More PMOs than many believe deliver exceptional value. Yet, they support projects, programs and portfolios in a VUCA* world. Studying their real-life stories taught me three secrets that made them successful. Here is my most recent version of these three secrets.

*VUCA: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous

Secret #1 – High-Impact PMOs Ceaselessly Develop Their Capabilities

Project management requires to develop capabilities in the traditional technical, business and strategy, and leadership domains.

Complex project management requires complementing these capabilities with new skills in three areas:

  1. complexity sciences
  2. multi-modal strategies
  3. human dynamics

Complexity sciences reinforce the comprehension of system dynamics, nonlinearities, uncertainties, network analysis among other domains.

Explore in particular why things go ever faster and why there is an optimal equilibrium between planning and agility.

The figure below shows for example that an equibrium exists between order and non-order with an optimum in sustainability.

Ulanowicz complexity

Multi-modal strategies help to design project approaches that take into account real world behaviors.

They consider the need for different levels of squareness and roundness during the project lifecycle. They help for example to understand what a black swan is and what serendipity can do for you.

The figure below illustrates how you should hedge your strategic initiative portfolio. The light blue A group of initiatives contains those promising the biggest, lower-risk, and most regular benefits (the blue surface) that make the portfolio perform. The dark blue B part contains risky initiatives that could deliver very large benefits compensating for potentially deceptive benefits in the A group. B initiatives must outperform A initiatives in case these initiatives underperform.

Human dynamics develops the understanding of individuals, teams, and social groups behaviors.

They study their history, their culture, their geopolitical situation, and their interactions. You will apply human dynamics to project fatigue in your organization, to posture-adjusted interactions, and to the gains and reluctance that your stakeholders have regarding your initiatives.

Here is an example. It is important to understand and accept cultural differences if you want to develop trust between project stakeholders. The figure below visualizes a few country profiles against six cultural dimensions: interdependence, status, risk adversity, indirectness, relationships, and time horizon. It is inspired by Richard D. Lewis’ When cultures collide, leading across culture, and the internet site Aperian Global founded by Ted Dale and Ernest Gundling

Secret #2 – High-Impact PMOs Develop a Premium Customer / Stakeholder Orientation

Complex projects primary purpose is to serve a population.

These projects have a great many of stakeholders that are strongly intertwined. A myriad of interactions links them all in an impossible to precisely understand network. They form a complex adaptive system. New behaviors emerge that are impossible to predict. Most evolutions are non linear.

Yet the High-Impact PMO establishes a map of all these stakeholders. It constantly analyses their network and looks for important connexions and interactions, influencers, allies and opponents.

The figure below shows an example of a social dynamics map.  This map evaluates the degree of synergy and of antagonism of key stakeholders.

Socio dynamics golden triangle
  • The “Golden Triangle” contains key supporters who at the same time are challenging the project.
  • The red domain has the strongest opponents who do not show any synergy.
  • Each sector requires a specific stakeholder management plan.

The PMO understands that interactions are what makes the whole system behave. Working on the quality of these interactions becomes a key activity.

All sorts of techniques are available, from techniques designed for the individuals, to those available to teams and to large groups of people.

By doing so, the PMO considers stakeholders as “customers”, and its focus becomes customer-centric.

Secret #3 – High-Impact PMOs Are Result-Oriented

Traditional PMOs focus their activities on processes, methods and tools, monitoring and reporting.
High-Impact PMOs focus on delivering value and impact to their stakeholders.

Stakeholders (from team members to customers) are in a recursive loop. They expect and contribute at the same time to personal gains and to organizational benefits.

As individuals they look for personal gains (more wealth, new friends, a better health…) (hence the famous WIIFM What’s In It For Me question).

As members of a specific community, they want collective benefits (a favorable work environment, a market growth…).

The High-Impact PMO focuses its work on maximizing both these personal gains and the benefits for the communities.

They consider that money is a secondary result they get when and if the population adopts the program goal. Not vice-versa.

A Strategy Map Visualizes a Typical Application Of the Secret #3

PMOs can develop program strategy maps and balanced scorecards placing the “customer” dimension on top, as the target of the value creation process, while the “finance” or “resource” dimension is at the bottom as an enabler.

This is what the figure below shows as the example of an aerospace / avionics project aiming at providing an excellent turn-over time to airlines. Note that there is a specific “people” dimension since people are different from mere “resources”.

Strategy Map PMO

Yet, it understands from complexity sciences and game theory that it is useless to search for a global satisfaction of all. The goal becomes a trial and error journey towards optimizing the impacts of the project.

A Simple Reporting Format Focuses On the Results Expected At the End

Instead of reporting on compliance to standards and pre-established plans (that are never followed in a complex world), they constantly maintain a forward-looking view of the expected value.

For example, as shown on the following figure, these PMOs focus on a forward-looking view of progress and impact (or benefits) of the components of their project. They add a WIN or What’s Important Now [to do] (black if the solution is in your hands, red if you need help from others).

Such PMOs detect roadblocks, send alerts about milestones, benefits, and risks. They also prepare tough decision-making when needed.

Their support goes beyond getting the promised project output. These PMOs expand their support to the project sponsorship in order to make sure the project outcomes (benefits) are achieved. Above all, they strive to generate an impact.

Key takeaway

Whatever your role, your spans of control, or your current impact, you always have the opportunity to develop your competencies, your customer-centricity and result-orientation.

By following these secrets, you will sooner or later become a high-impact PMO.

To your continued success !


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