CPO in a BPR environment

For a remarkable number of newly frocked Chief Project Officers, they arrive in their new post as part of a business process reengineering (BPR).  The correlate between reorganizing a business and creating a new post of Chief Project Officer isn’t hard to decipher.  Reorganizations are often born out of a desire to improve corporate results and in the worst case scenario, are the result of failing results or a failed project.

By no coincidence, industry’s new found interest in project management also often comes on the heels of poor corporate results.  Project management is, after all, a results-driven culture.  Today’s economy is a rich breeding ground for project management culture with its short production runs, global competition thanks to the Internet and ever tighter profit margins.  With senior management having to make hard choices to ensure an organization’s continued viability, the post of Chief Project Officer becomes particularly attractive. 

Many of the new Chief Project Officers I meet are trying to generate their new positions in the midst of a corporate reorganization and while this may be overwhelming for some, a re-org is also a moment of opportunity for change.

It’s worth remembering that the number one challenge of any deployment of an enterprise project management environment is a cultural challenge.  The sheer momentum of existing policies and practices are the most significant obstacle to a new CPO when trying to shift to new practices.  

Let’s take the most common request for new enterprise project management implementations: Resource Capacity Planning.  It’s an almost universal desire for senior management to have a better handle on how much throughput the organization can deliver both now and for potential projects in the future.  Implementing Resource Capacity Planning carries several implications.  First, we assume that all resource availability is visible to the process.  Next, we must have access to all sources of workload including all projects and any non-project work which might draw upon the listed resources.  Any off-time such as vacation and holidays must also be accounted for.  Finally, projects and other workload would have to be prioritized.

Once you have this basic data, an analysis of capacity can be accomplished and resources allocated to the highest priority projects.  Sounds easy in only a couple of sentences and virtually anyone asked about this process will quickly agree this is the way to handle it.  However, if we think about this exercise for a moment, it becomes apparent that changing this process is fraught with potential challenges.  First, in the absence of a resource capacity planning process, how has the organization allocated resources up until now?  The answer will differ, of course, from company to company, but it is a common response that project managers assemble their teams by personal relationships based on what is important to them. 

Now, the new CPO arrives with a brand-new and completely logical process to deploy the new resource capacity planning procedures.  All of it makes sense but in the background, there is an unspoken resistance to the long-standing relationships that benefit the most tenured and most liked project managers.  For an inexperienced CPO, that undercurrent of resistance could be the difference between a rapid or stalled implementation.

Un-learning the old practice in favor of the new can be difficult, if not impossible.

So the convergence of a business process reengineering exercise and a new CPO could make for a great opportunity for change.  While all the staff are being moved around and relationships and internal power structures are shifting, it may be an opportune moment to implement new procedures.

If you are in this situation, there are a few recommendations that may make a difference as you move forward:

First, recognize that in the midst of a reorganization, personnel are sensitive to any change so clear communication is even more critical than usual.

Next, look to involve as much of the existing organization as possible in creating the new practices and procedures.  Arriving with the play-book from wherever you worked last will probably be met with less enthusiasm than a ‘made-here’ solution.

Next, look to adopt practices that are already working in the organization.  It lets people get on board with something they don’t have to change, allows you to recognize internal achievement by institutionalizing it and makes allies in the process.

In a re-org situation, the pressure’s often intense to produce results quickly so work on a layered approach to your new deployment.  Look to get some minimal change completed in its entirety so that you can demonstrate to everyone that there is some return on the project management investment.

Finally, be public with your plans.  The more transparent you are with the impact of your new role to those both above and below you, the faster you’re likely to solidify your position.

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