’s in it for me?” at the personal level.
Leadership sponsorship is widely accepted as a program office success factor. Sometimes, though, sponsorship ends once the check is signed and the program office gets busy with the operations of the organization. Leadership Thought activities provide a facilitated approach to developing the leadership’s attitude toward change objectives and movement as an organization. A structured path through change ensures leaders will make decisions that support the program office and not send conflicting priorities to the organization that will inhibit success.
The list below provides some TM activities that might be used to mold Leadership Thought to support a program office:
• Meet with Leaders in short work sessions to clarify the vision of how an organization acts with a program office
• Orient leaders to have a change perspective for leadership action
• Define a Tactical Road Map toward the vision, allowing time for the organization to learn
• Engage the masses’ energy, by selecting and coaching “natural” leaders in the work place to lead the first projects going through the program office
• Establish communication with and access to a Champion that is committed to success
• Assist Leaders with defining rewards and consequences for “acting in the new program office way.”
The second and third bullets in the list above deserve more description of the TM activity that might be used. When orienting leaders to have a change perspective for leadership action, there is a period of time where the organization is learning. The Leaders need to clearly identify this learning period that can then be documented in a Tactical Road Map. Make this road map visual; make a sign or visibility wall that clearly shows the time for organizational learning.
During this learning time, the Leaders need to be very supportive in allowing their people to learn and in helping discover the root causes of deviations. The presentations of the status of projects should not be punitive, but be a discussion of what is happening in the organization that caused dates to be missed (or be yellow or red). Every time a project shows red or yellow, then the leaders and project leads together surface what is causing the problems through structured debriefs. Look at root causes at all projects failure and trends across projects. A structured “debriefing” agenda should be created and used for this learning session at the end of each project status meeting. A debriefing agenda may include the following items:
For the project alone:
• What was out of line with desired results?
• What factors contributed to this?
• How can these factors be changed? By whom?
• What can be done before the next status update that might provide the desired result?
• Is the process that supports this project broken, should it be changed or improved?
• For Leadership?
• Are these factors unique to this project?
• Is this a trend across projects (which might be an organizational problem, rather than a project problem)?
• Are there leadership decisions needed to avoid this result from occurring in the future?
The Leadership’s change perspective and actions should provide a “safe” environment for the project leaders and the organization to change and operate in a way that utilizes the program office effectively. Leadership should act as a coach instead of a judge. After a period of time, perhaps three months, the tactical timeline can designate that the “learning period” is over and the rewards and consequences will begin. At this time, project status will affect job appraisals, bonuses, etc.
“What’s in It for Me?”
The benefits of the program office has to be evident to each individual because people will not change unless they can see “What’s in it for me?” commonly called the WIIFM. This is true for all levels, including the senior management down to the project team member. Too often the program office consists only of the mechanics of processes and project management tools, overlooking the humanics of implementing a significant change.
The following are examples of how transition management methods can overcome resistance to a program office by demonstrating the value to an individual.
Resistance to Process
What if people resist the development of a process portfolio? For example, people might resist documenting a process because of perceived loss of job security. If they share what they know, they might risk being replaced or eliminated. Examples of overcoming this resistance factor are described below:
• Create a list of the personal benefits, the WIIFMs that people get from acting in the behavior of the new environment. This has to be more than that it helps the bottom line, or it will make the organization more competitive. These are not personally valuable, they’re organizational benefits. Also, make sure they are true personal WIIFMs, and not just wishful thinking. The list below shows examples of personal WIIFMs:
• I will learn new things and have opportunity to develop my skills to be more valuable.
• I won’t have to develop the process of how I work on every project.
• I will have more time to spend on creative/innovative parts of my project.
• It will be easier to get my work done, once I learn the process.
• Leadership will know what to expect and be ready to make decisions on my project.
• Other people will understand where I am in my project without so many presentations (so I’ll have more time, less busy work).
• My project approval may be faster and easier.
• I will work on things that have meaning to the organization and will be used, not stopped half way through.
• The process documentation could recognize them as a guru who continues to play a key role.
• A new title may be created that recognizes the importance of their role. Once the process documentation is published, perceived job security may even increase because they are finally recognized as an important part of a process. This also opens up the opportunity for more people in the organization to understand the role and seek expertise from that person.
• Use a survey as a baseline to identify the skills that people need. Then create individualized training/development plans to fill in the gaps.
• The survey can also be used to identify expertise. These experts can then be placed in a position to be available to the whole organization, in support of the documented PMO processes. Create avenues for experts’ true value to be accessible to the larger organization.
Another point of resistance to standardized processes may be that people “don’t have time” or “don’t want to learn new ways.” “The old ways work just fine!” However, old ways may not be the most efficient for the larger organization, or the desired end results for the whole organization. Examples of overcoming this resistance factor are described below:
• Demonstrate how repeatable processes free up their time, because the same process isn’t reinvented.
• Within a project people can spend more time innovating new things, rather than the same old processes. The organization should then reward “true” innovation, and not just recreation of wheels that should or do exist.
• Make people heroes who follow the new processes. Give them recognition and reward for getting work done the new way. People in the organization will start to follow new heroes.
Resistance to Program Office
A significant resistance to a PMO is the perceived loss of privacy. Use the following TM activities to overcome this resistance.
• Anticipate when a project is going in the ditch, and provide an early warning to the people involved, before they fail. Let them know before publishing the list of who is late or off schedule. Give them an opportunity to correct it before the status reporting session.
• Give the project managers as much coaching and pre-work as they need to effectively work through the processes easily. Provide them opportunity to understand and have as much control as the processes allow in setting deadlines, etc.
In summary, project managers should consider additional process modeling and transition management methods and tools when implementing a program office. Using the process + project + transition formula can help people overcome their natural resistance the new program office and enable the organization to achieve their goals. This formula challenges the program office to not only use the project management toolbox to “build it,” but to also needs to address the humanics so that “they will come.”
The authors thank and acknowledge other contributors to this work including Laura Kozerski, Terri Ransom and Lynn Lotoczky of EDS.