Category: CPO

Eyes too big for the stomach

Eyes-Are-Bigger-Than-My-StomachWhat is it about Enterprise Project Management system deployments that make them seem like an appetizer rather than a big meal?

Just like people who look at the menu when they’re very hungry and order the soup, the salad, the big steak with fries and then throw caution to the wind to pre-order a huge piece of pie, I often encounter senior managers who are struggling with an EPM system deployment that has turned out much bigger than they’d ever expected.

When you boil it down, the chief cause is often embarrassing to who is inevitably the most experienced project management person in the organization; this chief cause if is often a failure to plan.  Those who had coolly scoped the project and determined just how far advanced the organization was towards the perceived solution, they’d have probably backed up to regroup. 

Unfortunately that’s not always so. 

Even project management systems need some project management when they’re deployed.  Measure twice and cut once is advice given to carpenters but it could just as easily apply to project managers starting an EPM systems deployment.

Article: Making the CPO part of the Executive Suite

7463156I’ve been working with some project managers at McGill University in Montreal lately and was involved in a fascinating conversation that I thought I’d share this week.

The definition of a matrix organization is to structure the lines of authority in one aspect by resource grouping or department and in another aspect by project or objective.  Matrix organizations are not universal but are very common in today’s economy as they are ideally suited to organizations which manage multiple projects simultaneously which has become the rule rather than the exception.  In a matrix organization however, the challenge is to determine the actual accountability for results.

We typically charge the resource manager with the responsibility of managing the personnel.  They must ensure their department is fully engaged on productive work but they are also responsible for having their department trained and not to be too large or too small and to ensure that the staff are satisfied, that is to say not to stressed or overworked.

On the other side of the house we typically charge the project manager with producing results.  They must draw upon the skills available in the resource groups to do the project.  They petition the resource manager to staff their project with the best people available and then they must produce the result of the project with those people.

The matrix is often identified as a grid with a hierarchical tree going up and down like an Organigram and a 2nd hierarchical tree going from left to right intersecting the first tree with project responsibility.  The conflict between the interests of the project managers and the resource managers is by design.  In a perfect world, the natural conflict would be managed by a perfect balance between the two groups.

The challenge that I was faced with this week comes from two organizational phenomena that are rarely discussed. 

First, what happens when a person hold both roles as is often common in high tech.  Now you have a resource manager who has a heavy incentive to favor one project (their own) over the others.  How do you manage this conflict?

Secondly, the chain of authority from the resource manager up through the structure of the organization is often clear.  The team lead reports to the supervisor who reports to the department head who reports to the head of the division who reports to the VP etc.  The same is not true for almost any organization when we talk about the project managers.  What is their chain of authority?

I can diagram this easier than I can write about it so bear with me.  If I draw an organigram of an organization, where will the project management office reside?  Almost always, the answer is, as a dotted line next to one of the senior executives.  It is entirely possible that the project manager will hold no direct authority over another human being at all!  They are responsible, held accountable, but hold not authority.  This is the project manager’s most common lament.

In most organizations you also have to deal with the impact of different personalities.  Some people are simply better at getting their way or are more experienced or more skilled.  This can pull the matrix one way or the other.

A movement which is taking on more and more significance in the project management industry has had a direct impact on this area of the business.  The introduction in some organizations of a Chief Project Officer brings for the first time the strength of the project manager into the executive boardroom.  Now, the CPO can represent the potentially powerful project information from a project management office (PMO) at the highest level of the organization.  It’s a relatively new concept but one which holds the promise of a profound change in how organizations structure lines of accountability and chains of authority in making projects work. 

Article: Being a CPO in a BPR environment

Article: Chief Project Officer in a Business Process Reingineering environment
New CPO’s are often created as part of re-engineering the processes of the organization.  It’s a tough place to start because the impetus for changing the business’s processes are already well underway and yet ripe with opportunities to make a dramatic change in the way organization manages projects.  This article talks about how to walk the fine line between the challenge and opportunity of being a CPO in a BPR initiative.

Article: “I don’t get no respect”

rodney dangerfieldIt was Rodney Dangerfield’s signature one-liner and with his passing, the originator of the Chief Project Officer’s battlecry is gone.  While it’s true that some CPO’s get tremendous respect in their organizations, the number one complaint I hear from people in this position is how misunderstood they are.

In a perfect world, the position of Chief Project Officer would be a carefully studied thing.  A long-term strategy which would outline the CPO’s role right up there with the CIO, the CFO and the COO would be articulated and the CPO would command the same kind of resources and respect that these other senior executives get.  Unfortunately, it’s not always the case.  All too often the position of CPO is created in response to a problem.  The organization suffers some catastrophic project and is determined to never feel that kind of pain again.  ‘A senior, “one of us” will have to take charge’, they say.  Sounds like a plan.  Now a vp-level executive with many years of management experience is in the role.  Perhaps that’s you.  The needs of management become acute and you find that the resources that seemed so plentiful before you were in charge are not necessarily the case.

First of all resources are not always aligned with the goals of a CPO.  If you are a new CPO in a matrix organization, you’re likely to find that the matrix is heavily oriented towards the organizational axis.  This makes the resource manager king, not the project manager.  A new CPO in this environment can quickly be made to feel like they are there to firefight rather than implement a new structure.

Systems are the next challenge.  CFO’s have the luxury of 200 years of reporting culture.  Standard reports like a Balance Sheet and Profit and Loss are part of 100% of financial reporting tools.  Entire cultures are built around balanced transactions.  The project management culture doesn’t have this level of harmony and it shows in systems.  The most likely scenario?  You have pockets of project management mostly working in silos with little or no integrated reporting or analysis.  You may be able to see that task # 225 in project 27 is 14 days late but what does that mean to the organization?

A further challenge in this kind of culture is that the very people who are being more productive in project management will likely be reluctant to be first to give up their individual effectiveness in order to support centralized project management.  These same people are probably the ones with the most project management training and experience.

If you’re already depressed, don’t be.  The very reason the Chief Project Officer position is created is to bring sense to all this disparate thinking.  There are many tools at your disposal.  If you’re thinking, however that software will provide a quick fix, back up the bus.  The most effective thing to start with is determining the process and deciding what kind of process will make you most effective.  Software can then be a good agent for change as people are encouraged to move towards it.  A study commissioned by Cisco determined that if you change your process then automate it you’re likely to see an improvement in efficiency by as much as 20%.  If you automate the process – then change it, you may see an actual decrease in efficiency by as much as 9%! 

The most effective thing for a CPO to do in order to start gaining respect?  Have a plan and make it a long term one.  When people see that you’ll stay the course, respect will not be far behind.  As you start to implement the change in culture that comes with organizational project management, you’ll start to see your proponents line up.

Article: The human factor

Article: The human factor
A chief project officer isn’t just about numbers and analysis, they also have to consider how any change in the project management process will be received by those it affects.  This article describes a case study of a large retailer and how trying to implement Project Portfolio Management (PPM) was resisted by the very executives who had requested it.

Article: Leverage? Let’s try structural tension

Being a Chief Project Officer is new for almost everyone because a “C” level position for projects hasn’t been a common practice for very long.  So, it’s perhaps no surprise that one of the questions that newly frocked CPO’s often approach me with is how they can exert leverage over an organization that does not have a culture that is used to a CPO or even Enterprise level Project Management within their ranks.

Archimedes, a Greek mathematician who lived from 287 to 212 B.C. is quoted as saying, Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough and I will move the Earth.”

Leverage is a critical concept when you are one person who must ultimately project your influence over virtually every employee in the organization.  One technique that has great potential is the idea of “structural tension”.  In a business context, structural tension could be said to be the natural tendency for a structure to change shape.  Let’s take a look at this in practical terms.

Imagine for instance that you have made a decision to become very public about a project schedule.  You are going to publish a big wall-sized copy of the schedule along with the comparison against the original baseline and, just to be sure that everyone can see it, you’re going to publish a copy also on the corporate internet.  If no one else in the organization is doing this, there is no doubt going to be more oversight into what is happening with that project compared to any other.  The natural tendency of the members of that team will be to ensure that the results of that schedule are always at their very best because the notion that their peers and colleagues can see the data generates an unspoken pressure.

So, we have a single change in procedure (publishing the current schedule) which potentially generates a phenomenal change in performance.  You haven’t had to use a big stick, in fact, you haven’t even had to make a request for better performance but you are entirely likely to get it anyway.

Just like this example, what goes best hand-in-hand with the concept of leverage is the science of display systems.  For project managers, there are some common displays that everyone expects and some even know how to interpret.  When you thing though, about the potential power of exerting leverage, the selection of display systems and how you deploy them is absolutely essential. 

Science tells us through a principle called the Hawthorne effect that the very act of measuring something changes the thing being measured.  This very effect was evident in a water study done in Tucson, Arizona where a couple of water researchers named Woodward and Hirshon were trying to find out how water was being used in a number of households.  In their study, it became apparent that as soon as water meters were installed on all the water-using appliances in the house, the amount of water being used decreased remarkably as everyone knew that their use was being monitored.

While this was a problem for the water research in Arizona, A CPO can apply the same phenomena to our advantage as he or she works on changing the project management culture in an organization.  If people know that certain things are measured, then their behavior about those things may change.  Great, then let’s focus our attention on the areas of projects where we need to put attention.

The easiest pitfall in this conversation would be to now measure everything and that, of course won’t be effective.  Displaying too much information doesn’t allow any focus where we want it so you’ll have to be picky.

Start by doing internal analysis of the metrics of your projects.  Don’t have metrics?  Start getting some.  Data about projects is a CPO’s stock in trade.  Once you have an idea of where the project management environment needs correction, start a hugely public display showing the progress in those areas.  Don’t be afraid to name names.  Put right on the display the people accountable for the result (including yourself if required).  Many manufacturing organizations have done exactly this to help lower industrial accidents.  Many of us have seen such signs as we walk into an industrial area saying “xxx days since our last accident”.  You can use the same effect in project management.

The key is in selecting the type of display with the data you want to use to produce the leverage you’re looking for.  You can be sure you won’t find much consensus at first.  After all, this will occur for some people as pressure to perform and many people resist that.  Still, if you’ve picked the right data and the quality of the data is difficult to question, then the push-back almost never comes to management.  After all, what the project staff will be battling are the empirical measures of their very own projectst, not your subjective interpretable influence. 

That’s leverage.