Nov 11, 2016

“An Appetite for Simplicity” : Report from the PMO Symposium

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To change culture: Simplify

This week I attended the PMO Symposium for the first time and it was one of those events where you experience so many new ideas that you can’t keep them to yourself. I’m relatively new to Twitter, but I found it to be the perfect tool to record “Aha!” moments and, at the same time, engage others in conversation about them. I came back with a record of over 100 tweets, but more than that, the hundreds of responses to my thoughts by the other conference goers. That’s the real gold, because early on, I looked around the room and realized that hundreds of billions of dollars of projects were being managed by the people there around me, which was literally awesome.

What were some of the major themes? As my colleague Kent Crawford wrote on Monday, managing benefits realization was the focus of the conference, and PMI is encouraging all project managers and organizations … not just PMOs and their leaders … to shift their focus to realizing the intended benefits of the projects they work on.

But how is that shift to take form? When I asked the “Twitterverse”:          

“An open dialogue for BRM ownership is a must ... do we jump to formalization and an officer level leader, or do we change the cross organization dynamics and embed everywhere?”

I got a lot of feedback from other people at the conference. The majority said “don’t go there” – referring to the top-down approach. Instead they were in favor of embedding the required behaviors in roles throughout the organization. Make BRM part of the PM’s role, make it part of everyone’s role, change the cultural mindset. Link it to governance, so that the focus shifts from top to bottom of the organization.

There’s clearly no appetite for creating new roles, organizations, or top-heavy processes. The message of the Symposium (and this applies not just to BRM, but to every topic) was: Simplify. Capitalize on already existing processes and structures, continue to focus on productivity enhancement, let’s improve what we have rather than having some new silver bullet. There is a huge interest in killing noise and cutting complexity.

How do we begin to change culture? One way is to identify where the existing culture sets up barriers to realizing benefits. In another “Aha” moment, I proposed that “A critical link exists between "risk avoidance" and benefits,” and found that many people agreed. Your organizational risk profile is one place to look for the opportunity to change. If you have a low appetite for risk, you can’t even explore the possibility of certain benefits; if you are not awake to emerging risks, you are also not awake to emerging dis-benefits. One way to change that risk avoidance culture is to increase transparency – encourage people to raise a red flag, increase their comfort level for speaking out. Instill a culture of reward, not punishment, and the ability to make mistakes. Create success stories of how identifying risk allowed us to uncover potential. Just as an example, if we fear and avoid putting junior resources on programs, we are missing out on their ability – both now and the future developed and tested ability they have the potential to display.

I’ll be writing more about the responses I received to my tweeted ideas at the Symposium next week. Meanwhile, join us here and on Twitter to continue the conversation. How do we change the focus of our organizational culture to executing strategy and delivering benefits?

I hope you will join us for our webinar next week discussing our new white paper on this topic. 


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