Adapting an organization in today’s rapidly changing project portfolio management (PPM) environment can feel like an enormous undertaking. It can be intimidating to step outside the comfort zone and stretch for new growth – but that is exactly what is required to stay competitive.
It is understandable that organizations are reluctant to dive headfirst into change as the degree of change required for project management offices (PMOs) to shift to meet today’s agile PPM environment is increasingly growing.
While acknowledging this reality, what hesitant organizations and PMOs should keep in mind is that shifts in operations are not required to happen overnight. In fact, it’s best if they don’t. The best, longest-lasting adaptations happen over time with changes occurring gradually and building upon one another to achieve strategic goals.
My experience working in a PMO and with PMO leaders has taught me that certain changes are critical to creating the strong foundation required for portfolio management success. Here are some key short-term changes which you can implement immediately to set your organization up for the long term.
1. Increase Visibility And Transparency
Research shows that about 50% of projects fail because of the lack of visibility over the entire spectrum of the project management process. Siloed information is an insidious business buster even when an organization is not trying to become more adaptable. It hinders communication, slows down decision-making, and can even stop progress altogether.
One of the primary ways an organization can begin to become more flexible is to remove barriers between stakeholders, through centralized data and consistent reporting. This results in accurate information for all business leaders and keeps everyone on the same page.
Whether you are using an automation tool or not, standardizing your reporting will build good habits and yield results for your organization. Team members are encouraged to communicate more, share relevant data, and increase the effectiveness of all employees.
Capturing data (preferably as it is generated) is therefore critical. We find our clients using historical information, past data points, and feedback more than ever to navigate changing environments.
The more information you have available to use toward making decisions and analyzing trends, the better equipped you will be to handle changes and move forward in a positive direction.
2. Prioritize Your Goals (And Your Projects)
Organizational change seems daunting until it’s parsed out. While every change might appear valuable, not all of them are beneficial for your team, and not everything is realistic in the moment. Decide what is the best next step, and then the step after that – be flexible in your approach and don’t try to tackle everything at once.
If making a list of milestones helps to keep you on track, then do that; but keep your goals in sight. Similar to how you prioritize the work you take on, you should be prioritizing the direction you are taking your PMO.
While it might seem like a simple concept to prioritize your projects to business goals, the data shows it is still not happening. Recent research out of the Project Management Institute (PMI) notes that only 68% of projects met their goals and business intent.
Another helpful starting point here is to right-size your goals. This might require a hard look in the mirror, but if your organization isn’t mature enough to be performing advanced planning models, then don’t make that a goal. Start smaller and build toward it or focus on an area that will be impactful for your business now and see it through.
3. Set Up A Product-Focused Framework
Traditional project management focuses on activities to deliver a specified outcome or goal typically within a given timeframe. Transitioning to a product-focused framework doesn’t change much functionally (at least it doesn’t have to), but changes the focus to outcomes rather than activities and puts everyone on the same path toward a common goal. This also allows the PMO to be agile with both projects and resources and focus on delivering the best results – rather than checking all the boxes.
Most IT leaders and CIOs have a growing imperative to contribute to revenue generating initiatives, more than they have in previous years. This year’s State of the CIO report confirms that driving new revenue-generating initiatives is a top priority for 67% of CIOs (up from 62% last year).
In the short-term, your team begins to learn how to reframe what it means to change and ideally creates a culture that embraces change. It might not be easy to make changes or to forego activities you have already invested in, but in the long run this will yield a better outcome for the team and business.
As an organization embraces the concept, processes become inherently more adaptive and therefore, agile. This gives you the ability to roll with whatever “punches” are thrown by the external environment, be it an economic downturn, a global pandemic, or a hot new competitor encroaching on your space. And because you built that mindset into your processes incrementally, it is far more likely to stick.
4. Implement Good Governance
In order for an organization to embrace a more flexible approach, good governance is vital. Think of governance as the guardrails for your agile processes, with both governance and agility contributing to organizational success:
Governance is the budget; agility is the team’s ability to swiftly change course mid-project to avoid exceeding that budget.
Governance is ensuring that only the most highly qualified candidates are hired; agility is trusting those individuals to make swift decisions that advance company goals.
Governance is determining that customer satisfaction is a primary goal; agility is allowing a team the freedom to make tweaks to a final product to deliver on that promise.
Establishing guardrails in the beginning ensures better outcomes later by setting the limits ahead of time. Once everyone knows the rules, they can work within the pre-defined boundaries to maximize the benefits of each task and total return.
Organizational change begins with small adaptations that can be grown into large-scale improvements over time. By starting with smaller, short-term steps like increasing visibility, prioritizing goals and adopting a product-delivery framework, and then setting guardrails for those changes with good governance, your organization can achieve long-term success in an ever-changing PPM environment.