Transformation—How to Manage Complexity
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Stephen W. Maye
Hello. I'm Stephen Maye, and this is Projectified® with PMI. I'm here with my co-host, Tegan Jones, and in this episode we're talking about how organizations can tackle project complexity.
There are a lot of different factors that can make a project complex. Innovation, uncertainty, size, speed to market—plus the many ways these issues impact each other—all add layers of complexity to a project.
Understanding these layers upfront helps with risk management, of course, but it also helps project teams understand when and where their work’s going to get complicated. And if they know that in advance, they can add more oversight as needed—or better yet—find ways to simplify the project approach altogether.
It’s always a nice change of pace when you can make things easier on yourself. Plus, those kinds of changes really can save organizations a lot of money.
Look at 3-D printing, for instance. In the November issue of PM Network, we ran a story about how 3-D printing is streamlining projects in the aerospace sector. Basically, printing parts on location means that project teams can work with bigger pieces—which also means that they’re working with fewer pieces.
So, one example from the article was a Lockheed Martin project to develop a 3-D printed titanium dome that will now be used as part of a major U.S. satellite program. The dome, which is used to cover a high-pressure fuel tank, can now be produced in three months rather than two years, which is how long it would’ve taken before.
Stephen W. Maye
That’s a great example of how technology can simplify and accelerate the process. But trying to innovate or develop new technology can bring more complexity than it removes.
And sometimes that’s necessary. When you’re trying to do something no one has ever done before, you have to be prepared to work through some of those tough issues. But the key is knowing how to plan ahead, and respond appropriately, when things do get tangled. That’s one of the topics I discussed with Wale Elegbede, who’s the PMO manager for the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Regenerative Medicine.
The center, which is part of the larger Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, runs some incredible projects focused on improving the body’s ability to heal itself. And Wale had some really good advice on how to navigate the complexities that come up on these types of cutting-edge research projects.
Yeah, when you’re talking about medical projects, that regulatory approval process adds a whole new layer of complexity. Plus, if anything has to change along the way, project teams might have to go back, conduct new tests, produce more documentation. It can be a lot to keep track of.
Stephen W. Maye
It’s got to be a massive undertaking. And on any innovative project, really, a major piece of navigating complexity is managing change.
We’re going to hear a bit more about that in a few minutes from Mohammed Fakhri. He is the AVP of global project delivery for Standard Chartered Global Business Services in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He oversees digital transformation and strategy, so he has a lot to say about navigating change and managing uncertainty on innovative projects.
But our first segment features the PMO team from Telstra, which is Australia’s largest telecom company. Telstra’s capital planning and delivery division is the 2018 PMO of the Year Award winner. So I had the chance to meet the team in Melbourne and learn how they deal with complexity on their capital investment projects.
Stephen W. Maye
Telecom technology is evolving so quickly, and upgrading those systems requires an enormous effort and staggering investment. Let’s hear how they make it happen.
Australia is a coastal country. Seven of its eight capital cities sit on the ocean, and two-thirds of its population lives in one of these urban areas. But another eight million people are scattered loosely across the country’s vast interior. And certain services, like high-speed internet, are especially difficult to deliver to these remote communities.
Telstra, which is Australia’s largest telecom, helped fill this gap by bringing outdated technology back to life. Over three years, the company ran a project to transform public payphones into Wi-Fi hotspots. Peter Moutsatsos, Telstra’s chief project officer, explains how it works.
You know, this allows customers to use their home broadband when away from home, and it allows other members of the public to access a public Wi-Fi wherever they are around Australia.
We have over 2 million hotspots in Australia, over 15 million hotspots around the world, and we have over two and a half million subscribers. So it was a highly complex project that achieved all of its outcomes.
But Telstra didn’t always see this type of success on complex projects. In 2012, an external assessment revealed that 30 percent of the company’s capital investment projects were missing the mark. Peter Moutsatsos says centralization was key to getting the portfolio back on track.
The chief project office has helped improve delivery by enabling myself to bring on 12 highly experienced, highly capable senior project managers that we can use to deploy across Telstra's most complex projects.
We take on and manage these large projects, and we run them straight from the CPO. Also, if necessary, we will step in and do a project recovery as well. So we intervene and support the business to get a distressed project back on track.
This support translates to more cost-effective projects—and more innovative products.
Terence Koo, who’s general manager for business operations at Telstra Media, has seen this value firsthand. He says the company’s project management office gives his team the bandwidth to focus on strategic innovation.
Telstra can be a complex place. It's a big organization. There's big amounts of money, and you know, there's a governance layer that's necessary to make sure that we're spending money in the right way. If you have your key product leads, etc., being sort of burdened with that responsibility as well as the creativity that you want them to do, that's not always the optimal outcome.
And a good project manager or program manager will have this open, collaborative style with their stakeholders, ask the questions, understand what the project is, what the deliverables are, and then really create the best delivery model and create the best working environment or governance structure to deliver that.
Repeating that approach across Telstra’s 3.8 billion-U.S.-dollar project portfolio also helped senior leadership prioritize the projects that would deliver the greatest ROI.
Warwick Bray, who was the company’s CFO through July of 2018, explains.
Our PMO's biggest success to date has been bringing discipline to our capital spend. We have thousands of projects, and I'm confident that the portfolio of those projects that we have chosen in a capital constrained environment is delivering the corporate strategy.
Stephen W. Maye
When you’ve got a portfolio budget in the billions, you’ve got to have a clear process in place to keep tabs on spending. Not just to ensure projects are sticking to their budgets, but also to make sure those investments are actually delivering the intended outcomes.
Yeah. One of the things I found really interesting about Telstra’s central PMO is that it actually breaks itself into four distinct groups. So, the chief project office is in charge of improving delivery capability, the enterprise PMO handles governance, the portfolio planning team prioritizes projects, and then, lastly, the benefits and business case management team measures project outcomes.
Stephen W. Maye
That’s an interesting way of breaking out responsibilities, and it probably helps maintain accountability when things start to get complicated.
I know, for instance, that when you don’t have a team dedicated to measuring benefits after a project closes, it can be very easy to just move on to the next big thing.
And all of those teams still roll up to the central PMO, which is able to provide that high-level portfolio view to executives. And that helps project leaders identify where complexities related to one project might impact the rest of the portfolio. And that’s something our next guest is going to talk a little bit about.
Mohammed Fakhri is the AVP of global project delivery for Standard Chartered Global Business Services. He heads up the company’s IT outsourcing and digital transformation and strategy divisions in Kuala Lumpur, so he’s going to discuss the complexities that his teams’ face on a daily basis.
Stephen W. Maye
Sounds good. Let’s go to that now.
So the most complexity that we are commonly deal are actually significant changes in our scope, in the project scope, during the project implementations. Change is inevitable. So at some point of the project, there will be some changes in your scope. So these situations happen because we are operating in a very tight market environment. So there will be some changes in market trend. And there will be some regulation changes. So as a bank, we have to comply with it.
And for this, the very first step is we need to analyze the impact of the changes itself. And definitely I need to get my team to properly document the change for the change request submission, so my team will determine how the changes is going to impact the project as a whole. So that's number one, significant changes in the scope of a project during the implementations.
So I would like to touch number two because I'm operating in a very high dependencies on the projects because I'm sitting on top of the portfolio, so that's the level, you know? You see the connections between a project, how it will impact one project or another. So I can see there are significant changes in terms of the project complexity degree, you know?
As the level will increase with more projects or programs interdependent to each other, the complexity will increase as well. So that is my responsibility for the delivery of a project or program: to have the eagle view on how the projects will react to each other.
So I try to minimize the issues in regard to this topic by putting some stress on the synchronizations of the project activities. And clear and concise project plan is required, especially when specific activities are heavily dependent on other project activities. So constant communication is required, I believe, because sometimes people working are on silos, so they are not really communicating. So that is my responsibility is to have a proper call, a proper conference with all the contributing projects into a single and a common goal to get this stuff done.
Having that high-level view of what’s happening across the entire portfolio is such a huge part of managing complexity. It’s really the only way to see how all the pieces connect.
Stephen W. Maye
And to appreciate what all of those connections mean, you have to have some in-depth knowledge about the organization. It’s not enough to just understand what we often think of as the traditional project and program management aspects of the job.
That’s something I recently discussed with Wale Elegbede, who’s the PMO manager for the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Regenerative Medicine in Minnesota. In many ways, he impressed me because he embodies what we keep hearing from practitioners and thinkers in this space, around the need for project and program professionals to really understand the industry they’re in and he really brought that. You could have easily dropped into the interview and thought we were talking to a physician or a researcher in that regenerative medicine environment.
He really does have such a cool job. I love hearing how project teams are bringing these incredible medical advancements to life. So, without further ado, let’s hear what he had to say.
Stephen W. Maye
Wale, it's a pleasure to be talking with you. I've been looking forward to this conversation. I'm fascinated by the work that Mayo Clinic's Center for Regenerative Medicine does. To provide a little bit of context for our conversation, would you just say a little about what the center does, how it came about, and what your role is there?
So before I go into what the Center for Regenerative Medicine does, let me just briefly explain what regenerative medicine is just to provide some context. Basically, regenerative medicine is, number one, it's a core field in modern medicine and surgery, and what it does is we're trying to learn from the body's ability to self-heal.
So for example, if you cut your skin—let's say you have a paper cut—your skin self-heals. But not all parts of our bodies do that. So with regenerative medicine, we're trying to understand and learn from the body's innate ability to heal itself, and it ultimately provide new solutions to patients.
So, now in terms of my role at the center, what I do is I provide oversight of our project management office. So that means obviously managing our portfolio—our regenerative portfolio—managing our PM team and then also, you know, I'm not one that's just like a functional manager. I like to get my hands dirty, so to speak, so I also lead key project initiatives.
Stephen W. Maye
That's fantastic. It has got to be a fascinating place to work.
Can you share with me a project that you've led or that the PMO managed and talk to me about how the team managed the complexities of that project? Give us a little set-up of what were the complexities they were dealing with in a particular project and then how did the team or the PMO respond to that.
Sure, sure. A project that we worked on and that our PMO led was last year. It's called chimeric antigen receptor. It's a long name, but it's called, it's CAR-T.
And CAR-T, you know, at a high level, it encoded like a new FDA-approved immunotherapy for patients that had adult non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is, it's an aggressive type of cancer. And essentially, what CAR-T does was we take the patient's white blood cells, and then we actually re-engineer those cells to, you know, they become from T cells into CAR-T cells. And then, we infuse those cells back into the patient. Now, those altered cells are now better able to recognize and kill the cancer cells. And the response rate has been very good.
And this was a multidisciplinary project that involved a lot of different departments, and this was a big win. So I mean, it sounds like sci-fi, you know? But it's really not. It's right here and right now.
It's approved. It's a service line. So, you know, if you're a patient, traditionally you're doing chemo, right? With this, this is like when you're done with CAR-T, it's like a live-in drug. You know? You're not going for multiple rounds. And so, it's a really big deal.
We worked with our stakeholders to fully understand what was the scope of this project, you know? Cause this is the first time this was being done in the country, right? We worked with great external partners. And then, also coming up with the actual plan and then the challenge too was typically a project is, what, you have, you understand what your scope is. You also have a beginning, a start and a finish. With this project, because of federal regulations, we didn't really know when the approval was going to come in place.
Stephen W. Maye
Much of what the center is doing, maybe everything the center is doing, is in some sense subject to, you know, FDA approval processes, which are very rigorous for obvious reasons. How does your team deal with that?
It is what it is. And number one, we have to abide by regulations. And yes, you know, sometime it makes things slow, but you know, in all honesty, we're not talking about building software. It impacts lives, right? So we definitely have to go through those channels. And it does impact your budgets, you know, sometimes, and sometimes it impacts your schedule.
Take, for example, the CAR-T. I had to make some assumptions in terms of when is this project going to be ready? When is our target date, right? Because I mean, you know, we had a full plan, but really, you don't know when the FDA is going to announce. And, you know, that makes it really hard managing a project when you don't know when the runway's going to end, right?
You know, cause that defies, you know, a project is you have a beginning—there's a definite start—and then you have an end. But in this kind of project was we had to also be agile. We had to make some assumptions in terms of when the approval was going to be made. And so, there's some things that you can't control, right? But what you can control is you can control the quality of your output. You can control the quality of your team, the technical expertise, the discipline that you bring to execution. You can control making sure that your, whatever projects you're delivering are aligned to your organizational strategy.
So everything that we do in the center in our PMO, we're definitely lockstep with the center's strategic priorities and ultimately, that's also aligned with Mayo Clinic. So those are the things that you can control. And I think that if you do your best in what you control, the rest will shake out.
Stephen W. Maye
One of the things I wanted to call out—it really struck me fairly early in our conversation—is the level of familiarity and the degree to which you're conversant and comfortable with the vision and mission and strategy of the center. You're able to discuss the projects and programs in a way that honestly, I mean, you could be a researcher, you know?
And what struck me by that is that more and more, people that are really thinking about this stuff are saying, "Look, project professionals, whether they're anchored in the PMO or not, project professionals not only do they have to be great at managing projects and programs, but they need to understand their industry. They need to understand their space. They need to understand the strategy.”
And it's been an interesting theme that we've heard from more and more people saying, "Look, great project management is extremely important, but the great project manager of the future is also bringing those other things." And you're reflecting that. But I'd be interested to hear your perspective on that.
I totally agree. I think a good PMO or a great PMO is, number one, you're also making sure that you're working on the right projects, and to be able to do that, you need to understand what's really important to your stakeholders. And what's really important to the department. So you definitely have to learn a lot about what you're delivering.
You also need to make sure that you're in lockstep able to influence stakeholders in terms of, you’re providing them with good information so that way they can make the right decisions. So you're moving from a—you're not just a PM. You're becoming a strategic business partner.
Stephen W. Maye
This has been wonderful, Wale. I've loved hearing from you and your energy and passion for this work and your insight and expertise and it's been terrific for me. I'm sure everybody else is enjoying this as well.
One last question for you. Give me the one-minute answer on: someone is in the middle of dealing with a complex project or program. They recognize that the complexity is there, and frankly, they're not managing it well. What's your one-minute advice for turning a project like that around when they recognize, "I have not been managing complexity well"?
You know, you need to mitigate risks, and if you mitigate risks ahead of time, that means you need to fully understand what the scope of your project is. You need to have good plans, and you need to engage your team.
Without that, you know, your solution is not going to go anywhere cause people are the ones that actually deliver projects. So, you know, my advice for somebody is they need to make sure they have a really good team. They need to manage those risks and communicate effectively. Get engaged stakeholders. And communicate with your team, you know?
The PM is not—you're not the driver. Yes, you're facilitating. Yes, you work with the plans and you're a key portion in delivering the solution. But it takes a team effort. It's not a “me” thing; it's a “we” thing. Right? So you have to really focus on a team, and that's what I've done and continue to try to do in Mayo Clinic and that continues to serve us well.
Stephen W. Maye
Focus on proactive risk mitigation. Pull together a great team. And engage your stakeholders. And with that, Wale Elegbede has the last word. This has been a pleasure. Thank you, Wale.
Yeah, appreciate it. Thanks a lot.
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