The High Impact PMO



How do complexity sciences, indirect strategies and human dynamics advance project management at new levels of performance ?



3 Secrets Successful PMOs Learn and Apply

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 !

Philippe


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3 Tips to Generate High Impacts as a PMO

What does it mean that you generate high impacts as a PMO? Let us review what an impact is and how PMOs can be high-impact.

The challenge

The noun “impact” has indeed two meanings:

  1. An impact is the action of one object coming forcibly into contact with another.
  2. An impact is also a marked effect or influence on someone or something.

Many PMOs basically focus on tracking and reporting on project progress.

Some organize, run, and develop project, program, and portfolio management systems, processes, methods, tools, and teams.

Others have even much larger scopes of responsibility. They play more strategic roles. Among those are the Enterprise PMO or the Strategic Initiative Officer (SIO).

Yet, a few PMOs only deserve the term “high-impact”.

Those High-Impact PMOs are able to create sudden, powerful, and positive effects on their environment. What do they have in common ?

High-Impact PMOs come into contact

First, High-Impact PMOs “come into contact”.

These PMOs are not hidden behind a computer screen. They provide more than a “back office” support.

They organize and animate encounters with a variety of stakeholders. So, they listen to the expectations, needs, or constraints of all.

They learn and practice all sorts of Human Dynamics. And they love to apply them to an ever-growing network of allies that they build over time.

This PMO will for example realize and regularly update a network analysis of the stakeholders’ community.

It will identify the nodes, the relationships, and their characteristics. It will then work on these relationships and their effect on the community’s behavior seen as a complex adaptive system.

This is for example the case in most governmental projects that concern numerous groups of people, especially with a weak majority and more or less intransigent minorities. This is also the case in all major projects that engage people from diverse functions, industries, and nationalities.

They Play a Strategic Role

Then, High-Impact PMOs play a strategic role.

They facilitate actively and responsively the successful implementation of strategic initiatives over time.

Because they meet high-level executives, they understand their vision and their strategic goals. They thus become able to make sure that the endeavors they enable are strongly aligned with these goals.

To play this role, they develop a strategic thinking in everything they do.

The PMO will for example focus primarily on company mission-critical projects and investments.

It will challenge their alignment with strategic goals, their interdependencies, and even challenge the strategic goals when unclear or not coherent.

A typical case where this two-way challenge happens can be found in major transversal supply chain projects within a fast-moving business model.

They enable powerful effects

Finally, High-Impact PMOs enable rapid, powerful, and lasting effects.

These PMOs continuously observe their environment. They develop and maintain a series of options that hedge their project or portfolio against unfavorable unexpected events.

Conversely, they expose them to the occurrence of favorable opportunities that they seize without delay.

This requires from these PMOs unusual knowledge in strategy and change management as well as in all sorts of sciences like complexity or behavioral sciences.

Such a PMO will create for example an initial shock.

He will detect early on systemic biases in the initial cost estimates of a major program. He will immediately recommend, if necessary, that the level of investment or the duration of the program be significantly readjusted (increased), even if this generates enemies around him.

The Differences Between a PMO And a High-Impact PMO

As a conclusion, the three characteristics below are the differentiators that make certain PMOs carry the label of “high-impact” PMOs.

Here are thus three words to retain:

  1. Contact
  2. Strategy
  3. Effect

Do you agree? What are your thoughts?

To your success

Philippe

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5 Tips To Create a PMO From The Bottom-Up

The classical way of creating an Enterprise PMO is most often described as top-down.
“5 tips to create a PMO” is another way, the bottom-up way.

This approach works best in the most advanced organizations that demonstrate a high level of trust, empowerment, and autonomy among their employees.

Why would you indeed bother senior executives with a project of setting up a PMO?

Start instead with a community of skin-in-the-game[1] players in the field of portfolio, program, and project management. Identify together your pain points, select solutions, and implement them one after the other.

The reward is soon a visible higher performance in the way the company is realizing its projects and getting benefits from them.

Here are 5 key steps to help you set up a PMO bottom-up:

1-Establish a powerful and appealing cause for a PMO.

A cause is the first asset you should develop. This intangible asset will counterbalance the tangible assets the organization has (legitimate authority, money, resources…)

This cause must be appealing. It should present positive elements for each and everyone, not only for a minority.

These positive outcomes are both personal gains for the individuals adopting the cause (reduce project fatigue, increase career development…), and organizational benefits for the organization as a whole (superior project benefits realization, stronger strategic alignment, reduced project costs and duration…).

Output of this step: a short and powerful phrase telling what you want to do and why.

Examples: “Make project management a win-win game” or “No more nasty surprises in projects, only good ones”.

2-Build a community of diverse project stakeholders volunteering to devote time and experience to this cause.

Start with a core team of volunteers, experts, influencers willing to devote a portion of their energy to work for the cause.

The community should comprise individuals from a variety of levels (senior leaders, middle managers…), functions (manufacturing, information systems, product development…), roles (sponsors, portfolio managers, project managers, product owners, release train engineers…).

Output of this step: a core team of engaged players and an agenda of working sessions.

Example of core team: 12 members including an executive sponsor, business leaders, a portfolio manager, a few program and project managers, PMOs, specialists in various domains.

Example of agenda: ½ day together every month, workload between each meeting to be adjusted every month.

3-Identify the pain points met by the stakeholders of the organization’s portfolios, programs and projects.

The cause must answer real problems or needs met by people and the organization.

You will have during some time only one asset, which is the power of this cause aiming at answering these problems and needs. The organization has control on all other assets, from the command and control to the infrastructure and the management of money.

These pain points detail how you intend to respond to your cause.

Output of this step: a list of pain points identified by key stakeholders and a SWOT focused on the vital few internal strengths, weaknesses, and external threats and opportunities.

Examples: opportunity offered by new technology (IA), threat from new entrants in business, weakness in complex program management, strength of the strategic initiative portfolio.

4-Establish an action plan designed to eliminate the pain points

Identify improvement actions based on the SWOT. Rank the actions by highest impact and accessibility. Start with action #1. When finished, take action #2…

Impact defines something that creates sudden, powerful, and positive effects on the environment.

Accessibility must start with actions that the core team has the capability to realize on its own (including its close network).

Outputs of this step: visible improvements in the domain of project management.

Examples: coherence in the methods and tools used across the organization, project fatigue eliminated in overloaded areas, new critical training modules available (starting with training for sponsors).

5-Remain low-profile and trust that success will come over time through your results and your network

Realizing things is your priority. Not communication. Nor lobbying for immediate executive sponsorship.

Onboard necessary people to develop solutions and to adopt these solutions in their job. Develop your network and a community of allies.

Create a knowledge base with great methods, tools, and tips. Keep live a logbook of your progress with what works and what does not work (what does not work is often more useful than what works).

Be patient and resilient. Success can come at any time.

Above all, “you need to be a real “servant leader” and at the same time you are a salesman for the PMO”[2].

Output of this step: survival and development of the initiative, then organizational benefits, then personal gains.

Results

The community starts like a community of practice and a “virtual PMO“.
It quickly becomes a Center of Excellence.

And by the right choice of its members, it soon includes “de facto” PM and PMO roles in charge of part or all of the organization’s portfolio, program, and project management activity.

This approach creates improvements and results that leaders can see.
They understand that a PMO is more a value-adding function than a cost center.
They see their team as autonomous, empowered and accountable.

Executives recognize the initiative and its results. They support it and give it a legitimacy.

Do you agree?

To your continued success

Philippe

[1] I take the expression from Nassim N. Taleb’s book Skin in the Game.

[2] Martin Gray, Director Professional Development, PMI France recommends rightly the servant leader and the salesman role. Why not read Dan Pink’s book To Sell is Human.


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Never Give Up Your Hopes And Your Dreams

When you feel pushed aside and lonely, never give up your hopes and your dreams.
Remember all great people who went through this hardship before you.

Remember those who have been imprisoned

Socrates (guilty of both corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens and of impiety), Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (in prison in 1922 and 1942), Saint John of the Cross, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Nelson Mandela (27 years in the notorious Robben Island penitentiary), Vaclav Havel (had various stints in prison before rising to the presidency) …

Remember those who have “crossed the desert”

Moses and the Hebrew (during 40 years), Jesus (during 40 days), Mahomet (as a child), Abraham Lincoln (didn’t stop failing before becoming a president), Einstein (a failed scientist and an unknown 26-year-old clerk before his “miracle year” in 1905), Soichiro Honda (jobless for some time), Churchill (lost every election for public office until he finally became the Prime Minister at the ripe old age of 62), Charles de Gaulle (withdrew from political scene between 1946 and 1958), Herbert Von Karajan (lived in the Austrian Alps while his competitors “decimated themselves in the Viennese battle”)…

Remember those who have lost offspring, health, job, or property

Job, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (dismissal from a position as a court musician in Salzberg), Igor Stravinsky (first audiences of the Rite of Spring rioted, running the composer out of town), Henry Ford (after a series of flops and failures), Elvis Presley (“They told me I couldn’t sing”), Michael Jordan… …

Remember those who have been said that they would never succeed

Charlie Chaplin (Hollywood said he was a little too nonsensical to ever sell), Albert Einstein (thought to be mentally handicapped), Harrison Ford (movie execs said that he simply didn’t have what it takes to be a star), JK Rowling (twelve publishing houses rejected her first book), Oprah Winfrey (fired from her job as a television reporter because she was “unfit for TV”)…

The benefits of solitude

Einstein would regularly go for long walks, wander off to quiet cabins in the mountains, play his violin, or sail in the seas with his wooden boat to find serenity.

The modern cult of extreme activity teaches us that doing nothing at all is an unproductive strategy for lazy people.

Yet, it is during moments of crisis, silence and solitude that we can discover ingenious solutions to complex problems and make great decisions.

God has shown us, especially during Lent, how the Lord spent 40 days in the desert. And how the Cross made Him apparently ineffective, yet wonderfully fruitful in offering us Salvation.

Please send me new examples or details if you want

Philippe

High-Impact PMO

Gains, Reluctance, and Resistance in Projects

Gains and resistance in projects are common. All projects generate indeed a change in the life of many of their stakeholders.
One root condition to give life to the project purpose is the program team understanding of the population attitude regarding the expected project outputs and outcomes.

A simple grid evaluates the project impact on stakeholder’s

The PMO has a tool to propose to the project team. This tool is the grid of figure 1.

This grid evaluates for each segment of stakeholders their gains, reluctance, and resistance when confronted to the program change.

Figure 1 gives an example. It shows the gain / reluctance / resistance evaluation for a population of financial controllers. They are going to join a new Shared Service Center. Also, this center is far from the historical company headquarters.

The grid describes each gain / reluctance / resistance. Each receives a category: imagery (I) / symbolic (S) / real (R). We then evaluate their impact as strong (St) or weak (We).

Gain and losses grid PMO

Figure 1 – Evaluation of gains, reluctance, and resistance of financial controllers moving to a new Shared Service Center drives an action plan.

For each population, the project team must do something. This is the column “recommended action”.

Stakeholders show synergy or opposition

People show synergy or opposition because they see gains or losses in the change induced by the project.

What are the gains? The gains are the personal benefits they expect from the project. These gains can be, for example, a more exciting job, a higher salary, and a great team ambiance.

Here is an example of gains. Who does not enjoy a glass of champagne? In the French Champagne “maisons”, the cellar workers traditionally enjoy the privilege of making for themselves a small Champagne cuvee produced from the finest wines. This cuvee is an enjoyable gain for them through its finesse and elegance, and also through the pride it gives them.

But there may also be losses. The losses can be real and endanger the most fundamental, pragmatic, and tangible needs.

Such needs can be relocation far from their family center of gravity and lesser compensation or benefits. They can concern the imagery when the change concerns the psychological and sociologic level and its fears, beliefs, and interpretations.

For example, people may have a wrong representation of their level of autonomy and of their capacity to take initiatives. The losses can finally be symbolic in relation with the culture, the legitimacy, and the social standing.

The fear of such losses keeps people to react with temporary reluctance or durable resistance to the project changes.

Listening to people is the key success factor

Listening to people is the key success factor. It is the basis for establishing both a social dynamic map and an evaluation of their gains, reluctance, and resistance.

Symptoms are subjective signs that people notice. Signs are more objective and measurable. Both are important. And Project Managers, PMOs, and any project team member has the duty to detect them and input them into the project stakeholder management plan.

Thoai Phong Nguyen[1] is a consultant expert in company transformation. He has been the architect of a transformation framework for several difficult projects with strong social contents. He used to look for symptoms belonging to three categories:

  1. Symptoms related to the end of the historical state
  2. Symptoms appearing during the transition phase
  3. Symptoms born at the early stage of a new state

Among the symptoms “of the end”, you find many important attitudes. One is the winners / losers perception. Another one is the “they / us” distinction. And there are also other signs.

Among them: an abnormal search for information, inward looking or defensive attitudes, fear, the loss of consensus, and of course an increase in absenteeism. When things go bad, action paralysis, slow decision-making, disobedience to the instructions, and an increase in quality incidents are clear symptoms of disorder.

The transition phase may see symptoms like resentment, anger, depression, bargaining, new real or unconscious barriers. But also acceptance, expectations, or new significance.

When you do not accompany change well, people start looking for symbols, asking for rules and instructions, or expressing regrets for the past. The social cohesion deteriorates, and key people resign.

Once in the new start, people progressively forgot the past. New initiatives and positive attitudes arise. They understand the logic of the change. New leaders rise, and productivity increases. People adopt the new reality. They develop a sense of pride in belonging, a reinforced social cohesion, and they confirm or revisit the corpus of values

Conclusion: the key role of PMOs

PMOs are key actors in this process. They organize very early on the progressive evolution of the behaviors required by a project. They emphasize the gains, and they act to reduce the losses, real or feared.

Once they have established the project purpose, they can evaluate the stakeholders’ gains, reluctance, and resistance when confronted to the program change. This understanding allows to prepare answers reinforcing the gains or alleviating the reluctance and the resistance.

To Your Continued Success

Philippe

High-Impact PMO

[1] http://transformations.eu.com/

Three Levels From Projects to Transformations

In project management, most available bodies of knowledge seem to address indifferently all kinds of projects. Yet, real life shows that realizing a new piece of software has little to do with streamlining a supply chain or organizing the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

Mao Zedong identified this problem a long time ago. He wrote a text right after the Long March: Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War. Mao explained in this text the lessons he learned from the Long March :

[People] say that it is enough merely to study the laws of war in general… They do not see that these manuals give merely the laws of war in general and moreover are wholly copied from abroad, and that if we copy and apply them exactly without the slightest change in form or content, we shall be “cutting the feet to fit the shoes” and be defeated.

But here is the solution according to Mao. In effect, if you read Mao’s book further, you will read this:

The laws of war—this is a problem that anyone directing a war must study and solve.

The laws of revolutionary war—this is a problem that anyone directing a revolutionary war must study and solve.

The laws of China’s revolutionary war—this is a problem that anyone directing a revolutionary war in China must study and solve.

If you paraphrase these three statements, you can replace war by project, revolutionary war by major or complex project, and China by the name of the ecosystem where your project takes places.

Here is what it produces:

  • The laws of project management—this is a problem that anyone directing a project must study and solve.
  • The laws of complex project management—this is a problem that anyone directing a complex project must study and solve.
  • The laws of complex project management in [this ecosystem]—this is a problem that anyone directing a complex project in [this ecosystem] must study and solve.

What does it mean for you? A career in project management is a very exciting journey. learning and growing have no limits. The traditional bodies of knowledge help tremendously? Yet they are insufficient to guaranty the success in all situations.

Directing the organization of the future Olympic Games in Paris requires a very high level of specific expertise and experience. Leading the digital transformation of your company relies on a different set of capabilities. And building a new aircraft or a new submarine is a profession in itself.

I wish project management professional associations publish not only the traditional basic knowledge, but also the  elements specific to a variety of professions and projects.

To your continued success,

Philippe

High-Impact PMO

9 Tips For An Agile PMO

Delivering value is a key goal for Project Management Offices. Yet, this is especially difficult in a world that becomes ever more complex. Agile Project Management Offices however succeed better than others to face this complexity challenge.

What makes Agile PMOs different ?

Agile PMOs anticipate the trends and the needs of the organization they support. They adjust in advance their structure, their service offers (hard and soft), and their capabilities. By doing so, they enable the future.

How do Agile PMOs deliver better value?

Here again are a few thoughts. Agile PMOs explore, learn and promote 9 key characteristics (among many others) that contribute to delivering value in a complex environment:

1 – Agile mindset

Ceaselessly understand and practice the agile mindset (a mental state involving beliefs, feelings, values, and dispositions to act in ways that favor agility). At the same time, understand that an optimum exists between total agility and total “control”.

Example: The PMO mesures its impact with a Balanced Scorecard that positions the “people dimension” (the project stakeholders and customers, project team, community) on top as a result of processes and resources.

2 – Characteristics of complexity

Explore, test, and learn the characteristics of complexity, for example: self-organization, emergence, sensitivity to initial conditions, nonlinearities, acceleration of time, fractals, and scaling proprieties to cite a few.

Example: the PMO invests upstream time and energy to understand the project objectives, constraints, and context and gets knowledge from similar past projects in order to limit the risks of later gaps in (budget, time…) forecasts.

3 – Community of decentralized PMOs

Prefer a community of decentralized PMOs / change agents acting as proxies to a heavy centralized PMO when supporting major transformation programs.

Example: the (central) PMO applies the principle of subsidiarity and does nothing that can be decided, done or controlled locally. At the same time, this PMO animate a community of decentralized PMOs that are well embedded in their terrain.

4 – Human dynamics

Learn and practice network analysis, social dynamics, cognitive biases detection, and generally speaking everything related to human dynamics like why tipping points emerge in social transformations.

Example: the agile PMO establishes and maintains continuously a map of the project stakeholders (individuals and groups) with their degree of synergy and antagonism regarding the project. This map is the input of an action plan and its regular updates. They themselves escape any “Bed of Procrustes” that limits their influence. Read also an example of cognitive bias applied to benefits management here.

5 – Multicultural understanding

Learn cultural traits, develop multicultural understanding (functional, geographical, generational…) and adjust postures accordingly.

Example: the agile PMO adjust the meetings’ agenda to the cultural preferences of the participants. Among these preferences are the participants action orientation or relationship orientation, their attitude regarding status, risk-adversity, or time (long-term versus short-term)…

6 – Methodologies adjusted to your specific needs

Rely on proven methodologies but adjust these methodologies to the specific needs of the projects, programs, and portfolios.

Example: agile PMOs master the PMBOK body of knowledge and adapt its processes to the requirements of the organization, its environment, and of the project. They do not manage an information system project like an Olympics infrastructure project.

7 – Variety of methods and tools

Break the silos between the different schools of thought in project management and master a variety of methods and tools.

Example: agile PMOs have onboarded experts of SCRUM or Design Thinking as well as experts of Waterfall. They know how to mix the approaches in a major program requiring go-to-market processes, manufacturing plants, and people hiring and training projects.

8 – Nimble management systems

Implement nimble management systems that are nimbler than the organization’s management system (Ashby’s law).

Example: agile PMOs implement different steering systems at each level of their governance process, each adapted to its audience (senior executives, …, operational levels), that are forward-looking, and faster than the legacy system.

9 – Value orientation

Replace the cost-scope-time orientation by a value orientation (impact on customers, community, team, organizational sustainability…). Everything else is an unsolvable “three-body problem”.

Example: agile PMOs push their project leadership to use a single goal, that is clearly defined, with a handful of accompanying principles. This the best (if not only) way to drive to success a complex system. Everything beyond this is surplus.

And, why not read also why Agile PMOs are similar to hummingbirds.

To your continued success

Philippe


The article is inspired from my book the High-Impact PMO that you can buy on Amazon

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Never Give Up: Success Can Come At Any Time

Many ask : “I am not recognized in my PMO role. What should I do?”
I went through the same issue several times. Here are 7 actions that made me overcome such situations.

1 – Do not fear to fail. Learn from failures. Yet, avoid ruin, and beware of success.

2 – Be thoroughly stakeholder-centric. Identify each of your stakeholders and recognize their personal needs and their business expectations. Do your best to answer them.

3 – Find and stay in the environment of great leaders. But, leave as soon as possible mediocre ones. Never get into a “bed of Procrustes” (a symbol of conformism and standardization).

4 – Do not hide behind your computer. Bring around you numerous talents of all sorts. Animate their community.

5 – Get the most possible great opportunities to grow through a variety of exposures (sizes, domains, regions, complexity…)

6 – Stay ahead of the wave. The universe is accelerating. Go beyond the technical, business, and leadership capabilities by studying complexity sciences, quirky strategies, and human dynamics.

7 – Never give up. Learn and practice all sorts of methods and tools. Understand what works best where. Search for advice from others. And put your skin in the game.

To your continued success

Philippe

High-Impact PMO

Order and Absence of Order, or “Solve et Coagula”

Order and absence of order: what can you do as a PMO?
A Project Management Officer is often a kind of alchemist, always in search of the best balance between SOLVE and COAGULA, between YIN and YANG, or ORDER and ABSENCE of ORDER.

“Systems that endure – that is, are sustainable – lie in dynamic balance somewhere between these two poles of order and disorder, efficient performance and adaptive resilience”.

This is what tells us Robert E. Ulanowicz, a theoretical ecologist and philosopher in his search for a unified theory of ecology[1]. Ulanowicz is an American theoretical ecologist and philosopher of Polish descent who in his search for a unified theory of ecology formulated a paradigm called Process Ecology.

Ulanowicz explains that an ecosystem self-organizes, or diminishes its internal entropy, by increasing its interconnectivity :

  • Order leads to greater efficiency (usage of resources).
  • Absence of order, with means of interconnectivity and diversity, leads to greater resilience.

This is really something that must engage the project management community. The figure below shows this search of balance between order (planning) and diversity or interconnectivity.

Nature selects for a balance between the two opposing poles of efficiency and resilience.

Ulanowicz demonstrates that this balance is closer to the absence of order than to the order [2] and that it is found within a “window of viability” through a test and learn process.

In the same manner, leaders understand this search for a balance between order and absence of order [3] in the social, political, and economic domains.

They recognize that finding this balance is not easy. And they accept oscillations within this “window of viability” around the optimal balance.

Above all, they know that this equilibrium is indispensable for long-term sustainability and health.

  • Too much efficiency leads to brittleness (and incapacity to manage shocks).
  • Too much resilience (or diversity and interconnectivity) leads to stagnation (due to a lack of efficiency).

And, worst, an excess of either attribute leads to systemic instability and collapse. Ecosystems that survive and develop are those that achieve a balance between the mutually exclusive attributes of efficiency and resilience. This is a “universal conversation between structure building and dissipation.”

How does it apply to Project Management and what can you do as a PM and a PMO?

Ulanowicz findings doubtlessly apply to the domain of Project Management in its broadest definition (from Strategy Execution to Portfolio, Program, and Project Management).

Project Management also has a “window of viability” around an optimal point.

That is to say that mixing deterministic and adaptive into some kind of hybrid approach is surely the domain to study and learn in priority today.

Most Project Management Schools of thought develop such research [4].

The PMs, the PMOs, the Project Teams, as well as any kind of agile organization, could do several things to get as close as possible to the “window of viability”.

Here are 3 ways to help to position a project around the critical point of highest resilience, developed in my book The High-Impact PMO :

1 – Introduce as early as possible a positive high-impact surprise in a new project.

Example: create an initial shock challenging the status quo by making the leadership team immediately stop a lagging project competing for the key resources the organization needs. Later, introduce new “vibrations” to the project in order to test the equilibrium and navigate the window of viability.

2 – Make your project management system both agile and controlled.

Example: make it much more agile than the management system of your organization (see the Ashby law of requisite variety). And make sure that order remains in order to direct the agile activities in a common direction towards the organization’s strategic goals. This requires leaders to be ambidextrous.

3 – Develop Barbell strategies (read Nassim N. Taleb’s book Antifragile).

Example: create options in your projects with many low-risk high-probability low-impact actions and a few high-risk low-probability high-(positive)-impact actions. Nothing in the middle.

To your continued success

Philippe

High-Impact PMO

[1] Ulanowicz uses techniques from information theory and thermodynamics to study the organization of flows of energy and nutrients within ecosystems. His ideas have been primarily applied in ecology. Similarly, many of his concepts have been applied to other areas in which flow networks arise, for instance in psychology and economics.

[2] The graph represents the function f(x) = (x-1) * Log(1-x) where x varies between 0 (order) and 1 (absence of order).

[3] Read the chapter 2.4 of my book The High-Impact PMO published in Oct. 2017 and how R.E. Unanowicz helps anyone, especially agilists, leading a successful transformation.  

[4] In France, contact for example my friend Stephane Derouin and the Hybrid Management Institute-HMI.

Project Managers and Speed – Alice, and the Red Queen

1. Alice and the Red Queen

Did you ever read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?

An English mathematician, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, under the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll, wrote this novel in 1865. What may be less known is that soon after this, Lewis Carroll wrote a sequel to Alice in Wonderland.

This sequel is a novel titled Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.

Alice crosses a mirror and enters an alternative world. There she meets a White Queen and a Red Queen. Alice grabs the Red Queen, believing her to be responsible for all the day’s nonsense she finds in this world.

At some point, the Red Queen tells Alice:

Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!

When you look at your own environment, what do you see? Do not things seem to accelerate ceaselessly? I am sure you also find that our world is without respite, accelerating as if time is becoming shorter and shorter.

Running faster

2. The Ceaseless Race

When I was a young boy, getting a TV set was a hot business. While radio took around 40 years to achieve 50 million listeners, TV only required 20 years to enter in 50 million homes.

Nowadays, Facebook only required around 2 years to get 50 million subscribers. And Facebook counts now around 2 billion active users every month while Pokemon Go got 50 million players in less than 20 days.

Today, the volume of data memorized or shared worldwide is growing at a pace never seen before. We face an impossible challenge due to this huge growth of data produced and accessible. According to the consulting firm BCG, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are generated every day.

A single New York Times release contains today more information than what your grandfather would have accessed during his entire life a century ago. Wikipedia, launched in 2001, counts more than 40 million articles in more than 250 different languages, immensely more than for example the famous Encyclopedia Britannica.

3. Why Are We Running Twice as Fast?

The French physicist and astronomer François Roddier gives us some clarification in his book The Thermodynamics of Evolution:[1]

“The universe incessantly strives to maximize the speed with which energy dissipates. That this principle also applies to human evolution should therefore not surprise us.”

In 1988, the American scientist Rod Swenson recognized the Law of Maximum Entropy Production (LMEP or MEP) that states

“The world will select the path or assemblage of paths out of available paths that minimizes the potential or maximizes the entropy at the fastest rate given the constraints.”

What does it mean? Swenson and Turvey provided the following example[2] that clarifies how the law works:

“This is the example of a warm mountain cabin in cold snow-covered woods with the fire that provided the heat having burned out. Under these circumstances there is a temperature gradient between the warm cabin and cold woods.

The second law [of thermodynamics] tells us that over time the gradient or potential will be dissipated through walls or cracks around the windows and door until the cabin is as cold as the outside and the system is in equilibrium.

We know empirically though that if we open a window or a door a portion of the heat will now rush out the door or window and not just through the walls or cracks.

In short whenever we remove a constraint to the flow (such as a closed window) the cabin/environment system will exploit the new and faster pathway thereby increasing the rate the potential is minimized.”

4. Speed Is the Result of a Positive Feedback Loop

The universe follows this optimization algorithm supported by a positive feedback loop. It constantly thrives to maximize the dissipation of its energy or the entropy production rate. It does this by forming ever more complex structures.

This is what the Nobel Prize of chemistry Ilya Prigogine explains:

“The universe evolves by forming physical structures capable of dissipating ever more efficiently energy. Stars, planets, plants, animals, and humans form such a series of structures.”

The following figure explains the positive feedback loop driving the course of the evolution :

positive_loop

Open Systems have a five-step thermodynamic loop while looking for maximizing the speed with which they dissipate their energy or their information.

Human organizations, especially, are dissipative structures that are thermodynamically open systems operating out of, and often far from, thermodynamic equilibrium in an environment with which they exchange energy, information, and matter.

5. Social Organizations Self-Organize

A dissipative structure has the propriety to self-organize. By doing so, it diminishes its internal entropy by exporting it to the outside. It maximizes the entropy flow to the outside. In statistical mechanics, energy dissipation is called “entropy production.”[3]

As soon as 1922, Alfred Lotka, famous for his work in population dynamics and energetics, hypothesized that natural selection fosters organisms that capture and dissipate the fastest and the most efficient energy (or produce the most entropy). Lotka also explained why nature created structures capable to memorize ever more information.

Since then, Claude Shannon, an American mathematician, electrical engineer, and cryptographer became “the father of information theory.” He is the first to have linked entropy and information. Shannon developed information entropy as a measure of the uncertainty in a message.

Entropy is thus a measure of our lack of information, our ignorance if you prefer. Energy and information are equivalent. Major consequences affect all of us.

First, when entropy increases, information diminishes, the past fades, and the future becomes more unpredictable.

Then, by dissipating energy, a system also modifies its environment. This is what Odrum confirmed later in 1955[4]:

“During self-organization, systems designs develop and prevail that maximize power intake, energy transformation, and those uses that reinforce production and efficiency.”

Mankind develops its well-being by maximizing the speed with which it dissipates energy, memorizes information, modifies the environment, and adapts to these changes. We self-organize and diminish our internal entropy by exchanging energy and information with the outside world.

6. Why Project Managers Must Go Ever Faster

These laws have a consequence on natural selection. Natural selection is a physical process that maximizes the flow of energy.

This clearly relates to project management in complex organizations.

Project environments are equivalent to dissipative systems maximizing the speed of exchange of energy, information, and matter with their outside world.

What means “dissipating more energy” for a project? Has a project that produces the largest energy flow more chance to succeed? Is this the key reason why the project management community develops approaches ever more agile?

Some companies love “Skunk Works”. If this designation originated in secret aircraft projects at Lockheed Martin, an American firm of the defense industry, it is often found in reorganization projects or new product introduction projects that remain for some time isolated from the outside world.

These projects look like thermos flasks. In such a closed system, any structure (all differences) progressively disappears. The liquid becomes lukewarm. Every move stops. There is an irremediable loss of information.

In reality, to be successful, projects must resemble open systems accepting to exchange energy and information with their outside environment.

An open system is in a thermodynamic unbalance.

Ordered structures and movements appear.
New information arises (and with its unpredictability).
Entropy diminishes.

The structures that appear within open systems self-organize by memorizing information on their environment.

That allows them to maximize the production of free energy and thus to “survive”.
And they doubtless do this by developing first a global brain based on all the brains of all the project stakeholders.

This is achieved by interconnecting effectively this community of stakeholders and by favoring the development of project information.
Traditional vertical approaches cannot compete anymore to deliver the same effectiveness.

7. Selection of Takeaways

  1. The universe incessantly strives to maximize the speed with which energy dissipates.
  2. Energy and information are equivalent.
  3. This principle applies to most projects.
  4. Successful projects resemble open systems that self-organize.
  5. They create new ordered structures, movements, and information.
  6. Information should freely flow within and outside the project environment.
  7. Your own takeaway… ?

To your continued success

Philippe

High-Impact PMO

[1] François Roddier, Thermodynamics of Evolution, An essay of thermo-bio-sociology, Parole Editions, 2012.

[2] Swenson, R. and Turvey, M.T. (1991). Thermodynamic reasons for perception-action cycles. Ecological Psychology, 3(4), 317-348. Translated and reprinted in Perspectives on Affordances, in M. Sasaki (ed.). Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1998 (in Japanese).

[3] Dewar, R.C., Maximum entropy production and the fluctuation theorem, J. Phys. A: Math. Gen. 38 (2005) L371-L381.

[4] Odum, H.T., The maximum power principle, 1995.