Organisations have systems to track the most minor spend…..you can be hounded for the receipt for your Subway sandwich, asked to limit your coffee intake to two a day to save corporate spend…..yet the millions of dollars, pounds, euros they spend each year on transformation projects across divisions is tracked on little more that Word documents and spreadsheets. Meanwhile the Head of the PMO can become the single voice to executives on how projects are performing. Imagine that?! Spending millions and you trust a single voice to provide you with updates on how work is progressing. Not to mention that the single voice is inclined to inflate, exaggerate successes and trivialise failures as their job depends on making themselves and their Office look like it is performing. Has there ever been a job that wields so much power with so little scrutiny? Where else can you have the power to turn those pesky reds into ambers or greens? Who else can manage millions of dollars but not be directly accountable? Isn’t it time you got a job in your local project management office?
Have you recently joined a new company as Project Manager of an exciting portfolio? Ever wondered how your colleagues feel when your organisation decides to launch new projects? Why would new colleagues look at you with suspicion and avoid you at the canteen or speed past you in the corridor? Why does nobody share your enthusiasm about the great changes to come?
It is worth spending some time asking a few questions before you embark on initiating projects:
1. Has the organisation launched portfolios before?
Chief Officers at one company I worked for launched 14 projects all on one day with much fanfare and presentations to staff at offices across the world. Lots of enthusiasm, promises, visions of the future.....that ultimately ended in the whole portfolio being slowly abandoned as staff workload and cost had been completely underestimated - making the projects deliverable. These types of failures will affect the entire view of staff towards projects and the project management office.
2. How do people view projects in the organisation?
Have projects delivered real positive change to the organisation in the past? Ask the middle managers and the administrators as they are less likely to tow the company line. These staff tend to stay despite the changes and often have a more long-term perspective on what has worked and why. They may also be your greatest advocates over time as they could be the first to talk about positives and negatives around the coffee machine. Remember that projects eat up a lot of the money that some parts of the business make as surpluses - they want to see a return on their hard work and feel the surplus is well-spent.
3. How do people view project managers?
Spend some time asking a range of people how projects have worked in the past and the characters that have been behind them. Unfortunately, views of you will be influenced by who has come before. Was the Head of the Project Office a terrible bore that talked, name-dropped conversations with the chief executives and belittled people outside the loop? Find out and work to send the right messages from the start that you are collaborative and working for a positive outcome for all.
4. Why were the projects initiated?
A new CEO making changes for change sake or systems falling apart? Each will require a different approach, so make some time for asking a range of people. Reasons behind projects will invariably affect how staff feel about them. Every company has a history.
5. Thoroughly research what has come before
Spend time orientating yourself on what has come before. Have parts of the projects been worked on before by other project teams? Find the overlaps and documentation. Your colleagues will value you more if they feel you know how things have worked (or not) in the past.
6. Let people know their time is valued
From the start, let people know that their time and views will be valued and taken on board. You are about to eat up staff time on projects they are not accountable for but may be responsible for the successful delivery of parts of. Be prepared for meetings with questions that can add value. Take note, record…don’t go asking the same question twice. Finally, check-in with the entire project team to ensure you are working together and aligning your questions.
7. Explain the process
Give broad timelines and actions. Always ensure you explain why you are doing something as much as why. Give regular updates
8. Start the right way
Be prepared, ensure you have the right voices in the room and have support from diverse areas of the organisation. Recognise expertise and pitch yourself as the person who can help tie everything together based on other peoples hard work. Avoid grand promises and pitching yourself as the saviour.
9. Be frank about the problems
As issues arise, be open and honest about them. Explain what you are going to do to overcome them and ask for other views and input. You don't need to be in this alone...