Much as he did earlier in his career, Proman was now at another crossroad. The large program had just concluded. What’s next? He noticed how engaged he’d felt during the process. Each day he threw himself into the proceedings with renewed vigor and seemed to know instinctively what to do. People looked to him for direction, even people smarter than he was and higher up in the organization. Sure there were many moments when he felt like he wanted to strangle someone who would not cooperate. But even these moments challenged him to reach inside himself for an appropriate response and get a positive reaction. A number of previous assignments had a similar pattern.
These assignments were important and urgent for the organization. Each was unique and needed someone to take charge to deliver results, working through others. Unlike many engineering assignments which required deep analysis in a specific area, the assignments Proman gravitated towards were broad, people and process related, and complex. They had no obvious answers or one correct way to do them. They were opportunities to invent new or borrow and modify existing practices to achieve results. The people dynamics were fascinating, although often frustrating. Success seemed to come when integrating technical and behavioral, intellect and emotion, head and heart.
Being a continual learner (although he was not fond of some trappings of the education process like homework assignments and tests), he found in the literature and professional associations that there was a name for people like him and what they were doing. In fact, this approach had evolved into a discipline, profession, and body of knowledge. The clue had been staring at him all along.
Looking at his name, Proman A. Jecgert, he started rearranging the letters: p-r-o-j-e-c-t m-a-n-a-g-e-r. There it was! He was a project manager, practicing project management, leading a program, and functioning as a project office of one. Nobody had asked him to start a project office; the situation just required someone to act in that capacity.
As he would come to learn, the term project office is not without baggage. For some people it means overhead and bureaucracy. One of the functional managers had told him, much after the fact, of course, that he felt the person who headed the program management office had acted as a spy to senior management. Managers like this want a lean organization where competencies and action are dispersed across the organization, not in a central (expensive) unit.
Later in his career Proman would go on to various assignments in project offices, present at professional conferences, author articles and books, and serve as an internal consultant on project management to teams across the organization. He became a proponent of project offices as a concerted means focused on improving project management practices. One day he received an intriguing question from a person in an organization that appeared immune to establishing project offices. “Can individuals establish project offices of one?” This means that an individual or project manager embodies all the traits, skills, knowledge, and actions that may exist in a project office but do not have the title.
His whole body shouted out the answer: YES! A PO of one is a worthy concept: an organizational culture that supports the essence of a project office but not its structure. They are change agents: individuals learning to unfreeze, change, and refreeze the people around them and offering tremendous value. The steps along a path from chaos to nirvana can be taken by individual project managers. In fact, they may not have that title; they just happen to have the aptitude and be doing projects or leading a change effort. They want the outputs they create through a set of activities to be great instead of average; the outcomes to contribute and fit with organizational goals instead of going on the shelf. The missing pieces that help make this happen are the process, experiences, and knowledge of leading practices.
A project office of one, or POO, may not be an established norm or term in usage, but it can live in the hearts and aspirations of devotees. People like Proman can practice their craft, perhaps silently or anonymously, and magically produce astounding results. This action captures the attention of other managers who ask, “How did you do that?” The POO credits the project management process as applied by a skilled practitioner. Upper managers then ask, “Can you help us apply this process to the rest of the organization?” This opening is the exact response desired.
There is no greater reward for a true project manager than to take on a larger project, in this case, enterprise project management. The possibilities are endless to guide the organization to higher levels of maturity and achieve optimized results.
Randy Englund, UCSC Extension instructor