Posts From July, 2013

I Love This Book! The Culture Code

Build Your Project Team Culture

The Culture Code Reveals the Power of Safety

“When we talk about courage, we think it’s going against an enemy with a machine gun. The real courage is seeing the truth and speaking the truth to each other.”
         –Dave Cooper, Retired, Commander Master Chief, SEAL Team Six (From The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle)

Why is it so hard to see the truth and speak the truth to each other? Why does that demand courage? And, can any team reach their potential without this ability?

Safety: The Foundation of High Performance

Daniel Coyle, in his new book, The Culture Code, offers three necessary cultural elements of what he calls “highly successful groups.” These elements are safety, vulnerability, and purpose. After reading the first few chapters, I became convinced that safety should be the primary focus for every leader, especially project leaders

I’ve always thought of safety at the office and in my work group as physical safety. Coyle refocused my attention to that of emotional safety. Frankly, I am surprised I haven’t seen it before. I’ve been reading and writing about project team performance for about twenty years. I’ve always known that trust is crucial to creativity and innovation, but Coyle’s angle brought a fresh light on the foundational role of safety. His theme is that for teams to reach their potential, each member must feel safe enough emotionally to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is critical to giving and receiving authentic feedback, which is the only way a group will improve its performance. Feedback within the group is directed toward serving the purpose. Purpose becomes the North Star. That logic is tough to dispute.

Project teams are temporary, formed to accomplish something unique. These teams solve problems and make decisions every day. Versatile’s high-performance team checklist lists nine characteristics that enable a team to survive the “give and take” of creativity and problem solving while maintaining trust and keeping relationships intact. But I have to admit that emotional safety has always been assumed, rather than explicitly called out.

Coyle’s logic, that safety precedes trust and trust precedes authentic feedback and team learning, lays bare the importance of establishing emotional safety within our teams. The quote at the beginning of this article comes from a key story in the SEAL Team Commander’s evolution as a leader. In Cooper’s early career he advised a superior that a particular course of action was dangerous and should be avoided. That superior ignored his  advice and the result was exactly what Cooper had feared. Cooper took away from that experience a desire to be the kind of leader that invited opposing points of view and encouraged criticism from every member of his team.

The Primary Focus of Every Project Leader

Do you want your team to “see the truth and speak the truth to each other”? What could be more important? From creation of a business case and charter, through risk identification, scheduling, and daily problem-solving, your team is making decisions and working through conflicts.  Every day of every project is affected by team culture. Pick up Daniel Coyle’s Culture Code. He illustrates his theme with stories from a wide range of teams and follows up with specific actions for the reader. I predict his lessons will stick with you and reignite your focus on team culture.

PMO Success Factors Focus on Building Value

A promising sign of real economic growth is the increase in inquiries I am receiving about setting up a PMO.  It is a sign that companies are investing in their capacity to deliver products and services.

The Project Management Office (PMO) trend kicked off roughly fifteen years ago, so those interested in establishing a PMO don’t need to pioneer the concept. The wealth of lessons learned is laced with the reality that implementing a PMO is an organizational change project with all the associated risks.

It’s great to see a renewed interest in the PMO. In an attempt to grease the skids for these first-timers, here are seven success factors we’ve observed.

1. Delivering stakeholder value is as important for a PMO as it is for projects. Define the role and purpose of the PMO through the eyes of project stakeholders. Project managers are major stakeholders, and so are project sponsors and resource managers. All the people that benefit from choosing the right projects and strong execution are stakeholders. Promoting standard processes and related technology are typical of PMO duties but that is not the mission of a PMO. The mission of a PMO is to serve the people involved with selecting and executing projects. So PMO processes and technology must solve real problems for these people.

2. There are many successful models for PMOs. At a minimum, the PMO owns and promotes project management practices. On the other end of the spectrum the PMO is accountable for managing projects.  So how does a business choose? Refer to success factor #1: serve the stakeholders. The corollary is that it can make sense to have multiple PMOs: each one is structured and placed to solve a different set of problems within the organization. 

3. Product development is improved by project management, but don’t confuse the two. Typical product development steps begin with envisioning new requirements, then designing, testing, and shifting to production. Instituting a discipline to capture and repeat best practices at each stage is important – and not the same as project management. As an example, you will have a schedule and status reports for each stage. Your project management activities will complement the product development activities. The good news is that a PMO is a great place to manage development processes, too!

4. Strong sponsorship is the #1 success factor of an enduring PMO. Implementing a PMO is an organizational change, so it needs a strong sponsor that will fight to realize the vision. Two key actions include allocating budget and publicly supporting the practices promoted by the PMO.

5. Change agent, visionary, and project management expert are the top three characteristics of a PMO leader. Change agent is obvious – you’ll need to win cooperation. The PMO leader is going to be promoting standards for project management; promoting the right practices and offering insightful guidance requires expertise.  The visionary leader helps others see what’s possible in the near term and how to continue growing in the future.

6. Evolving a PMO from start-up to sustaining will include the three levels of enterprise project management: project, program, and portfolio. Start with the biggest pain point. Are you overwhelmed with too many projects? Then a little portfolio management will go a long way. Are you fumbling on project execution? Focus on project management basics. But wherever you start, chances are the next opportunity will be at another level.  The spiral pattern of evolution is the most common for PMOs that succeed in incrementally adding value over the long term.

7. The efficiency and effectiveness gains aren’t free. The PMO is an overhead cost.  The value of improving execution and project selection are real but measurement is usually anecdotal. Ironically, the more sustained the benefits of a PMO, the less visible they are. That means the first year of a PMO we can clearly see the difference from our new emphasis on project management. But the efficiency gains don’t go on forever, thereby reducing the visible value of the PMO and increasing the temptation to ‘cut the overhead.’ PMO leaders and their sponsor should be aware of this risk and proactively emphasize all the previous success factors to ensure their PMO continues to demonstrate visible value.

Bonus Tip: A PMO serves its stakeholders. (It’s worth repeating!) Kicking off a new PMO is exciting. Build momentum by adding value quickly, which is best accomplished by focusing on the projects and project stakeholders and creating the systems and processes that solve their problems.

As always, the insights published on this blog are a product of many peer conversations as well as client work. This post was particularly influenced by a recent meeting of the Project Management Office Roundtable of the Puget Sound chapter of PMI. Thanks for sharing!

What’s your best practice for building an effective PMO? Please add your comment.