Sep 4, 2013

Those Pesky Cultural Barriers: An Interview with Allen Young

Posted by Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin in Culture & Change Management, Demand Management, Portfolio Management, Project Management Events, Project Management Research, Resource Optimization | 0 Comments

Arguments that sway decision makers are not the ones that IT usually employs.

This week’s interview with PM Solutions expert Allen Young, Account Executive, addresses questions from our May webinar around the cultural change aspects of Project Portfolio Management – and there were many! Obviously the human and cultural issues loom large for companies endeavoring to implement or improve their PPM practices. After reviewing the list of questions (see below), Allen opted for a free-form riff addressing all the questions rather than trying to respond one at a time. Which makes sense because, with managing change, it’s all interconnected.

Here are the questions:

  • Do you have suggestions for converting those that see PPM as another red tape machine?
  • We're meeting some resistance within the business as we implement PPM—concerns about loss of autonomy, having to be more transparent, and having to be increasingly accountable.  Any tips for easing these concerns?
  • How have adoption issues been overcome? And how long has it taken people to “come around” to the idea of standards and result-driven project management?

And here’s Allen:

“If you are going to stand up a PMO or put PPM in place or improve maturity or any of those things, you really need to embed some Organizational Change Management (OCM) in your processes in order to succeed. Anyone who doesn’t take change management into account has a low or no response … it makes it harder to push that boulder up over the hill. That’s why we have striven to incorporate OCM into all our initiatives of this type for clients. Who are the supporters? The detractors? Once we know this sort of thing we have some idea what issues we are going to face. Whether you do it yourself or bring in a third party, it’s necessary.

“There are two camps that we typically see the demand for PPM coming from. The more typical is where the business side is coming up with ideas, getting them approved, throwing them over the wall to IT or software development (and I’m guessing this is where the questioner is coming from), creating a huge demand management issue – not enough resources, trouble juggling. Everything that comes over the wall is ‘top priority.’

“The business side wants it all now! Usually the IT organization says ‘whoa, slow down, we need PPM so we can manage this more effectively.’ The usual response from the business is not warm and fuzzy. So the IT organization has to build a business case upfront for implementation of PPM and include folks from the business side in that development. That’s key.

“IT is usually screaming for PPM because they don’t have the bandwidth to handle the workload. After all, demand management is really just a subset of PPM. A lot of the things that go along with this—prioritization, a scorecard based on something other than ‘pet projects today’—are simpler aspects of PPM. Sometimes it’s just coming up with a list: Here’s what we have, what do we do? It’s in resource allocation (or demand management, to use the term common in IT) where PPM really shines.

“Arguments that sway decision makers, though, are not the ones that IT usually employs. You have to show what the advantages are for them: that the most high priority projects, those with the biggest bang for the buck, get the focus and thus the business gets the most return on investment – instead of everything across the board, high value and low, being late.

“A recent client of ours was just putting all the projects on the shelf, sometimes for 20 months. Those might have been generating revenue, but who knows, since they had not been looked at. PPM also prevents duplication of effort which, in larger organizations, often doesn’t get caught right away. And it provides an opportunity to catch projects that are not going to realize benefits and kill them to stop the bleeding and redirect investments to things that are going to have a bigger payoff, giving the company an earlier opportunity to cut its losses.

“Knowing that not everything will make the cut gives the business side an incentive to make sure that what they do throw over the wall is worthwhile. Decision makers can be assured that they will not consume resources on projects that don’t have a great payback. PPM also enables a sense of partnership, with representatives from both sides sitting on the steering committee.

“As to the ‘red tape machine’ – any process improvement can become overly bureaucratic. What you want to do is to avoid implementing every aspect of it at once. Rather, take a gradual approach. We don’t suggest that clients put all the aspects of PPM in place at once. You might put in a project list, with a simplified away to score the projects on the list. Develop a steering committee to meet quarterly to discuss priorities. As you get more sophisticated, perhaps meet more frequently, depending on how volatile your project list is.

“Rudimentary resource management can be implemented without too much process around it. The scorecard can be very simple, based on a rough order of magnitude in terms of potential return, plus projects required by regulatory agencies. Or a new venture with a high rate of return possible may be elevated to a higher score. Keep It Simple! and expand over the course of time – two, three, or even five years out. It depends on need. Even if a project is a big money maker with low risk … the bottom line is, once it is on the list, you have to go back and ask ‘do I have the right resources to do this?’ It’s not only the list and the prioritization. But, do we have the right people?

“To prevent PPM from becoming overly process-laden or an admin burden—a lot of that can be figured out in the OCM process. If it’s an organization that’s not used to process at all, you can’t throw a lot of processes at them.

“One strategy is to set aside resources dedicated to dealing with the ‘science’ aspects of managing the projects in the portfolio. We’ve helped one client to establish a project controls group to take some of the admin burden off the project and program managers so they can do a better job of managing the resources. It’s not like you need a whole lot of expensive help – three or four controllers can server 30 or 40 PMS as a shared resource.

“But to restate my initial point: it all begins with understanding the organizational cultural environment and identifying where your issues will arise. OCM is the key.”

Next: John Casey, PMP, answers your questions about taking resource management and other PPM processes to the next level of maturity.


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