40 years of project management practice in complex environments have taught me three secrets. When absent, benefits were not forthcoming. When present, they enabled success. Here are these three secrets for value-driven PMOs and everyone in charge of complex projects, programs and portfolios.
- Become customer-centric
- Focus on benefits
- Learn out-of-the-box capabilities
Every PMO practicing these three secrets gets a chance to become sooner or later a High-Impact PMO. Those PMOs are able to create sudden, powerful, and positive effects on their environment.
Secret #1 – Become Customer(Stakeholder)-Centric
Projects’ purpose is to serve people by solving a problem or answering a need. Project stakeholders expect the project to contribute both to gains for themselves (education, wealth, well-being…) and to benefits for their organization (development, sustainability…).
Therefore, the High-Impact PMO seeks to maximize both. By doing so, the PMO is customer or stakeholder-centric.
Considering a variety of stakeholders / customers makes any project both exciting and complex. It is exciting by the stakes. It is complex by the interactions within the ecosystem that the project must change. There, PMOs particularly facilitate connections between people and groups. They know that the performance of a complex system is built upon relationships and not only on individual capabilities.
So, this is the power of the stakekholder-centric purpose that is the primary capital of a project. And this secret requires a very special capability from the PMO. The PMO must indeed understand the human dynamics that shape the whole ecosystem concerned by the project.
Secret #2 – Focus on Benefits
Too many PMOs focus their activities on processes, methods and tools. They primarily deliver back-office activities.
Yet successful projects are like running a Formula 1 race. PMOs may play a strategic role. They do not only make sure the best car will be available for the race. They also work on the pilot development, the race strategy, and many other key success factor required, including the spectators’ happiness.
Their main focus is on enabling the race to deliver value to the race stakeholders, including the public, the Formula 1 team, and its sponsors.
This requires a completely different posture from the PMOs. Instead of reporting on compliance to standards and pre-established plans (that are never followed in a complex world, and should not be), these PMOs constantly maintain a forward-looking view of the expected value. They see their environment as a complex adaptive system. And they facilitate the emergence over time of the best solutions providing the highest benefits.
PMOs also detect roadblocks and send alerts about milestones, benefits, and risks, preparing tough decision-making when needed. As a result, they expand their support to the project sponsorship by making sure that the project outcomes and benefits are realized.
Secret #3 – Learn Out-of-the-Box Capabilities
Project management requires project practioners to develop the traditional technical, business and strategy, and leadership skills.
Yet if these skills were sufficient, the project success rate would be much higher. Successful project management requires complementing these basic skills with new capabilities adapted to our current environment and anticipating its very fast evolution.
High-Impact PMOs face three domains that challenge their capabilities. They are the domains of complexity sciences, of multi-modal strategies, and of human dynamics (“The High-Impact PMO” describes in detail these three domains).
Complexity sciences reinforce the comprehension of systems dynamics.
PMOs explore nonlinearities, uncertainties, network analysis to cite a few domains. They also learn that power laws are the rule (and not bell curves). They know that the whole may be at the same time more and less than the sum of its components. Complex systems generate avalanches (reorganizations) with a size that is inversely proportional to their frequency. To survive, these systems need to maximize their exchanges of information and energy with their outside world. Speed is an imperative.
Multi-modal strategies help High-Impact PMOs to design project approaches that consider real world behaviors and the need for different levels of squareness and roundness during the project lifecycle.
The direct routes based on goals, ways, and means, do not work well in complex environments. Indirect routes succeed better, that favor the understanding of a situation, that evaluate its potential, and that take advantage of the ripeness of the situation to get to the goal.
PMOs develop bi-modal strategies that are maximally safe plus maximally speculative strategies. They manage a portfolio of projects by “taking both a defensive attitude and an excessively aggressive one at the same time, by protecting assets from all sources of uncertainty while allocating a small portion for high-risk strategies”. They also master the art of securing a strategy with options.
Human dynamics contributes to understand the individuals, teams, and social groups through the study of their history, their culture, their geopolitical situation, their behaviors and their interactions. Human dynamics go well beyond the domain of mere leadership.
Human Dynamics recognize that knowledge of a social environment will always be limited. They do not expect to understand the behavior of the whole by knowing the behaviors of the individuals. They know that the rule of a minority may be more effective than the rule of the majority. And they look for emerging behaviors or tipping points in their environment seen as a complex adaptive system.
A Long Yet Rewarding Journey
Every project management practioner, and especially every PMO, has already some sort of knowledge of these three secrets.
However, it is only after a long, constant, and patient learning path that mastery starts to develop enough to make projects better succeed in complex environments. This is the exciting adventure I wish you.
To your continued success