What is Ahead for PMOs

Transcript

STEVE HENDERSHOT

Project management offices, or PMOs, catalyze their organizations by acting as connectors—across different project teams and business units, and also between the executive, strategic level and the execution side—ensuring that key insights and synergies don’t get lost in translation.

R. ROOBAN ANNAMALAI

The PMO actually identifies the gaps and sets a common ground between various work streams; bold, ambitious, high-level goals. At the same time, understanding the ground-level realities, they form a bridge and help the seniors to shape their organization in a way that success is guaranteed.

NARRATOR

The world is changing fast. And every day, project professionals are turning ideas into reality—delivering value to their organizations and society as a whole. On Projectified®, we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s ahead for The Project Economy—and your career.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

This is Projectified®. I’m Steve Hendershot.

The ability to adapt and transform while also meeting strategic objectives is a business imperative. It can be a challenge, but organizations that have PMOs handling not only tactical execution but also a wider range of activities can help make that imperative a reality. These PMOs are more closely tied-in to the strategic focus of the C-suite. They’re also better equipped to drive value throughout the organization by vetting, refining and implementing good practices and shared tools that can elevate and unite functions and teams across the company.

How big of a deal is this? Well, PMI and global professional services firm PwC teamed up to address the current state of project management office maturity by creating the 2022 PMO Maturity report. It shows that high-performing, mature PMOs can help their companies thrive as the world transitions to a post-pandemic economy. Organizations with PMOs in the “Top 10 Percent”—a cohort of 230 PMOs identified in this report—had two times the revenue growth and three times the customer satisfaction advantage compared to the average company from 2019 to 2020.

Today, we’ll dig in to the secrets of these next-gen PMOs. You heard earlier from R. Rooban Annamalai, a PMO leader at auction house Christie’s in London. We’ll hear more from him later, but up first is Fiona Lin, VP of the enterprise PMO, agile PMO and business transformation at Snap Finance in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the U.S. I asked her how she approached the task of building Snap’s PMO and how she believes PMOs must support organizations across projects, programs, portfolios and processes.

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STEVE HENDERSHOT

You joined Snap Finance in 2018 to establish this PMO. As you were setting it up, how did you build buy-in across departments and different teams?

FIONA LIN

When I was hired, I experienced this very initial shock. I was surprised that not many had heard about PMOs. I came to a realization that this was going to be a very large, disruptive initiative. There were a lot of questions asked about why we need this one? Maybe some [were] not in a very explicit way, but you can quickly get the feeling from the interactions.

For me, I see the value. I see the vision on where this can go. I also understand on this journey, there would be a lot of challenges, would be a lot of work that I need to do to convince the folks to see the value. But this will have to come with the quality of execution one project at a time. When we started, we had a very small team. I remember talking to each team member—every project has to count, and every team we interact with has to count. Every project we supported was a window for our stakeholders to develop a very high level of comfort to work with us and also to develop a high level of appreciation of our internal capabilities.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

By now you’ve got your PMO up and running smoothly, and you’ve become an exemplar of the evolved PMO—something you’ve spoken about at PMI events. What’s your vision for the future of the PMO?

FIONA LIN

The thought of redefining the “P” in PMO, it was a very strong internal desire for the efforts to be seen and also the desire to work with the community of PMO leaders to do everything we can to elevate the value we can bring and also to change how PMO has been perceived by many. When the economy slows down, we often think about cutting out supporting functions or nonessential functions, including PMO. So how can we change the situation? How can we drive impact? Is PMO really just [a] nice to have? No, PMO is a must.

PMO must be in place to ensure quality execution to align with strategies, and PMO also is responsible for selecting the right way of doing things. You [can] call it different ways—either you call it agile, scaled agile, a hybrid model, or you call it Kanban, scrum—those are all tools to help you get to the place you want to go. It doesn’t matter exactly which one you use, but there is [a] thought process to think [through] which might fit your organization better. Without these best practices, the growth and scaling will be very difficult.

In my current position here, I’d like to see us continue to enhance our lean portfolio management with the executive team. We are very lucky to be in a position that allows us to bring the tactical execution with strategic planning. We need to build the strongest synergy among our agile program management office, enterprise PMO and process excellence [groups].

STEVE HENDERSHOT

Let’s talk more about that bridge between execution and strategy. Project leaders are the execution specialists, so how can including the PMO in the C-suite’s strategic decision-making impact the value that teams can deliver?

FIONA LIN

In my opinion, if PMO is not touching the portfolio side, and [if] PMO does not have visibility on the rationalization behind the priorities, it’s not a complete PMO. PMO needs to be able to persistently communicate the need for portfolio alignment. This, to me, is the first step. And we know that not every organization [is] actually doing proper portfolio management. With the visibilities PMO teams have across functional teams, but also vertically— crossing multiple levels from executive team to senior management to mid-management to the execution team—we are in this perfect position to help translate strategies and to help escalate team needs and challenges.

When goals are not aligned and when priorities are not clear, you can see the execution teams running around, constantly switching context. In the end, throughput will suffer, time to market will slow down. The natural aspect of the C-suite role, I see that as they have the vision of where the company wants to go. The C-suite will be pushing the teams to accomplish ambitious goals, which can lead to product innovation, new partnerships and industry transformations. But we also find PMO pulling a broader group of stakeholders to be owning and to drive the initiatives. This push and pull mechanism creates a very healthy tension to help us build momentum to drive high-level performance.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

PMOs can also play a role in helping adopt and encourage new ways of working across teams. What are some keys to doing that well?

FIONA LIN

There are three ways I look at it. To adopt and encourage new ways of thinking, as PMO leaders, we need to set a good example. I always look at leadership as a foundation for success. First, start [with] being a strategic thinker. As PMO leaders, we need to have the vision of what our teams can do to offer value, and then go and find the talents that share the same vision and hire the people that have diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Second, I see that relentless improvement has to be part of who you are, and this absolutely needs to be the nature of the leaders. If the leaders and the members on the PMO team have this mindset, they will have their eyes wide open to assess what can be done differently and better. And be humble and curious. Build connections with other PMO leaders. What are they doing in their organization? What are industry trends? As a leader, be very humble and understand you will also have your blind spots. You will have knowledge gaps, but we can focus on learning. The continuous improvement mindset and the curiosity to be able to get out of your little bubble will make sure that you are proactively experimenting the new ways of thinking and working.

And third, it’s all about change management. All we do is about change management, from project execution to the large business transformation, digital transformation [etc]. It’s helpful to have a roadmap on where you want to build the PMO to, but [you] also need to be able to stay flexible, as you might need to have some detour or it might take you [a] much longer time to build alignment with the senior leadership team as well. Change is always hard. Going through COVID, I think there is this natural resistance, this natural fatigue of change. You never know what’s going to come next. So be conscious about that. Understand that teams always have the desire to do good work. Before implementing any changes, it’s helpful to understand what’s in it for the other people on the other end of the table. How can you bring them along? Are the changes going to make their work harder, or are the changes going to solve their pain points as well?

STEVE HENDERSHOT

Describe the ideal state for your PMO at Snap Finance. What does it look like when everything is humming along perfectly?

FIONA LIN

In the most optimal state, the PMO leaders should have a seat at the table. They should be participating in strategic discussions and planning sessions. It’s quite common to see PMO get pulled in too late, after the decisions are made. This is not the most effective way to do things. Understanding the rationale behind the strategy is important, as PMO is the glue to bring execution and strategy together.

And besides the push and pull tension that we talked about earlier, PMO is also there to balance this natural optimism with [a] realistic view on what is going on. They are playing a role as a sounding board. They are objectively sharing team progress, team sentiments, team morale because they interact with so many people, and this is such a wonderful place to be. You work with teams across all different functions but also vertically [at] different levels. [A] wise executive team will be leaning on PMO teams to get a good pulse on a team: How are teams doing? How are they feeling? What are the challenges? We need to provide the open door to continue hearing teams. As leaders, our role needs to be removing the blockers as much as possible.

In the optimal organization on the execution side, I’m seeing many benefits of having PMO overseeing portfolio, program, project [and] process together. For example, we have process managers participate in PMO’s weekly project and program reviews, as they can help each other identify the linkages and gaps. The process managers can be involved to help us map out how we are onboarding small, medium, enterprise-level merchants. What are the challenges? What are the gaps? We need to determine the major opportunities for us to make changes. And the program managers, in return, they can help make sure that the changes and improvements made on the implementation side are reflected on all core processes.

It’s so common to see silos everywhere and sometimes even in the same department. I am seeing all these efforts need to be connected. It requires a leader to take a step back to design the system for information to flow much more smoothly. And because of [the] roles I play, I also believe that execution is really everything. Without execution, the strategy is useless. Execution helps strategy become live and vivid.

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STEVE HENDERSHOT

As more organizations learn the insight and value that a PMO can provide, more companies are taking steps to ensure that they’re incorporating the PMO in key strategic decisions. Projectified®’s Hannah LaBelle asked R. Rooban Annamalai, project management and PMO lead for the technology group at auction house Christie’s in London, about how he has seen the PMO’s role evolve.

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HANNAH LABELLE

As a PMO leader, how have you seen the role of the PMO change over the last few years?

R. ROOBAN ANNAMALAI

In the last few years, there were some meetings where you can see that PMO was missing in decision-making. Now, when you walk into any organization, I don’t see that anymore. Organizations have started recognizing the value of PMO and how much return on investment that they could bring into any organization. And today, I’ve seen some of the top organizations in the U.K. in various sectors—I’m talking about insurance and banking and stuff—I’ve seen the PMO directors play [a] more executive role in decision-making.

So that maturity level has kicked in, and a lot of people started thinking about integrating the Project Management Body of Knowledge® with the various frameworks and methodologies available, and people are making better decisions by applying PMO principles. They’re adding more value and bringing the different work streams into PMO. For example, finance, commercials, vendor management, these things used to operate independently in different organizations, but nowadays they’re all coming under PMO.

HANNAH LABELLE

So as PMOs are taking the lead in areas of strategy along with processes and governance, how can they push project leaders and organizations forward?

R. ROOBAN ANNAMALAI

The businesses today operate in a very dynamic environment. The pandemic also changed the equation of operating principles within many organizations. I think there is no organization in the world which was not touched by this impact of the pandemic. Consumer demands shifted rapidly. Technology advancements, which people have never heard about before three, four years ago, now it’s the world. It’s like this. So the problem statements come from availability of technology, adoptability of technology, capability to do these technologies and infrastructure to enable these technologies, so it’s a very highly dynamic environment today. And every company wants to have growth-oriented and adaptive plans to fit in to this disruptive environment. So people have to innovate fast, craft everything quicker, execute or implement with the appropriate approaches in a faster way.

Now, how the PMO structures would help in an organization at this point in time is to ensure, based on the operating functions within PMO, based on the experiences they had before, based on the multiple, repeatable processes and standards they used, with the various lessons learned, how the executive team can align projects, align the program with the organization’s strategic objective. That’s where the PMO comes in today, with a modern outlook and a modern way of working when compared to the past years.

HANNAH LABELLE

How does having a PMO that takes on that greater strategic role deliver more value and benefit an organization?

R. ROOBAN ANNAMALAI

Many times, organizations play a silo role in many work streams. Very few people have the roles to oversee what everyone does, and a PMO is one key area where they have oversight of all those things. So, it’s not only providing the strategic alignment between the plan and the efforts, but it also sets the value for an organization in terms of strategy or innovation because these guys are sitting in PMO, seeing across all the areas. They can see this guy’s finishing [the] plan early, the people are going to get released here faster. These guys need the people in another two weeks’ time, so how can you link up these two? Rather than they operate individually in two different silos areas.

The alignment between the work streams to achieve a common objective can happen only [with a] PMO. This is the key factor to drive a strategy for any organization because strategies to focus plan execution and tracking of what they’ve set before in a high-level plan, if you don’t align the strategy within the projects, programs and portfolio, the strategy businesses are setting up is never going to [be] achieved. So this PMO is the only bridge which can do this better.

HANNAH LABELLE

Let’s look ahead. What does the PMO of the future look like? And how can project professionals make this a reality?

R. ROOBAN ANNAMALAI

In next five years, people will grow to have the mentality of these admin PMOs, standardizing PMOs, controlling PMOs and directing PMOs, and all. I think, more or less, PMO [will] mature the strategy offices, and they would operate as one of the strategic players. Because standardizing, setting up process, and using the latest tools and technologies, everything would have been more or less standardized. And PMO would be playing more roles in the setting of the strategy to ensure that the right people are brought in and the flexibility and interoperability [are] built-in within the business and the technology streams. And the project managers or even the technical project managers would be building the strong business acumen and [be] commercially astute, you know? They’ll be multiskilled. Varied people capability would be built [in], and an organization’s maturity level would go up. It will be like more of a master of at least a couple of trades, where people will be strengthening and creating more practices and more knowledge management. And that’s how the PMO would shape up and focus and go up to the strategic level.

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STEVE HENDERSHOT

As project leaders embrace the value of agility, iteration and strategic thinking, it makes sense that PMOs would lead the way. More and more of them are doing just that and demonstrating that a next-generation PMO—positioned within the strategic and execution-focused sides of an organization—can drive innovation, performance and value creation.

NARRATOR

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