Jan 4, 2018

Interesting Times in Project Management: An Interview with J. Kent Crawford

Posted by Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin | 0 Comments

"Once that tipping point is reached, things can shift rapidly."

Our founder and CEO Kent Crawford stays on the road a good deal, teaching classes for the PMI SeminarsWorld series, as well as visiting client sites and attending conferences and speaking engagements. In doing so, he keeps a front-line view of what is going on in organizations across a broad array of industries. So, once in a while, I find it fruitful to catch up with him and ask: “What’s happening?”

Crawford: Good question! It’s definitely an interesting time in the project management world. We are seeing increased interest across the utilities spectrum. There seems to be a much stronger and growing interest in that industry in overall organizational maturity. However, while there is an enterprise interest, sometimes not all the business units are on board. Some are reluctant to bring in broader capabilities, strength and depth in project management, which surprises me. The question of the value of project management processes has long ago been answered, especially for construction and infrastructure-heavy industries like utilities.

Editor: To what do you attribute that?

Crawford:  There’s still a silo structure and mentality in a lot of companies. Some business units don’t want to deal with the additional rigor that project management brings. Some of them feel “don’t tell us how to do this!” Some are afraid of adding organizational complexity.

And, sometimes it depends on what the company is trying to do with their PMO. Where PMO leads come in with the mandate to expand PM culture, but at the same time they find that the sponsor doesn’t have a deep enough grasp of what that will mean for the organization. an activist EPMO director is in a tough position.

Editor: What’s the answer?

Crawford: The PMO must focus on what the business units value. They have to be skilled at “selling up” to, for example, the VPs within the business units. Even if they lack authority, they still must try to influence and change the organization. I think that sometimes EPMOs are rolled out with the idea that, if you just create it, people will come! But any kind of organizational change without the authority to implement can be a tough sell. We know how effective and valuable these processes can be, and we think everyone else will appreciate that right away … but it’s not that simple.

I just had this discussion with a PMO leader in South Carolina. Her company brought her in to create a PMO but with no authority to require compliance. The situation, with siloed leadership and artificially set deadlines – which were being missed – was challenging. I told her, go back in history and look at all the projects you have data on. Look at original proposed delivery dates and compare that to what happened. If you have 30 or 40 projects in a database, and can show that they were over deadline, over budget, then there is a list of questions: How did you handling scheduling, scoping, requirements? You have to show there is a better way, and show it concretely.

Editor: So, once again (and I feel like we’ve been saying this for years) it comes down to performance measurement?

Crawford:  Yes, and I’ve been pushing performance measurement for at least 10 years! But there is improvement. It is slow, much slower than I ever dreamed it would be. It takes a big commitment to change the organizational way of doing business.

For things like organizational change management (OCM) we are seeing more and more companies implement OCM as a regular ongoing standard of how they do business. Its’ not 100% … it’s more like 5%. But those who are doing it, are doing it in a very robust way, using OCM to manage the change that every project is bringing. So, that’s a good thing. They are the standard bearers for others.

Same thing for resource management. When I ask the 5% who are doing RM speak up in classes, it is very exciting to hear the value proposition they present. On the other hand, the other 95% are saying, how can I ever get there?

Project Portfolio Management seems to be moving faster than some of the areas. We do see that PPM is no longer happening just on an annual basis. Strategy is ever-evolving and you have to be flexible in updating the portfolio. So that brings us to benefits realization. The only way we can make portfolio recommendations is by knowing the benefits. And, to put it simply, we are not good at benefits realization. Most companies are not even good at forecasting benefits. In my classes, I find that the percentage of folks reporting that they rebalance the portfolio regularly based on benefits tracking is only about 20%.

I am still amazed at how slowly things have changed over the years. But there is tremendous potential, and when we consider how recently the EPMO was considered a revolutionary concept … and now the majority of organizations have PMOs, according to our studies … you see that once that tipping point is reached, things can shift rapidly.

[Editor's Note: For a few of Kent's discussions with PMO leaders from recent PMO of the Year Awards, check out our YouTube channel here.]


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