A few years ago, I have been given the chance to become the PMO of an exciting program. My wonderful boss proposed that we use the name Hummingbird for one of the most important initiatives of this program. The hummingbird is for me the very symbol of what is an agile PMO. So here is a selection of characteristics of this amazing bird for your weekend reading. I wish you a continued success!
Hummingbirds Belong to a Variety of Species
Hummingbirds are small and agile birds from the Americas. They constitute the family Trochilidae. Hummingbirds fall into nine main clades, the Topazes, Hermits, Mangoes, Brilliants, Coquettes, Patagona, Mountain Gems, Bees, and Emeralds. They count between 325 and 340 species.
So are the PMOs. Counting the PMOs in the world is difficult. However, PMOs can belong to several families (usually 3-7?), from project management office to program management office and enterprise management office. These families count a huge variety of situations defined by the domains, the level, the scope of control or the experience and capabilities they show.
One difference though is that we find PMOs all over the world and not only in the Americas. LinkedIn gives more than 830,000 results when you search for people with the word PMO, including tens of thousands outside Americas.
Hummingbirds Are Among the Smallest of Birds
They are among the smallest of birds, most species measuring 7.5–13 cm (3–5 in) in length. Female hummingbirds tend to be larger, requiring more energy, with longer beaks that allow for more effective reach into crevices of tall flowers for nectar. Thus females are better at foraging, acquiring flower nectar, and supporting the energy demands of their larger body size.
Agile PMOs should be very small too. I cannot imagine a heavy PMO being agile like a hummingbird. The best PMOs I have seen were made of only a few people. In a very large initiative, the PMO was made of a community of decentralized lean PMOs. The central PMO had not more than 2 members. But highly dedicated, motivated, and professional.
Hummingbirds Love Flowering Plants They Cross-pollinate
Hummingbirds love nectar-bearing flowering plants. They depend on flower nectar to fuel their high metabolisms and hovering flight. Many plants pollinated by hummingbirds produce flowers in shades of red, orange, and bright pink.
PMOs love great projects. There is nothing worse than a dull project where the PMO has neither challenge to overcome nor great purpose to contribute to. At the same time, a PMO going from an exciting project to another one cross-pollinates these projects.
Hummingbirds Fly with Breathtaking Agility
The hummingbird has a number of adaptations that allow it to fly with breathtaking agility and precision. Of all the known species of birds, the hummingbird is perhaps one of the most iconic because of its unique ability to hover. When they hover, hummingbirds move their wings more like a buzzing insect than a flapping bird. Some experts found that hummingbird’s wings have aerodynamic properties similar to helicopter blades. They hover in mid-air at rapid wing-flapping rates, which vary from around 12 beats per second in the largest species, to in excess of 80 in some of the smallest. Of those species that have been measured in wind tunnels, their top speed exceeds 15 m/s (54 km/h; 34 mph) and some species can dive at speeds in excess of 22 m/s (79 km/h; 49 mph).
It is why they are able to fly straight, in reverse, upwards, downwards, and even upside down.
An agile PMO is also capable to fly straight, in reverse, upwards, downwards, and even upside down. It supports complex projects with a remarkable agility allowing them to navigate the most VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) environments. They interact with stakeholders in every direction, vertically (up and down), laterally (with different functions, geographies, roles). They, like the Russian Sukhoi Pugachev’s Cobra, avoid opponent maneuvers and missiles.
Hummingbirds Hover for Very Long Periods of Time
Hummingbirds have also the ability to simply hover for very long periods of time. During flight, oxygen consumption per gram of muscle tissue in a hummingbird is about 10 times higher than that measured in elite human athletes. Hummingbirds are rare among vertebrates in their ability to rapidly make use of ingested sugars to fuel energetically expensive hovering flight.
Some projects are very long (more than 10 years). Some meetings are very long too (several days). It is important that PMOs demonstrate the ability to “hover” for very long periods of time.
Hummingbirds Acquire Vocalizations through Imitation
Consisting of chirps, squeaks, whistles and buzzes, hummingbird songs originate from at least seven specialized nuclei in the forebrain. In a genetic expression study, it was shown that these nuclei enable vocal learning (ability to acquire vocalizations through imitation), a rare trait known to occur in only two other groups of birds (parrots and songbirds) and a few groups of mammals (including humans, whales and dolphins and bats).
PMOs also imitate other professionals. By imitating, they learn to use a variety of approaches, methods, and tools from all sorts. Practicing this variety of solutions, they become able to use the most adapted of them to support their projects. They become able to adopt indifferently lean start-up or waterfall, hard or soft skills, project or portfolio management approaches.
Hummingbirds Have A High Spatial Resolution in Lateral and Frontal Visual Fields
During evolution, hummingbirds have adapted to the navigational needs of visual processing while in rapid flight or hovering by development of an exceptionally dense array of retinal neurons allowing for increased spatial resolution in the lateral and frontal visual fields. The enlargement of the brain region responsible for visual processing indicates enhanced ability for perception and processing of fast-moving visual stimuli which hummingbirds encounter during rapid forward flight, insect foraging, competitive interactions, and high-speed courtship. Hummingbirds can even see wavelengths into the near-ultraviolet.
The more complex a project, the more VUCA an environment, the more information is important for a PMO. Complex systems are highly sensitive to initial conditions. Early information gathered upstream is vital. They are also very much unpredictable to targets. Getting the most precise understanding of how a system behaves is necessary. The perception (reasoned or intuitive) of a PMO is a key success factor.
Hummingbirds Keep Their Head Positions Stable in Turbulences
During turbulent airflow conditions created experimentally in a wind tunnel, hummingbirds exhibit stable head positions and orientation when they hover at a feeder. In natural settings full of highly complex background motion, hummingbirds are able to precisely hover in place by rapid coordination of vision with body position.
The agile PMO demonstrates the same vital capability to maintain the head above water. Turbulences strike the project. Uncertainty and instability shake the course of the project. Conversations with colleagues, during meetings, or with executives can be difficult. However the PMO stays confident, calm, focused on the mission.
Hummingbirds Can Enter Hibernation-Like States
To conserve energy when food is scarce, and nightly when not foraging, they can go into torpor, a state similar to hibernation, slowing metabolic rate to 1/15th of its normal rate.
PMOs may go through hard times. Projects may be missing or slow moving. They may be on an initiative that is stopped, momentarily or not. I remember a construction site not far from where I live. When workers began digging the foundations, they found bones from the time Romans where there. Of course the project was stopped. It was time for the PMO to hibernate (in reality, do not do this, study and learn, apply for a new PMO role, or take long vacations).
Hummingbirds Have a Lifespan of 3 to 5 Years
Many hummingbirds die during their first year of life, especially in the vulnerable period between hatching and fledging, those that survive may occasionally live a decade or more. Among the better-known North American species, the average lifespan is probably 3 to 5 years.
Not too different from PMOs’ life spans on a project? Some leave a project early. Others last longer. A key difference with hummingbirds though is that PMOs have the privilege to find new lives every time one is gone. Still better, their new lives are increasingly exciting. They support larger domains and endeavors (think of the PMOs in mega-projects or consider Enterprise PMOs). They master more and more state-of-the-art approaches to project management (look at the recent progress in project management science). They have larger scope of responsibilities. They truly get great personal development and satisfaction. This is really what I wish for you.
To Your Continued Success!
Check out my New Book
This book explores a series of real life snapshots showing how project management practioners and especially PMOs can confront a VUCA world. It gives valuable insights that will allow you to more successfully navigate the wave of complexity that is coming our way.
You can also contact me at www.philippehusser.com