Understanding Your Organization's Project Management Journey

pmo project management Apr 18, 2022
Where is your organization on its Project Management Journey

Your child is a teenager now and anxious to drive. This is both an exciting and scary time. It’s exciting because you look forward to sending them on last minute trips to the grocery store and them being able to drive themselves to school. It’s scary because, well, they’re driving.

Here’s the problem. They just turned THIRTEEN! While technically a teenager, this age group lacks the maturity and experience required of a good driver. In fact, the CDC cites driver inexperience as the leading cause of teen crashes and injuries, as they simply underestimate or fail to recognize dangerous situations. Teens need to be educated, practice, and build proficiency and confidence within the context of experience. Skipping any of these steps is asking for trouble.

Similarly, your company’s leadership is anxious to set up  a PMO and look to you to make it happen. This is both an exciting and scary time for you. Management gives you the lofty goal of not only standardizing project delivery, but implementation, utilization, and integration of the PMO into all departments in six short months!

Here’s the problem. Just like an underaged teen driver, a brand-new PMO needs time to mature, practice, become proficient and build confidence in itself, and for others to be confident in them. Skipping any of these necessary steps is asking for trouble, which is typically manifested by a PMO sputtering out before it even hits the road.

How can you prevent this from happening? Understand the Project Management Journey every organization travels regardless of industry or size. This Journey applies to not only setting up a PMO from scratch, which is exciting and scary, but also improving an underperforming PMO, which may just be scary as jobs could be on the line.

The Project Management Journey

As we mature through our human journey, we measure milestones to determine if our progress meets expectations for the current stage in our journey; for example, walking by the time you are a toddler or learning to drive as a teenager. As organizations mature through their project management journey, they can also measure milestones to determine if their progress meets expectations.

Below are the five milestones organizations achieve as their project management capabilities mature. See if you can identify where your organization is in its journey:

01 Ad Hoc Project Management (1- 6 months)

This is where organizations start their Project Management Journey.  Individual Project Managers work on assigned projects without any coordination between them.  PMs are most likely using their own project management templates.  Projects are not within a larger Project Portfolio.  Multiple Project Management tools are used.  PMs do not have defined career paths.  Some or all PMs haven't received formal project management training.  Projects are being done, but no one is really sure of project status, PMs probably aren't being managed, and the organization is most likely not getting any value from Ad Hoc Project Management.

02 Standardizing Project Delivery (1- 2 years)

Once you've reached this stage, projects are no longer run ad hoc, and standardized processes and tools are in place.  You've made good progress!  The challenges are not gone however, as you must now meet increasing expectations of leaders to consistently deliver successful projects.  The organization may be getting ready to build their first PMO during this stage, and your improvements are getting noticed.  Project Managers work together to share best practices, but leaders now want to see reports and measurements to understand the added value of extra costs.  You most likely have many skeptics in the organization who feel project management discipline isn't necessary.  Resource Management and Portfolio Management still aren't accepted, with projects being run by Accidental PMs.

03 Organizational Project Delivery (3-5 years)

You are really starting to make an impact in the organization with Project Management!  During this stage, your organization utilizes great practices with Portfolio Management, Resource Management, PPM tools, KPIs or other Metrics and your PMO is organized and effective.  This is also usually when organizational leaders grumble about the overhead of the PMO, and when processes get in the way of progress.  It may also be a struggle for the PMO to continue reporting to a specific function, such as IT, rather than at an Enterprise level.  The Project Management software you originally purchased is stretched to its limits and a more robust tool is most likely in order.  Your Project Managers probably have a defined career path but seek additional training to help them take on high-visibility projects.   As the PMO Leader, you seek coaching to help navigate the strategic organizational discussions you're being pulled into more often.

04 Strategic Project Delivery (6-8 years)

This is where many PMOs hit the wall.  The industry has begun to develop the SRO or Strategy Realization Office concept, but in reality, they are jumping through the Project Management Journey with little understanding of the complexities and benefits of walking through its stages.  

At this stage, Organizational Leaders participate in portfolio and resource discussions.  They see the benefits of successful project delivery and start planning which Project Management rock stars to assign to critical projects.  But something is missing; it seems as if the PMO and Project Management push has stalled.  

You know more is possible but are not sure how to get there.  This is when PMOs shift from tactical execution and governance to strategic delivery.  The mindset changes from "how are we doing" to "here's how we can drive competitive advantage".  Project Management is now a core competency within the organization, and Executive Leadership openly participates and supports Project Management activities and rituals.

05 Generating Value (9-10 years)

You've reached the Project Management Mountaintop, a place few PMOs reach!  The journey to stage five is long, usually 5 - 10 years, and many lessons are learned along the way.  Once there, the organization experiences the benefits of advanced Project Management and PMO capabilities.  

The organization embraces project delivery and aligns project outcomes with strategic decision making.  It is understood that each project is an investment in time, people, dollars, culture and reputation.  The Leadership Team and shareholders expect that projects will generate value for the organization.  There is enterprise-wide alignment on Portfolio and Resource decisions, Strategic Goals, and Project Delivery.

Did I Read that Right? 9-10 Years to Generate Value?

You read that right. It can take organizations up to ten years to utilize their PMO as a value generation engine to drive business objectives. Now, there’s plenty of value realized along the journey in prior milestones, but it takes time for a PMO to become an indispensable business tool. The goal is to have as much impact as core departments such as Finance, HR, IT, Marketing, or Sales. When times get tough, you’ll rarely, if ever, hear of companies eliminating their HR, Marketing, or Sales Departments. They are necessary to survive. But, you will see entire PMOs on the chopping block, unless they have become as integral to the business as these other key functions.

Not all organizations need, or want, to reach this level of maturity with their PMO.  Many organizations are happy to have a PMO reach Milestone 3 or Milestone 4.  You will need to weight the investment and effort to reach this level of maturity and the expected return you’ll receive from that investment.

One More Thing, and possibly the most important…Understand the Small Things

Every step along this journey requires attention to detail and execution of the smallest of tasks. For example, it’s one thing to say in Milestone 3 Organizational Delivery that everyone will know exactly how much time is needed to complete projects across the company. It’s an entirely different thing to check every day, week, and month that employees enter their time against the right projects, managers review and approve or reject time, and to generate valuable and meaningful reports. It’s a focus on and an understanding of the small things that make the big things possible.

Ultimately, there are no shortcuts. Just like a 13-year-old needs more time to mature to drive a car, a PMO needs time to mature to deliver strategic projects consistently. Determine where you are against the project management journey milestones and properly set the expectations of your management. This will ensure your PMO stays on the road to success and delivers value every step of the way!

In addition to setting up, could also include improving an existing PMO.  Setting Up is “exciting and scary” while improving might only be “scary” because your job is on the line as the mandate came down from above to make it better.