Project Management Paradise Episode 100: A Milestone Edition

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This is a bonus episode of Project Management Paradise where we listened back through some of the key points from our interviews over the last year.

Highlights include hand-picked wisdom and insights regarding the evolution of the PMO, change transformation at the heart of a large healthcare provider and how to make sure that false positivity doesn’t ruin your day.

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

Jackie Glynn is head of the Portfolio Management Office at Three Ireland and has over 20 years of experience in a variety of roles and industries, including heading up a PMO for UPC Ireland as well as working in multi-national organizations like EDS and HP.

What do you find as the greatest challenges in directing a PMO in such a diverse organization like 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 an 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 why governance 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 that 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 our governance of 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.

From: Episode 94: “Project Management for NGOs” with Dr. John Lannon.

Dr. John Lennon lectures at the Center for Project Management in University of Limerick. John has worked on some fascinating projects with international non-governmental organizations around the world. In this interview, John and I are going to discuss project management for NGOs and working in challenging areas such as child trafficking, in often very volatile political and social environments.

Why is it so important to be adaptable?

I guess, NGOs and aid agencies need to be more adaptable, they need to be more agile nowadays, to be able to adapt in a kind of it a timely and in an intentional way because they need to have a good understanding of the local context, they need to be able to respond to local contextual dynamics, political changes, economic situation. Even in some cases, you know, a crisis caused by an earthquake or tsunami or something like that can have a huge impact or a knock-on effect, in terms of climate change as well and all are causing greater close-up of people.

If you look at Northern Uganda at the moment, you know, there are over a million displaced people from other countries are around Uganda or in the northern part of the country. They’re still only trying to cope with the devastating effects of conflict from 15 years ago when the Lord’s Resistance Army and Joseph Kony was running rampant across that part of the country.

It’s an example of how projects need to be mindful of the context there and the changes that are happening as a result of what may be happening in South Sudan, for example, or other countries around Uganda and to be able to adapt, but, also, to be able to adapt to opportunity. I’ve worked with an NGO that had a local partner in that part of the world that was using some really effective mediation processes, in order to address land disputes coming from the conflict.

When you find something that works, you need to be able to adapt to develop that opportunity as well as needing to be able to adapt to address, you know, an emergency or something that comes out of the blue that wasn’t expected.

Why is context so important within managing projects?
Every context is different and I suppose this is something that we learn or we need to learn, you know, from the project management point of view, regardless of the sector where we are doing project management. We can’t just take one set of guidelines or tools and apply them in the same way everywhere but, in particular, in terms of international development, as I said, there’s a whole multiplicity of actors, there are complexities within the implementing units, there are different perspectives, there are competing demands, there’s political volatility so on and so forth.

It’s really important that that’s understood and it’s really important to understand what works and what doesn’t work in any particular context. And again, going back to the example of the education or health, for example, the context may be such that are missing the school building and external organization coming in and saying that the solution is the project building, is not going to work because the problem may be, or probably is, a very different one that’s rooted in the political, cultural, social or economic context in which children are not going or accessing education.

And this is something that you know the agencies, if you take, for example, Irish aid, are very aware of and very mindful of as they develop their strategy looking forward over the next five, 10 or more years as well. They, too, are looking to partner with agencies and organizations that can bring the partnership approach that will enable them to understand the local context sufficiently in order to deliver success on the interventions or projects that are undertaken.

From Episode 96: “Managing a Transformation Program in the NHS” with David Bell.

David Bell is the associate director of Strategic planning at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust.

What are the challenges of implementing a project or program with such a large number of people?
I think the issue for us is largely just our size. We’re a slightly above average size NHS trust in Leicestershire, which is in central England. We provide all the Community Mental Health Services across the country. We estimated at one point in time that we have 160,000 patients on our caseload, our stuff is trying to cover the patients in their own homes on over 830 square miles.

We got something like 6,400 staff, revenue turnover £250 million and to try and bring change around in large organization such as this is very, very complex and you need to kind of try and deploy consistent methodologies across the Trust to make things happen as quickly as you can.

What kind of methodologies did you employ? Can you tell us a little about how you brought that into a place like Leicestershire?
Back in 2015/16, the Trust had been given changing at a rapid pace, it needed to have a more consistent approach to project management. Also, we were trying to enhance the governance, also get a better insight into preparedness for the future. So, basically, what we did, we did three things.

The brief I got was a very much a people approach to change. The first thing that we did was a group of people came together to kind of co-design a change model for the organization. So, we have a consistent way of approaching change and improvements and what we did as a starting point was to take the NHS evidence base change model and adapted it for my organization. So, we took that model, found a group of 20 of us, we looked at all organizational values, the way we work and we then came up with the HLPT model which is branded, we improved it within the organization.

The second part was, we then handed that over to another group of people and they co-designed the one-day training program based on the 8-dimensional model. An idea was that over the three year period we would train about 500 colleagues in the use of the model. So, that when people sit down to work on the change project, either because they want to or they’ve been told to, everybody’s been schooled in the same way of working, so when the project team hits the ground, it runs faster, delivery deeper, all of those things.

And then, the final bit that we did was we then deployed project management program management software to bring all of our projects and programs into one place. So, that we could all see them, see what was going on, see progress, group things together, report better. We deployed some project management software to help us do that. Previously, everybody’s projects were all over the place, on different servers, you couldn’t see things, people couldn’t self-service to, kind of, get the information they needed.

So, if you needed something you had to trouble the colleague and take many minutes out of their day to service your information request. Now, we got all of that in one place where you can just run reports on a touch of a button to get the information you need on a self-service basis. The way we’ve approached it over the past three or four years has been this kind of three-dimensional approach – develop a change model, implement a training program and then deploy software to kind of manage what you doing.

From Episode 97: “Resistance to Change Management” with Gregg Brown.

Today, we are talking about resistance to change management and we will be speaking with Gregg Brown, a best-selling author, inspiring speaker and award-winning expert in the field of leadership, resilience, and change.

How do you get into the collective heads across the spectrum of stakeholders, so you’ve got your senior management team right to everyone across your organization?
A project I was on about 14 years ago, which was a large province-wide initiative, here in Canada, the country is divided up into provinces. It was a large province health care initiative and we had a thousand stakeholders. And stakeholders ranged from individuals right up to organizations. People tend to think that when we talk about stakeholders that it means we have to communicate with them every day and tell them everything that’s going on.

That’s not the case. With a range of stakeholders like that, some of them want to be talked to once, some of them need to be talked to multiple times, some of them want to be talked to in different ways and in different formats. What I did, which works for me and which I see many other people do that works for them, and what I learned from other people, of course, is really getting into the mind and to the head of that stakeholder.

From their point of view, asking the question “What do I need to know to engage in this change”, whatever engage means, to buy, to use, to contribute, and that means you might need to go and talk to some people. As we know from the statistics, project managers will often spend 70% to 80% of their time communicating or I should say they should be communicating. It doesn’t mean over communicating, it means getting into the head of your stakeholder, what do they need to know, when do they need to know, and how do they need that information, it might be a journal article, it might be a podcast to reach a stakeholder.

How do you manage the “What’s in it for me?” question from your stakeholders?
We’ve all been taught and I include myself in this, you know, the whole with them, what’s in it for me, the WII FM radio station, make sure we ask that and if you tell people what’s in it for them, they will get on board the change. Yet my experience is that sometimes there’s nothing in it for you, sometimes it means more work, sometimes it means learning a new skill, which you might not see a benefit to, and sometimes you might think of process cumbersome.

So, I think the better question to ask is “What’s the impact on me?” So, what’s the impact on the stakeholder? There might be benefits, yet you also have to address any other concerns and potentially negative impacts because if you just do the “What’s in it for me” and make up a bunch of stuff, you know, sometimes there is none benefit. The reality is everybody in the day-to-day job is overwhelmed with information, usually overwhelmed with meetings, usually dealing with tons of work, people often doing projects off the side of the desk. So, we really need to talk about the impact which includes the positive and the potentially negative challenging aspects of the project.

How would a culture of false positivity ruin your business?
The thing is that there’s so much information about you know positive thinking and be positive and just think positive and everything will get better and there is some truth to that, I’m not saying don’t be positive. Yet there tends to be this approach or conversation that people often ask me about “How do I deal with the people that are negative or how do I deal with the resistors?” and some people are just jerks and they are going to be negative about everything.

That’s a personality piece that people need to deal with. When we are talking about false positivity, we are really looking at, not putting a positive spin on a bad situation, we are talking about being real with people. Sometimes it is about saying: “I don’t know how is this going to turn out”.

When the false positivity is around, we insist the people put their concerns away, we tell people to look on the bright side, just smile and to just be positive and it will all work out. Well, that’s a nice approach to have, but we need to do the work around that. When I used to coach entrepreneurs years ago, so many books say to just do a plan, think positive, meditate, get grounded, and I believe all of that and I’m not saying don’t do that. That sort of wisdom is really important in your life but you have to take action and action means going into the negative, dealing with people’s concerns, having the conversation, even if you can’t solve the problem, you still need to be able to allow people to articulate that.

From Episode 98: “Common Misconceptions about the Evolution of the PMO” with Liz Doyle.

Liz Doyle is a director at Casseo, business change and project management consultant. She has over 15 years experience in business change and project management, working for some of the world’s top financial services and software organizations. Liz specializes in change transformation, project management, and PMO requirements analysis and implementation. In this interview, Liz discusses common misconceptions about the evolution of the PMO.

Do you believe that the PM has evolved significantly over the last two decades?
Yes and no. I think that the methodologies and the techniques we adopted to deliver projects have certainly evolved significantly if you consider that over the course of the last two decades the list has grown to include PRINCE2, waterfall, lean, agile, etc. They are all the application of different principles, themes, and frameworks to provide structured project delivery but they then have to be adapted and followed by the project team and overall delivery accountability still fit with a project manager.

But while the methodologies and the framework that has certainly involved and progressed, I would say that it frustrates me so much that each time a new one is introduced, it’s thrown around as the new buzzwords and seen as the new game changer that everybody should be adopting for successful project delivery.

Ultimately people deliver projects and a good PM will deliver projects regardless of and in fact sometimes even in spite of the methodology or approach being adopted by an organization. The fact that people, not frameworks or methodologies, deliver projects hasn’t changed significantly over the last two decades.

Do you think that maybe that is more awareness of a project management methodology including all of those that you mentioned rather than an introduction into the new business practice?

Yes, I think that is key that people don’t lose sight of the fact that methodologies and frameworks are indeed just that – that they won’t deliver the project and they are still reliant on people to deliver.

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