Learn From Success at the Gates Foundation

Enterprise Project Management Office Success Factors

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation works with partners around the globe in the areas of health, education, and poverty. The Foundation issues grants in the neighborhood of $4 billion annually – a number which is difficult to relate to for many of us. But the organization’s size is a much more relatable staff of approximately 1200. And the Foundation is no different from any other with a stream of internal initiatives and changes that at times can be overwhelming.

When the Foundation’s COO recognized the need for a centralized Enterprise Project Management Office they hired Don Kingsberry, a veteran PMO leader who had brought structure and success at much larger organizations in the computer, bio-tech/pharmaceutical, and consumer products industries. What he accomplished at the Foundation is a framework that any organization can follow for getting more of the right things done.

This Post is a summary of a more in-depth profile of the Foundation’s EPMO. Click here to get the free eBook with the full story.
Success Factor #1: Get the right leader

By choosing Don Kingsberry, the Foundation followed a key success factor for starting an EPMO: choose a leader who is an expert in project management and is accomplished at leading organizational change. Kingsberry's previous successes equipped him to quickly assess the work of the Foundation and propose a vision for implementing standards for selecting and managing projects.

Five Clear Lessons

Kingsberry used the blueprint he had developed at other organizations to establish the roles and processes for selecting and implementing projects. He covers all the bases while maintaining a keen awareness that none of this matters if the people won’t use it. Here are my five favorite lessons from his experience, because they apply universally.

1. Role and scope. The Project Management Office can’t do everything, but they can lead by example on high visibility projects. Most of their effort is devoted to creating standards for selecting and managing projects and they take responsibility on the biggest cross-functional projects.

2. Standards for project implementation. Don’t re-invent the wheel. Use industry standard phases and documentation. Also, don’t make it bureaucratic but be clear that some project documentation is non-negotiable. In particular, he’ll point to the charter, a document developed by the project leader and the sponsor and signed by both of them.

3. Project intake. The first phase of any project is getting clear on its value. “Why is this project worthwhile? Why are we doing it?” That’s common sense, but with Kingsberry it is also absolutely essential.

4. Change management. “Projects make changes.” So project leaders better plan on helping people to change. The PMO even used organizational impact in their project selection decisions, in order to avoid drowning parts of the Foundation in too many projects.

5. Choosing the right projects. Kingsberry and his team don’t make decisions about which projects should be approved. Instead, he emphasizes that these decisions should be based upon commonly accepted criteria and performed on a routine basis. It’s the EPMO’s role to provide the process and the data used by executives.

The Enterprise Project Management Office reports to the COO and CFO, which is essential to its effectiveness. The EPMO has the trust of the Foundation’s top executives.

Making an Impact

There is a sense of awe and deep responsibility for those working at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They are the stewards of an immense endowment. The Foundation has demonstrated it can make significant progress on many health and poverty issues. And the work to be done remains enormous.

The team in the Enterprise Project Management Office takes satisfaction in knowing that they play a part in achieving the Foundation’s mission, and that their work increases the impact of every project.

My thanks to Don Kingsberry for taking the time to help me write the in-depth profile of the EPMO at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and for his generosity in sharing his wisdom so freely with the project management community. Don is a frequent speaker at PMI events. If you have the chance to meet him, do it.