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Episode 92: “Evolution of the PMO” with Jackie Glynn

In this week’s edition of the Project Management Paradise Podcast we speak to Jackie Glynn, Head of the PMO at Three Ireland.

Jackie has over 20 years of experience in a variety of roles and industries, including heading up a Portfolio Management Office for UPC Ireland as well as working in multi-national organizations like EDS and HP. Jackie has a primary degree in Computer Science and she started her professional working life as a Computer Programmer and as you will hear she has accumulated a wide range of experience.

Below are some of the key questions from the episode

Note: You can connect with Jackie on Linkedin here

Can you give a little insight into how you come from being a Programmer to your position at Three?

For a long time, I stayed in a technical role because I found it very exciting because it was enabling businesses with technology. I suppose at one point in time I realized that technology was following its own evolution and if I wanted to remain a programmer you are probably on an 18-month track of ups-killing your programming language skills all the time. I just didn’t think it was a progression for me, so I started looking at what would be a good thing to do.

I showed the consultancy company I was working for my wide, broad knowledge of business and technology. It was from there that I got into managing and doing a lead role first in the technology I was familiar with and then taking on a project role in that domain. And I suppose the first real task was taking a project in which I had no technical experience. They are the hardest because you actually have to rely on project management skills to get the people to do the things they need to do. Not just kind of get in and understand how you do it yourself.

Once I got into project management I realized what I liked about it was the challenge. Really, I went through the progression of working from the technical projects and then into technical programs, large programs that were technically focused. I was moving very quickly into being a program manager for a number of big companies. Many years ago it was called “business and technical”. So, that gave me a real window into how the business works, how to enable a business process, the kind of things you need to do with technology.

From there, I went into a role as deputy director of IT for a number of years. Then, I stepped back out into a commercial environment to do numerous head of PMO roles where you are enabling the business through the strategy execution of projects.

Do you think, as you were progressing through those roles, that that kind of mapped the evolution of PMO in Ireland, UK or Europe, and that progression has been relatively recent?

That is an interesting question. I have worked for a number of American multinationals and for some global organizations. Initially, in global organizations, like the American ones I have worked for, project management because of the Institute of the PMI was very much invoked.

It was only in the last 10 or 15 years that it’s become more prevalent in the Irish marketers compared to the multinational arena. From my perspective, I always thought that the evolution that happened, I see it, from the roles I have taken, I started off in IT, I ran, was involved with PMOs from an IT perspective, then I ran big programs of work.

Usually, when you have big programs at work you usually have $10 million or more budget and you have to set a program itself. Then you could see the progression of having that kind of organization structure being fed into a wider organization. In the last 5 years, moved from being just a functional PMO role as an important CIO to running an enterprise program portfolio management office with reporting to the CEO in Three Ireland.

To me, it has been a real evolution to see that project management, program management, portfolio management, started to sit at the highest level in the organization in terms of helping driving and enabling the organization.

What do you find as the greatest challenge, directing the PMO in such an organization as Three?

It is an interesting thing when you tell people about PMOs they think that when you have done one, you have done them all. The interesting thing is that you can do the same project in the different organization and it is a different project because of the people, the culture and the strategy of the organization. The same goes for PMOs.

From my perspective, when I came to the screen field role in Three, which was a great infield site when they have no PMO. It was about engaging with the CEO and his team and I held interviews to understand what was their objective for hiring me, what do they expect from the PMO? It was an aligned view of what we aim to do. That way we got rid of any of the inconsistencies or assumptions around what a PMO could do.

Maybe based on the experience of the PMO in another organization. The kind of alignment and strategy of this is what our PMOs going to do and what we need it to do. So, the challenge in the organization like ours is that we have multiple things going on and we have to deliver a lot.

Everybody, because we are a technology organization, a lot of people are involved in the project, so not everything can come as a direct line of control to the PMO. But we have put them in place and try to support the structure and governance of the project. And, then also my portfolio management office, we run them more on the strategic programs for the organization that are more across functional in nature.

So, governance, another hot topic. Could you explain a little bit about governance and why it is so important?

In the words of our CEO, he wants to make sure that the people in our organization are focused on the projects and he needs us to deliver and to execute our strategy. Governance, from my perspective of a PMO, is making sure that that’s what we are doing. It is about making sure that there are no prep projects in the organization, that people are not distracted by things that are not relevant to the organization.

We, also put structure around, how you might call it, sizing of the project. We put structure around engaging with a wider organization because you have to understand how this project or program will come to life within your organization. You need to understand what does a business need to do to make ready to get this operational into the business. At the very last level, once you wave it approved through the SMT and SEO the release of the CapEx funding of that project, then what comes to out governance is reporting.

Every level involved in portfolio governance, then making sure that the sizing is appropriate, making sure we are engaging to a wider business and then when all that’s done we said yes, the CapEx council says yes, you can have the response of the project, we make sure we apply the right governance from the reporting perspective. So, this transparency and visibility about the delivery of that project puts the value into the organization.

How big of a challenge is to align all of those various divisions to deliver to the strategic objectives of the one organization?

Many years ago, when I would have locked in the methodologies in the earlier days of my career because I am a PMP qualified as an associate at the Project Management Institute, I tend to favor that framework. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t favor other frameworks, as well. I have come to the point of my career where I actually believe that as long as you have a methodology, no matter what it is, it is about having a consistent methodology across the organization.

In the end, what we do here is encouraging a language of projects that everybody understands, artifacts that have to be produced to the lifecycle of a project that everybody understands. So, whether I call it a charter or bespoke statement, it doesn’t matter what I am defining. It is about what does this project does and how do I go about it.

For me, when it comes to methodology you can’t sweep into an organization like Three that deals with multiple types of orders, will have their own methodologies and expect they all gonna use a particular methodology. What you have to understand is how you fit the frame around it, it’s all those who work constantly with each other and how you make sure that the language of the organization is consistent.

Is your primary concern the engagement across the department and across the company and vendor engagement and complete comprehension of the methodology or the methodology that may be employed?

Yes. Because at the end of the day I don’t favor any particular methodology. I just think we need to have a way of doing things. And, again, it’s about people understanding what do I mean by that term, what do I have to produce and what the people to expect to see in the content of that.

I don’t care what that is called as long as we all agree to what’s the content and what deliverable is. That is really the key point, we can get really open, let’s implement this methodology, this one is better, that one is better. But at the end of the day, you can actually implement a mechanism or a way of working that embraces the different values of each one.

There is a lot of discussion about agile vs. waterfall. What are the pros and cons of that approach and what difficulties do you face when working with the vendors or partners that have an opposite approach than you may have?

Regarding agile vs. waterfall, there is a lot of discussions around, one being better than the other. My firm view is that there are projects that will require an agile methodology and there will be projects that will require a waterfall methodology. When you are thinking of product development and implementing new products into the marketplace, agile methodology fits perfectly.

You structure your project, you structure your releases, you focus on the most prevalent features that you want to market and you might never get to the end of your to-do list if you satisfied the customer and you realized that margin or revenue that you want to. But, there are other areas where waterfall methodology is appropriate and the agile wouldn’t work.

There is also a grey area, currently, we run a couple of programs of business transformation in Three, where we use a combination of both because we are combining two platforms into one. And while with an agile development, we still have to adapt elements of the waterfall implementation and testing in order to move one platform into another. We often think that the agile has to be for software development.

I think we can adopt a lot of principles of agile and focus our team on the most important things in the next few days to achieve. Many years ago, I remember we had one meeting a week. That never happens these days because we can meet even twice a day, depending on the stages of the product, if we are closer to delivery.

I think there are elements of agile you can incorporate into your project management methodology even if you are not delivering software technology in an agile way. I think you can take elements from both sides.

Do you have any tips for organizations that realize that they need PMO to manage their delivery more efficiently and details they need to do in order to maximize their output for a minimum input?

It is important to understand where your importing line is because that helps you understand your span of control and influence in the organization. If you are a functional PMO and you sit within a CIO, CTO function or even business function, you might not have those enterprise remits. That will constrain or bound what you are going to do as a PMO.

I would say if an organization is looking for a PMO for the first time, the added value of having the person report into a CEO because you have that independence every project in the organization and you are able to give the review without having any skin in the game. For instance, if this project doesn’t go live, I don’t see a revenue.

There is a very independent objective that is given. I would counsel that you go through the reporting first because you want to see what you are trying to achieve. Then you need to look at what type of PMO you want. If it is that you are just trying to get the project under control and standards and methodology is slightly different from having an enterprise-wide PMO. Maybe that’s where you want to start.

What I would say typically, all the research from the project management institute itself shows that the rate of PMO turning over and closing down probably every 2 to 3 years. When you look at the research if your project started with setting up standards and methodology and very quickly if you think about it, once you have done that and embedded, the organization kind of thinks “So, we know how to do this, so we don’t need a PMO anymore”.

What you need to be able to do is actually build your PMO in conjunction with your business strategy and to evolve as your business evolves. For instance, with all discussion and debate about agile or waterfall and there is also a discussion about PMO and what is that going to bring to the organization.

I think you need to look at your reporting line and what type of PMO you want to achieve and how you are going to align it long-term with the business. Then you need to understand who you are going to hire as staff. This is really important because you need to have staff who have some experience in delivering and executing projects because you can’t build the capability and help and coach people to learn how to be better if your staff doesn’t have experience in doing so.

Regarding the secondary school system and the third level education system, tell us what the PMI are doing to highlight the importance of managing projects, the full portfolio of that whole career and the need for more qualified managers here in Ireland.

From the PMI perspective, we pretty much believe that we are volunteers so we believe in giving back. Some of my time during the last couple of years has been with the team of the volunteers developing what we call a project manager module to transition students in secondary schools. We have effectively done that with the number of schools in Dublin. We really firmly believe that project management is a skill for life.

Everybody should code and understand how to code. You might not end up being a programmer but you need to understand how it works behind the scenes. Equally, from our perspective, if you look at how growth is in the organization is driven by projects. No matter what your qualifications are, if you are in HR, an accountancy, if you are a technical person, the likelihood is that during the course of time, you are going to be a part of the delivering projects or you are going to be a person that leads projects.

So, the sooner we do that for our children who are coming through our educational system, it’s another skill that they can apply. We do a transition program of 8 weeks with the students to give them those skills. In the last 2 years, we have collaborated with the BT Young Scientist Exhibition which is a fabulous initiative that is focused on improving the stems objects for boys and girls in this country.

What we have done there is to customize a program for our project management around how we can train the teachers to help the students to structure their projects in a way that delivers what the BT Young Scientist Exhibition wants. We have done that for the last 2 years, we trained about 90 teachers all over the country. We did it in 3 locations this year, Dublin, Limerick, and Cork last year and Dublin, Limerick and Galway this year.

So that we could spread the word about project management. I passionately believe that based on the types of industries we get here in Ireland, types of roles we have that project management does something that is going to embed even more organizations in the future. If you know how to do it, you are going to be ahead of the curve.

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