40 years of project management practice in complex environments have taught me three secrets. When absent, projects, programs, or portfolios failed to deliver their benefits. When present, they enabled success, with benefits sometimes even above expectations. Here are these three secrets:

  1. Become customer-centric
  2. Focus on results
  3. Learn out-of-the-box capabilities

Every PMO practicing these three secrets gets a chance to become sooner or later a High-Impact PMO. Not only does such a PMO clearly contribute to provide the expected project benefits to their customers, but he or she also gets all sorts of personal gains, from recognition to career advancement.

Secret #1 – Become Customer(Stakeholder)-Centric

Projects first purpose is to serve people. These people are the project stakeholders. The fact is that all expect the project to contribute both to personal gains and to organizational benefits. Therefore, the High-Impact PMO focuses his or her work on maximizing both. By doing so, the PMO considers the project stakeholders as “customers”, and his or her focus becomes customer-centric.

The High-Impact PMO convinces his or her project leaders and sponsors to redefine the project goals in terms of customer benefits, and not in terms of money.

Money is only one outcome among many others. It is a reward that the people return to the project when and if they adopt the program goal. Not vice-versa. At a more strategic level, money is a sort of catalyst in a chain reaction. When a strategic initiative portfolio delivers its promises, the organization strategy succeeds, and cash arrives from all sorts of providers, including, but not limited to, the final customers. book

If you work with program strategy maps and balanced scorecards, position the “stakeholders (including final users and customers)” dimension on top, as the target of a value creation “process” driven by “people”, and supported by the “finance” or “resource” dimension at the bottom as an enabler (More on this in “The High-Impact PMO”). Resources are materials, information, or money. People are not resources, they are people.

Considering a variety of stakeholders / customers makes any project both very exciting and complex. Exciting for it aims at improving people’s life. Complex for dealing with people requires to explore and develop new competencies as we will see in the third secret.

Secret #2 – Focus on Results 

Traditional PMOs focus their activities on processes, methods and tools, as well as back-office activities. Yet successful projects are like running a Formula 1 race or the French Le Mans 24 Hours race. Their High-Impact PMOs play a more strategic role. They do not only provide a car, but they also organize the pilot development, the race strategy, and any other key success factor required. They focus first on enabling the project to deliver value to the project 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), they constantly maintain a forward-looking view of the expected value. They facilitate the emergence of the best solutions within their organization seen as a complex system.

They particularly facilitate connections between people and groups. Indeed, the performance of a complex system is built upon relationships and not only on individual capabilities. Thus, they maintain strong and frequent relationships both within their project and with the outside world.

They detect roadblocks, they send alerts about milestones, benefits, and risks, and they prepare tough decision-making when needed. They do not limit their support to get the promised project output, but they expand their support to the project sponsorship to make sure the project outcomes (benefits) are achieved.

They finally share the entire project system goals and objectives. They have their skin in the game. They receive the same reward or loss than everyone else based on the project results.

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 their comprehension of system dynamics, nonlinearities, uncertainties, network analysis to cite a few domains. They 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.

They develop bi-modal strategies that are is 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 practioners 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

Philippe Husser

To learn more stories of successful PMOs, read my book available on Amazon: “The High-Impact PMO”.  

You can also read this article at www.progiletech.com/blog/