This edition of the Project Management Paradise Podcast is a live recording of a panel discussion on the changing role of the PMO in the Life Sciences sector.
The recording is from the seminar organised by Cora Systems and the panel included guest speakers:
And the moderator was John McGrath, a project management professor and consultant.
You can play the episode via the link below or subscribe to the Podcast via the links on the sidebar.
Excerpts from the conversation are available below:
Are the great PMs born or made?
Niamh Martyn: It’s probably going to be more of a personal opinion on it, but you know just in my experience and background to date on this, I would say that it’s probably more people are born into a role like that. Not necessarily born into it, but I think you either have that ability in you, or you don’t. There are some people that like to be part of the team but there’s a resistance to actually being the owner and the leader on a project.
I think people can be trained, they can learn the skills but I do think that it’s a natural thing in a person if they’re actually going to be able to have the drive to actually lead a project. It’s something where you need to have a certain level, you need to have good negotiation skills, you need to have good communication skills and you need to be able to, I suppose, lead people and guide people. So, your project is only one deliverable but overall, you have to be able to understand how to communicate to people that you’re leading them towards an overall strategy and overall goal.
I think anybody can be trained and they can understand methodologies, they can deliver the documentation, but I do think that in order to be very effective, it has to be something that’s truly in a person, that they want to be that leader.
How do you create the mindset in people in the organization’s culture where they will see the value in the PMO?
Paul Moody: The big difficulty with the PMO is the question of what value does it bring and it’s a big, big battle about how do you demonstrate that you bring value. I think you need to get out there and show the advantages of the PMO. We often do presentations and brochures about it. If you go through a project, you will see the processes and use the templates that you will show that you will actually deliver a project better.
Also, the support of senior management to the project manager often is important and the role of it. All the stories do show the survival rate of the PMOs is very limited. It is a very short, short life and they really got to sell it, but you’ve got to demonstrate that it does bring benefit and that it does add to the success of the organization through delivering the strategy and the strategy is delivered through projects. It is difficult.
Niamh Martyn: What we promote as a part of project management training and how we are guiding people to do projects, the first thing is that we encourage people to do is try not to take an end date. Quite often you get told: “We need this project delivered and we need it by X date”. We encourage people to say: “You know what, let me look at that and come back to you”.
But what we promote predominantly is using WBS. Get everybody, all of the team together into a room, avoid this notion of you know having plans created in different areas of the business and different dates being kind of banded around and when it’s going to be finished. Get everybody into a room, even if they’re not located in the one office. It’s important, particularly if it’s a big project and a high-value project, to get everybody there in the one location, do the WBS, see what the gaps are, and then move into your plan.
But make sure that it is one date it is agreed by the team. Obviously, when it’s done, look at where you can parallel your activities, where you can now maximize the effort. But definitely, I would encourage everybody to have all of the team on-site and make sure they have gone back and double-checked before any of the dates are communicated out to the organization. It is sometimes like looking at a crystal ball, but at the same time, it needs to be something realistic.
What was the single biggest challenge with your PMO software implementation, in terms of the tool implementation?
Niamh Martyn: The biggest thing with the tool implementation was, for a lot of people I guess, we put the process in place and did our training probably back across 2014 and 2015 and pretty swiftly after that, we moved to the online tool.
So, I think it was really just that resistance for people – they almost thought that we were expecting more work from them by moving the two deadlines. The biggest issue I suppose there was – was trying to manage the view of the people. We were putting the system into a state that actually reduces people’s workload. They weren’t managing a million different spreadsheets offline, everything was going to go into one location and everything is written in the report.
From there, I’d say even today though, our biggest struggle even now is keeping the site updated, you know. I spend a lot of my time chasing people to keep the site updated. I would say probably that is our biggest challenge, getting people to actually have their time scheduled, to be project managers. Every Friday you should be doing the weekly report, every Friday should be making sure your plan is up-to-date and it’s to just about changing that mindset with people.
Is leadership development being educated or mentored in the PMO in your organization?
Joe Flynn: So, what we are seeing in a lot of our clients, there’s active sponsorship at the leadership level in the PMO from the senior management and they are very much supportive of the process and support the implementation of the process. There is a real correlation then between the compliance with delivering of the PMO and the success rates.
Just recently, we did a workshop with PwC in the Middle East on particular projects where they were able to link to that as well. Once the sponsorship was in place and the active support from the senior leadership, then there is a high level potential for success. Obviously, there is a standoff position sometimes from the senior leadership that makes it less so and there’s less obvious support that makes it a little bit more difficult for the team to execute.
Should all the change controls go through the PMO, that someone has an overview of all projects to prioritize? What level of ownership or visibility should the PMO have in this?
Paul Moody: The whole picture in terms of project change and we’re again back into the whole concept of scoping and just say again in engineering projects everything is scoped out. We have the building in order or timing developed, resources are worked out and the cost obviously. But then as the project moves along, someone says: “I saw that I want that, can you do that?” and the poor project manager says: “Yeah, I can but it will take time of the project and it will cost.”
And we have to set up the situation, we have to put in a project management change control request so that for any change that is requested, the implications are evaluated and reviewed and approved of. What we find is that a lot of these change requests just go away but some of them that are needed and they do have an impact. It is an interesting concept, but projects are so complex that any request like that, made halfway through a project, really can be very, very detrimental to the project and its delivery.
How do we engage with the snowflake generation when they struggle with the methodology of large organizations, what can we learn from them?
Joe Flynn: Somewhere within the IT sector, where we deal with the project management, probably the one big thing coming through is chat. A lot of project management tools now need to bring chatting from the collaboration point of view. So, the historical PMBOK or PRINCE or whatever, they don’t lend to that very, very well and what they want is a much more dynamic way of running projects. They want much more, what they call a collaborative way to facilitate that type of service for them on the project management tools.
But, at the same time, as they go along in life and get experience and they end up having to come back into the enterprise of the larger business and adhere to more formal work processes. There’s much more transience, obviously, of these people, as well, they’re staying less, they tend to do studying in the US where 40-50% of graduates are feeling disillusioned within 6 to 8 weeks of joining some of these organization. So, within 6 months there is 20-25% churn rates. All those consultants, organizations and big multinationals have to spend a lot to board them on and adapt.
What is the panel’s opinion on qualified PMs versus those trained at the local levels? When you’re hiring, are you looking for somebody with the qualification of the PM or do you value more the experience of a practitioner?
Niamh Martyn: I think qualifications vs. real life experience, really, I think it’s easy to learn information from a book and pass an exam. But I think there’s a difference between applying that practically to a job and to your day to day and work life. I think that there are some people who just have a natural talent in project delivery and leading teams, regardless of whether you have a qualification or not. If you have those skills and ability you can be a really strong project manager.
I think it’s good a good thing to have on your CV, it’s a good thing to have you know as part of your general experience that you do have the qualifications. But I would say there are plenty of project managers who are really capable, they can deliver projects so good at what they do without having those qualifications.
I think the key thing is when you are interviewing people that they’re telling you the right things. If you’re talking to them about the project experience that they are using the right terminology and you’re getting a feel of how they’re actually delivering their projects. Only by having discussions like that you’ll understand what their true experience and background is. I think we shouldn’t focus on it – it is a good thing to have qualifications, as I said, but I think your experience is the key.
Since the majority of new jobs are in Dublin, will there be any investments in the west?
Joe Flynn: Obviously, we invest in the west, our CEO had the vision to bring the business back when he wanted to set it up and he brought it back from Dublin and set up in Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim. He, Philip Martin. works with the idea to bring companies in and one of the biggest challenges is the road network, for example. Just even when somebody travels down to the Carrick or Westport it just takes so long.
Automatically, they start to look at other alternatives. We work with them a lot, we visit them once a month, but the infrastructure is the big challenge for them. Having what they called critical mass or networks of the industry in particular areas where they can get resources and people in, you know. They like to see that so a good example probably is Galway, Tullamore, an area with medical devices that there is a critical mass of capability and skill as well and that’s very important to them.
Chicken or egg, where do you start, is it having the right team first or management direction and then build a team?
Paul Moody: It’s very important for senior management to realize that their dependency in projects is very, very important. I think it’s important to have the right person in place for that but again it’s back to having enough of the people. But then the project teams when they are formed, and with the right leadership and project management, the team begins to form and it develops.
It is the key and the whole projectized approach to business is very, very important as well because there is a conflict all the time between operations and projects. The management has to ensure that if we are delivering projects, that you have to have the companies in place, and the teams and the teams are developed, but a lot of development of the teams comes from the project leaders.
What’s the panel’s view of the PMO having ownership of resources for the projects as opposed to the resource or functional managers, in terms of organization structure, who should own the resources, the functional area of the business or the PMO?
Niamh Martyn: I think it’s kind of a tricky one, particularly from my point of view within our organization. Our PMO could never own the resources because we don’t work the sites. Our issues really come into play when we need resources from other areas, so I guess, as a sort of answer, so apologies for not answering 100%.
But we actually have tried to do is that we’ve tried to work with the business units to identify a pool of resources in each of the business units that are there to actually be assigned out to our particular projects. We could never own the resources because we would have no need to own them on the full-time basis. We have to manage within the restrictions that we have. So for example, if you’re working on a project that affects the anesthesia business unit and we don’t have the resources at the site to do it.
What we need to do is basically at the start of the year put a plan together to say: “These are the projects that we need. This is the expectation of the resource requirements that will have from your business unit. Can you support this or not?” and if they can’t, then that needs to be escalated up to the management of that business unit.
Certainly, from our PMO perspective, it wouldn’t be a practical application to actually have those resources available to us. We just have to have a process there that manages that. We need a resource for 3 months; it might not be full time for 3 months, but it’s understanding what the trending is across the year of who we need and when.
How do you prioritize projects to you select the right ones in your business?
Paul Moody: Typically what we do, this is not an exact science are a couple of strategic imperatives and we score them with it. We gather a group around the table and score them. The way the scores are weighted and we come up with the number, and it’s not exactly black and white. We have a debate going and that’s for the score in pieces and we have it in the Cora system as well. I can’t emphasize how important it is that scoring system like that it gets the debate go on and set the middle grounds with choices. That is what the scoring prioritization is about.
How do you celebrate the success or the failure in your organization?
Niamh Martyn: Again, it depends on the area you are working on, like for example when we launched the our Cora Platform solution we had like a team in place, we just do little things like, we care about the cost savings, so it’s not like we are going to bring them to Hawaii for a weekend. So, we just do little things like, just something that recognizes the effort that people have put in. You can’t do that for every project you work on. So, sometimes a note to the project team or, you know, a handwritten card, something small that just actually says: “I have taken the time out to acknowledge the work and contribution”.
Is it okay that people are moving on from the organization and, secondly, are you losing the lessons learned from the experience of your people when they do leave?
Niamh Martyn: I think, it’s like with anything, it needs to be a balance. If you have too many people going out the door, yes, it’s a problem. But I think it has to be a case, as well, that people have to go and new people come in, new ideas, you know, new processes, similar experiences and learning from other organizations.
So, yes you might lose a certain level of knowledge, but I think that for every project that we deliver, the system holds the information whether the person is in the organization or not. The lessons learned are loaded into the system, whether that person is there or not, so I think a healthy level of movement in and out of any organization is good. I think it’s okay when that percentage is two, three or four percent, but if you’re going off any more beyond that I think you would need to worry.
Joe Flynn: The other thing we see is bringing cross-industry experience. People coming from different vertical markets into your sector, they will ask different questions that will be much more inquisitive about what’s going on, why things are done, but they also bring skills from that sector of industry, as well. So, we see that is something as very positive when we are dealing with clients.
What do you consider the latest trends in the life science industry?
Joe Flynn: So, the digitalization in life sciences with the process definition and process of training and methodologies, but the big thing we see right now is with clients coming to us with a new projects or existing clients automating processes, reducing the time to deliver and trying to do more with fewer resources.
Paul Moody: The number of people involved with global stakeholders, the number of inputs from various functions in any project has just exploded and it is a challenge.
Niamh Martyn: Overall, we just have a huge focus on cost, everything is costing, so it’s becoming a challenge to keep costs down to stay relevant in the marketplace.