Advocating project management in any organization requires engagement and commitment from the key stakeholders with the most clout and visibility across the company. There are three groups of players who must drive the acceptance and practice of project management techniques and convention if you hope to achieve cultural buy-in. These key players include the Project Management Office (PMO) (the leader and the staff), senior management, and project managers. Each of these has a distinct role in driving project management acceptance and practice. They must also all work synergistically for their efforts to succeed.
The PMO acts as promoter, campaigner, and upholder of project management practice across the enterprise. Senior executives must be proponents, backers, and spokespersons, while the project managers are the evangelists – always proselytizing for the success of the project.
Project Management Advocacy
The PMO employs individuals who act as enablers and facilitators in supporting project success. Regardless of what model your organization’s PMO follows, it must establish a culture of discipline by creating processes and tools that support decision-making, improve organizational accountability, and exhibit efficiencies. To deliver, EPMO staff must believe in the four R’s: Responsibility, Responsiveness, and Respect in their Relationships. They should be biased towards action and common sense, and push cost-benefit decisions. The PMO’s objectives are the company’s objectives, and maintain their role through visible support of the company’s goals and objectives. When the organization achieves success through timely delivery of projects that come in under budget and produce expected business outcomes, the EPMO has achieved its goals as well. Everything the PMO does every day should support this mission.
The PMO has the ongoing challenge of institutionalizing project management practices across an organization. This is achieved through ongoing endorsement of the corporate project management methodology, tool use, and reporting systems. It requires public promotion of project management successes, which is the best way to achieve organizational buy-in. Once these practices are accepted, the PMO has a greater challenge in exhibiting ongoing value to the organization. To do this, the PMO must constantly look outside the project management paradigm.
PMOs can experience long-tenured success in any organization by prescribing discipline and process to support evolving business needs. A PMO leader can offer business management recommendations by being diligent in anticipating new business needs, having the ability to modify project management processes to meet other business requirements, and knowing when a process is needed — or more importantly, when it is not — to solve a business problem.
PMO leaders need to establish positive, trusting relationships with executives, project managers and other staff to take the pulse of the organization and to recognize what business problems need to be solved. Sometimes, the PMO may find themselves outside the comfort zone of project management, and in other instances may be thrown together with unlikely associates to meet a business need. This requires flexibility, business understanding, and the ability to partner with others.
A triumphant PMO leader is one who continually seeks opportunities for overall business plan success. This individual must publicly support the cause of the PMO and make it apparent to the organization as a whole how and why the PMO lends value. She must be dedicated to project management discipline, intuitive about organizational need, and tireless in finding creative solutions. Regardless of how long a PMO has been in place at any organization, its future depends upon its ability to constantly deliver value-added opportunities for ongoing business accomplishment.
PMO Support Staff
Ongoing support of project management mastery is critical to the viability of project management at any organization. Continuous growth of project management as a core competency is achieved through ongoing endorsement of an organization’s project management methodology through PMO staff.
When establishing a PMO, PMO staff must advocate for the value and benefit of project management practice. A company does not need to be in crisis for PMO staff to successfully advocate the value; in fact, any organization that perceives project management as extra work is missing real opportunities. PMO staff must convince others that project management is a means of getting the work done efficiently rather than an administrative burden. The immediate challenge of introducing a project “charter” and status reports to the organization is incredibly difficult; the objective is to bust the perception of the project teams and sponsors that it is “extra work”.
The trick for getting early buy-in is the PMO’s ability to demonstrate — in a way staff can see, touch, and feel — that the new requirements are necessary. The focus must be on the value of the practice and on proving that what is being asked of them does not actually represent additional effort. It must be presented so people understand the project management discipline will not keep them from actually doing the project, but will make the work easier and produce better results. Once staff understands the direct correlation between project management practice and successful results, they will quickly adopt the practice on their own. This is true regardless of organizational state — everyone seeks new opportunities to get the job done faster and better, in a predictable way.
The last thing staff want is new administrative burden dumped on them. By establishing the project management methodology slowly, with the insertion of only a couple of forms and processes, and active campaigning throughout, a PMO is able to show the project teams the value of these efforts. Use wins to establish the maxim that “project management isn’t extra work; for project teams: it is the work.”
Careful selection of PMO staff is critical. Successful advocates must have a strong technical understanding of project management practice and also be exuberant about what they do. Members of the PMO must fully commit to the practice of project management, in every way.
PMO staff must be fully dedicated to the ongoing evolution of project management and must be willing to promote their project management beliefs to others in a supportive and facilitative manner. PMO support staff must be hand-selected; it is critical to choose individuals who hold both technical project management expertise as well as the strong character traits needed to support organizational demands.
Senior Executives and Organizational Commitment
Executive sponsorship has been identified as one of the greatest contributors to success when managing change, while the lack of that sponsorship is probably one of the greatest reasons for failure. Sponsors must be visible and active, both in their ongoing actions in support of project management as an organizational practice and in their role supporting specific projects. Both roles require commitment and engagement; senior sponsors will not succeed as advocates if they do not maintain both.
Senior leaders play a critical role in the introduction and acceptance of project management in any organization. In fact, their endorsement, or lack thereof, will direct project management to succeed or fail. Senior executives are always under the spotlight. They must practice what they preach to gain staff acceptance. Senior managers who preach project management but do not practice it will lose credibility; they must lead by example. To achieve corporate buy-in on project management practices, senior executives must exhibit project management knowledge, display acceptance, and be enthusiastic.
The easiest way for upper management to display this behavior is by showing an interest in projects, participating in project team meetings, extending support to projects in need, and acknowledging project successes. When a business leader encounters a project manager in the elevator, he or she should ask how the project is going; lend a hand if the project is in trouble; or reveal enthusiasm if the project recently hit a key milestone. It does not take a lot of effort or time to show interest and to promote enthusiasm. It is amazing how a senior executive’s well-chosen comment can bolster a project manager’s confidence and spirit during a quick elevator ride.
Executive sponsors responsible for a specific project must engage early and often to successfully nourish project success. They must be familiar with project management disciplines, know the organization’s project management methodology, and be aware of key project management tools. Most importantly, they must understand and accept their role as executive sponsor and be held accountable in a real, measurable way for the success of project and business outcomes.
Most executives are not fully aware of their role as project sponsors, and as a result, look to the project team to implement without them. This creates an interesting and awkward chemistry, as most project teams assume sponsors know what to do and know when to insert themselves. Ironically, many sponsors assume they will be called upon if needed, thus setting up a vicious cycle of unmet needs on both sides.
Responsible for successful project completion, the sponsor must fully understand the project’s goals, the targeted business outcomes, the major deliverables, and the associated deadlines. She supports project-funding processes. She monitors project activities and manages the expectations of who will do what, based upon the project’s unique needs.
Establishing clear roles and responsibilities among the project’s key stakeholders and team members is one important role of an executive sponsor. If you are an executive sponsor, be specific and direct with your project manager. Do not assume your project manager knows how you operate or will be able to anticipate your expectations. Even if you have worked with the project manager in the past, the character of each project is unique, oftentimes requiring new roles and responsibilities. Remember, there are no hard and fast rules; simply sit down and figure it out. Roles should be defined based upon the unique needs of each project.
Here are a few key questions to consider when defining roles and responsibilities:
- Before you signed off on the scope document, have you questioned the “documented” why, how, what, and who?
- Do you have a process in place where you access/read the project status reports?
- Do you have a standing meeting scheduled with your project’s management teams?
- Have you and your project’s management team sat down to discuss roles? Who “owns” the project’s major decisions?
- Have you established mechanisms for reporting project progress?
- How (and when) are you made aware of schedule slippage or new risks to the projects you sponsor?
- Have you established ground rules regarding changes to scope, schedule, or resources?
- How do you get involved in “change management” for your projects?
Your project manager and project team will be under great duress to complete significant work under tight deadlines. It is your responsibility to be in touch with your project team on a regular basis. Ongoing support and promotion of the team’s work will generate much-needed enthusiasm. This is particularly important for project teams responsible for generating significant change or thrown together for an extended period of time. The executive sponsor must show ongoing endorsement of the team’s efforts and accomplishments. This can be easily accomplished through spontaneous visits to the project team, writing brief messages of support and encouragement, and participating when the project team schedules mini-celebrations for meeting major milestones. Show regular support throughout the project lifecycle: do not be visible only at the start and the end of the project, as this will not inspire project team members.
One essential role in supporting project success is ensuring project staffing is in place early on. With most organizations being resource-constrained, executive sponsors can best support the project by actively championing the “right” resources. This requires knowledge of project needs, recognizing the essential competencies needed to support the project, and awareness of the critical due dates. Building a coalition of sponsorship with senior executive peers will also help find the best staff to support the project’s requirements.
Project managers are the most valuable assets within a project management-centric organization and they are also the most vulnerable. The majority of project managers live in a matrix environment, which means they are accountable for getting people to deliver for them, even though those people do not directly report to them. They are on the hook for successful project delivery. They are “it” for managing all aspects of the project, from technical planning to team management. Is it quite an unenviable position to be in. Organizations often misunderstand how much is required of project managers to get the project delivered according to scope, budget, and deadline in such a demanding environment.
Project managers must endlessly advocate for their project. This means identifying the “right” resources for the project, requesting appropriate funding for the project, and raising the flag early for help if the project runs astray. Project managers must be proficient communicators, skilled negotiators, and artful organizers. Project managers espouse advocacy for their projects. They know what their projects need and they cannot be afraid to seek it. A victorious project manager seeks endless support to achieve project success and knows how to navigate the corporate universe to clinch project closure.
Reaching this level of success is not easy. Project managers must feel empowered to manage their project, be permitted to make decisions, and have authority to delegate to others. Not only do project managers need to be proficient in the technical practice of project management, apply standard tools according to methodology requirements, and report project status in an honest and proactive fashion, they also need to know how to navigate their organization, manage relationships within their project team, and establish alliances outside the organization, often reaching out to external clients and vendors. From the moment a project manager is assigned to a project, she must advocate for its successful completion. This requires full knowledge of the project’s goal, how it aligns with the strategic vision, and the organizational impact if the project succeeds or fails. Her knowledge of this must be conveyed in everything she does while managing the project.
It is naive to believe advocacy is a temporary, short-term activity. Even in organizations where project management is mature and accepted, it requires ongoing promotion to retain value. The PMO must drive the championing of project management, and support ongoing behavior as part of its daily activities. PMO staff must always seek new ways to promote the inherent value of project management in support of organizational success. Senior executives must stimulate individual and corporate project successes through public endorsement of both the cultural acceptance of project management as well as the individual project successes. Project managers must never cease to find ways to deliver successful project results, both by timely completion of project deliverables and ensuring the project delivers what it set out to accomplish.
Lisa A. DiTullio is the author of “Simple Solutions: How Enterprise Project Management Supported Harvard Pilgrim Health Care’s Journey from Near Collapse to #1. You can order Lisa’s book online at iUniverse, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.