Is Your PMO Counting the Right Things

When it comes to reporting and giving updates to management and senior leadership, there’s a story I think back to.

During World War II, many bombers were getting hit by anti-aircraft guns. The Center for Naval Analyses officers wanted to add some protective armor to shield the planes. The question was, “where”? The planes couldn’t support too much more weight. So, a group of mathematicians and engineers were called for a study.

Planes returning from missions were analyzed for bullet holes per square foot. They found 1.93 bullet holes per square foot near the tail of the planes whereas only 1.11 bullet holes per square foot close to the engine. Officers thought since the tail portion had the greatest density of bullets, that would be the logical location for installing armor shielding.

However, a mathematician named Abraham Wald said the opposite. Instead, more protection was needed where the bullet holes weren’t, that is, around the engines.

One Man Explains Why WWII Aircraft Were Protected The Wrong Way ...

He said they were counting the planes that returned from a mission. Planes with lots of bullet holes in the engine did not return at all.

So, you may be asking; what does a WWII project have to do with PMO’s? Well, how many PMO’s have you seen or heard of take off and all of the sudden, they’re gone! They’re shot down. Sometimes you know why, other times you don’t. But at the end of the day, they’re another statistic in the “Lost PMO” column.

In November of 2019, I was passed over for a PMO leadership job. Let’s be honest; I wanted that position! It was with a financial services software company and it would be leading release management and implementation. A great team, travel, working from home (pre-pandemic anyway) and the PMO was well-respected by the executive committee. This part of the PMO was new and had a close working relationship with the COO and her management team. Because this was also where software updates were released and new/existing clients were implemented, there was to be a relationship with the CFO and her team.

Ultimately, they picked someone who had more finance sector project management experience. At least they called and told me that instead of ghosting or an email. Though I had what they were looking for from an experience and fit standpoint, financial sector was the top criteria. So, I was #2 on the list, which meant I was #2 out of luck. In any event, I found another position that’s taught me a lot and work with great people!

Well, last week I found out that only after 9 months, that new section of the PMO, the leadership role and seven project management staff, had all been eliminated! How did that happen? Why would this company invest money in expanding their PMO only to dissolve it?

Because I was referred to the position from a former co-worker who works at this company, he called over the weekend to explain more.

“No one knew what this group was doing. Because they had adopted the standard PMO reporting, operations found out about software releases either the day before or day of, so the support team wasn’t ready. Some clients are charged for updates, so accounting didn’t know who had been implemented and how many were yet to go. Requests for information took weeks. What surprised me is, the manager never asked what information operations or accounting needed so when they got the weekly PMO reports, it didn’t tell them anything. So, they reverted back to the way they used to do things and let that team go. It also gave the PMO a black eye.”

If your visitors are asking you these 5 questions, it's time to ...

The words “No one knew what this group was doing” rang in my head. Sure, you should adapt the standard the PMO’s status templates. But given the focus on release management and implementation, coupled with the close relationships with operations and accounting, meant there’s more than likely supplemental information required. But, how do you know what that is unless you ask? Sure, the other department heads could have said something or voiced frustration, but it’s also on the PMO leader to build relationships with and understand the needs of those stakeholders.

Because every PMO is different, and I have my opinion on what should be reported at a PMO level, I won’t get into specific reports. But, talk to your stakeholders, both at the executive and mid-management levels. What information do they want to see? How do they want to see it? Make the conversation something like this; “Here are the 7 areas I’ll report on weekly. This is what each area means. Is there anything you feel is missing or would be beneficial to you and your team?” Their recommendation may not be executive summary or dashboard-worthy, but could be added to the supplemental/supporting information! I’ve also been in PMO’s where there was one set of executive status reports (high level information and graphs) and another for functional leadership (same high level info and graphs, but a lot more supporting detail).

There are a lot of reports a PMO can provide, but are they really counting the right things? Ask, interview and understand the importance of information being requested. That way, you can armor plate your PMO so the incoming fire doesn’t take you down!

Reports Reports, Everywhere - | Make a Meme

The Future of Project Management?

In these pandemic times, I’ve found opportunities to do professional development. These include reading books, blogs, white papers and engaging in professional social media posts. Topics have been wide-ranging; from PMO creation & operation, to leadership, to creating your own personal “Code.” I’ve also joined a couple networking groups with diverse members from different industries.

Questions I’ve read and heard from others frequently is, what does the future hold? How will our industry change? What adjustments can we make now? What disruption will there be to the way we do business? How will my business survive?

Someone asked me in a networking meeting how the project management industry will be “disrupted” by COVID. Good question. But, if you think about project management, we’re all about change. We work with teams to deliver new services, functionality or products that our customers and stakeholders utilize. There are constantly evolving frameworks to learn and possibly implement in our companies. AI and other technologies will continue to evolve, changing the scope of our jobs. We’re constantly interacting with a variety of people and personalities, as well as dealing with issues.

Yeah, we’re used to this change thing.

Change is Good – Change Meme

As I thought about how to answer the “disruption” question, instead of looking at what will change, I focused on what will stay the same. What do we, as project professionals, do today that will be just as important (if not more important) in the future? How will we adjust to what the future holds as the work from home model will become more and more the norm? Below were the thoughts I had in my response.

Team Communication; both 1:1 and as a group. Your project team is critical to overall success. They’re an asset. You probably already had in-person team meetings before, but they become even more important remote. Allow time for “small talk” in your virtual team meetings so relationships are fostered and maintained. Outside of team meetings, touch base with team members 1:1. Some are loving working from home. Others aren’t. Know who’s who and spend a little more time with those who are on the struggle bus. But, touch base with them all individually and remember, be flexible as they could be in different time zones (or countries).

Remote Team Communication: Handling 9 Common Scenarios | FlexJobs

Stakeholder Engagement. You never want to hear the words “I don’t know what’s going on!” from a stakeholder. I’ve learned the hard way if you don’t keep your stakeholders in the loop, they can kill your project. The PMBOK outlines a matrix you can use for stakeholder management. I use OneNote and identify their likes, dislikes and any other projects they’ve been burned on in the past. Know who to send status reports to and who needs a phone call because they don’t read reports. It will save you headache in the long run.

Strategic Alignment. This is always important. Why do a project when it has no strategic value? But if your team is completely dispersed, you may get asked to lead an effort with little more than a “get this done” email. Ask questions and ensure you have clarification on strategic value because you’ll need to communicate that with the project team and stakeholders.

The Challenge of Strategic Alignment - Tompkins International

Negotiation skills. Defined, negotiation skills are qualities that allow two or more parties to reach a compromise. When I need something and you have it, I need to negotiate to get it. We’re shooting for a win-win. Negotiations can be difficult when we can look directly into each other’s eyes, but becomes more challenging when remote. Keep communications open throughout the process and be open to different ideas as you work to finalize the negotiation.

Conflict resolution. I call conflict a “growth industry” because it’s always there and you’re always dealing with some kind of conflict. Whether it’s passive or aggressive, it must be handled quickly. Employing tactics like having “adult conversations”, bringing in third parties and in extreme cases, removing team members, are tactics that have to be employed. Conflict is uncomfortable, but necessary, even in remote teams.

BYU's conflict resolution center promotes peace - The Daily Universe

Overall soft skills. Soft skills include things like verbal and nonverbal communication, emotional intelligence and awareness, writing skills, and approachability. Motivate your team, especially in difficult times, and be a critical thinker when issues arise. Even if you’re mad as hell on the inside, keep calm on the outside. Be flexible and open to other people’s ideas.

Will industries change post-pandemic? I’m sure many will need to adjust. Will the field of project management change? The answer is always yes. But, when it comes to interpersonal and communication skills, not only will those be “evergreen”, they will need to be honed.

Crystal Ball Fortune Telling - Home | Facebook

Ramblings of a Volunteer Project & Program Manager

“Holy shit, what have I gotten myself into?!?!”

I had literally joined my local Project Management Institute (PMI) chapter 72 hours ago and already I was on my second conference call talking about a registration system for PMI events. The person at the volunteer desk at the event I attended told me there wouldn’t be a huge time commitment. So, I signed up for the team I felt best suited for, expecting a meeting here and there. Instead, it was a marathon of calls, emails, researching vendors, RFP creation, stakeholder interviews, and a whole host of other tasks. I finally yelled “Uncle” because it was impacting my job and life at home. This was my first volunteering endeavor since starting my professional career and it left a sour taste in my mouth.

Yet, within a couple years I found myself saying yes to a church council appointment for two years. Then volunteered to help a non-profit plan an event. Yet another church council once we moved to another state for three years. Then helping manage our local PMI and Agile practice groups. Then being a coach for another non-profit.

So many hours spent pro bono. And each one of them well worth it!

I’m a fan of volunteering. Some of the reasons I do it are:

  • Positively impact the groups I serve
  • Hone current skills and develop new ones
  • Meet new people and interact with individuals across different cultures, backgrounds and education
  • Opportunities to learn something new or try “stretch” assignments
  • Cohesive team environments (most of the time anyway)
  • Helps your self esteem seeing results
  • Create skills a future employer may be looking for (and quite frankly, they may be a volunteer also)
Volunteer Services - Pinal County

My time as a church council member taught me leadership, negotiation, and conflict resolution skills. PMI and Agile groups has allowed me to meet local peers, work with amazing speakers, learn a wealth of information, and the opportunity to present frequently. Coaching allowed me to be more strategic. I’ve been coupled with other volunteers in key leadership roles within their companies and learned from them, also.

That’s why when people looking to get into project management wonder where to start, I frequently recommend they get involved and volunteer with their local PMI chapter or other groups seeking a volunteer project manager. Through that process, you learn skills and can find a mentor to accelerate your career.

Even though my first volunteer engagement was rough, one thing I’ve learned is to be up front on my time commitment. Church council was a handful of hours a month over a few years. Whereas volunteering to plan an event was a lot of hours over a handful of weeks. You know your schedule and don’t over commit. Also, be transparent about what you want to do. If your goal is to manage a project for a non-profit, it may not be beneficial for you to do donor engagement (though, it could be a good learning opportunity).

One thing to remember is though volunteering can be a lifelong commitment, volunteering for only one organization is not. I can’t tell you how long to volunteer for one organization (maybe you do stay committed to one), only to make a change occasionally to gain new experience and perspectives. Each volunteer opportunity will offer new skills, challenges and experience.

If you’re seeking opportunities to learn skills, meet new people and make a positive impact, I highly recommend volunteering.

Calling all Volunteers!

Daily 2-Minute Drill

If you watch American football, you understand the concept of the “2-minute drill”. It’s essentially a hurry-up offense in the last two minutes of a half. When I played high school football, we practiced the two minute drill every day. We knew the plays to run so we could do a “no huddle” and keep the defense on their heels. It required a lot of physical ability and more importantly, focus.

Image result for 2 minute drill

I still do 2-minute drills today. In my workouts, the last two minutes before the cool-down I go extremely fast. My belief is when you’re tired from a long workout, pushing that last little bit trains your body and mind to go further, and prepares you for the race ahead. It definitely takes you out of your comfort zone!

Though the 2-minute drill is good at the gym or the field, I’ve also found benefits of a 2-minute drill for my mind, personal health and professional development.

Image result for 2 minute drill

What if I did something almost everyday for 2 minutes that required total focus? Where I shut everything around me off and for just 2 minutes, do something for my own well-being and growth. What benefits would that have? What could it motivate me to do? Doing anything for one minute is easy, but two minutes requires (at least in my opinion) 10x more focus and effort.

So, a few months ago I thought, what the hell, let’s try it!

Most days I brainstorm something or get ideas online, set a timer for 2 minutes and do it. Some things have been easy, others hard, and yet others uncomfortable. But you know what, it’s been great!

Sure, a lot of the things have taken more than two minutes, but that’s OK. If I get into a flow (state of concentration in which action seems to be effortless), ten minutes can go by like nothing and I feel accomplished.

I’ve been writing down my 2-minute drills. So, at the request and prodding of a few people, I’ll post five 2-minute drills every Monday on LinkedIn and Twitter (@FargoProjectMgr) in the event others would like to try it. Some of these ideas you may think are nuts and won’t do them. That’s alright. Others, you may say why not try it! In any case, I hope you find them interesting and you at least try a few!

Image result for 2 minute drill

Let Your Team Know It’s OK Not to be OK

Open up your go-to news site and you’ll see it. An outbreak that shows no signs of slowing down. Death tolls on the rise. Elected officials debating. Alcohol use up. Domestic violence increases. Children hungry because they’re not at school. Parents stressed because they’re trying to help teach their kids. Elderly dealing with loneliness in isolation. Worried about friends and family. Mounting job losses and the fear of losing the one you have. Unable to hug friends and loved ones.

There is no shortage of bad news. It’s everywhere and no matter how you try, you can’t get away from it. One way or another, we all are affected in some way. It’s tiring and in some respects, I’ve grown numb to the news.

I’ve kept kind of tight lipped with talking to my project teams about struggles I’ve had at home during these times, especially as it relates to helping my kids with school work. But after a call Friday with one of my teams, I realized:

IT’S OK NOT TO BE OK!!

OK” is NOT “OK” - Nancy Friedman

As we were talking, I could hear little kids voices in the background. My co-worker apologized because his kids, 6 and 4, were hungry. Those voices kept getting louder and louder. Suddenly, BOOM! What I imagine was a door flying open, these little ones burst into his room and yelled “DAD, WE NEED LUNCH!!”

When the Kids Crash Your BBC Interview - The New York Times

Suddenly, you could tell he was muted. I was imaging the stress and urgency of the conversation that was taking place.

When he came back on the line, my team member apologized to the group up and down for the intrusion. Between two kids, a wife who had to go to the office (supply chain for a hospital, so you can only imagine the number of hours she’s working), helping with school work and having a job of his own, it’s been very stressful month.

He apologized again and I told him not to worry. I told the group I have two boys and have been trying to help them with schoolwork. I’ve been struggling big-time with keeping on top of my middle schooler’s assignments. He gets real “snippy” with me when I ask how his work is progressing and we have frequent arguments about getting things done. My elementary-aged son gets his work done right away, and then wants to play online games, Tik Tok or watch Pokemon (what the hell is a Pokemon anyway?). Balance that with making breakfast, lunch, refereeing fights and playing with them, a day gets away from you quick. Plus, my wife is in banking operations, so she’s on calls all day and doesn’t want screaming kids in the background.

That was the first time I’d mentioned anything about what’s happening at home. One by one, each team member brought up their struggles. Though some struggles were similar, each were different. It was OK not to be OK for a few minutes, and that felt great!

My team member felt better as we talked and I told him to go get his kids lunch. I’d take notes and let him know any follow-ups later.

Let’s be honest, this quarantine time is a real mental game, full of ups and downs. We long for our pre-pandemic lives. We want our kids back in school. I long for going to my favorite restaurant for one of their classic burgers and whiskey sours. My wife wishes we could go with our friends to play trivia every Tuesday and give them hugs at the end of the night. I want to participate in the two racing events in May that I’ve trained for, but have been postponed.

Being vulnerable is a good thing because it makes us relatable. Acting like everything is normal (especially now) is a disservice to your team. I found it was OK to talk about struggles, because my team members all have them too. Knowing what they’re experiencing can help me in my support and interactions. For example, I don’t schedule meetings with this group over lunch time. That would cause undue stress for those making lunch for little ones.

Support your team members. Maybe they’re having the same struggles as you. Maybe their struggles are completely different. But ultimately, they may not be OK!

It's OK to Not Be OK: A Blog Post About Seeking Help