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Building Your PMO – People, Process, Tools – Part II – Process – The PMO as a Professional Services Organization (cont.) (#4 in the series Building your PMO – People, Process Tools)
By Derry Simmel, PMP, MBA, FLMI

Standards

These are not the PMI or QA types of standards; I’m not referring to making sure every project has a charter. There are certainly great ones out there and some that will work for you but I’m talking about standards for you, your PMO and your team.

I believe that everyone wants to achieve more, by setting standards for your team; you challenge them to do better. Also, standards create a personality for your PMO. If everyone on your team can be expected to meet a high level of professional standards, then the same can be said of the PMO. Unfortunately, if one member falls out, you’ve got trouble – but that’s why you got into management right?

As an example, let’s take the value of Teamwork. How would you set standards for this? You set standards as expectations, some ideas:

  • We help when asked – we are never “too busy”
  • We always treat each other with respect – particularly when we do not agree
  • We are here for the success of the organization, the team and each other. Only by helping others succeed can we succeed.
  • We will share our ideas, experience, knowledge and problems with each other.
  • We are never alone.

I’m sure there are more that you can come up with – I’d suggest a small number of standards for each value. The standards help define and communicate the value. I deliberately used “we” in all of these to help communicate the teamwork even more.

Since you have set standards, you have given teeth to your values. Your values are not slogans or sound-bytes; they are something that everyone on your team lives. If your behavior is not going to match your values – forget it. If these standards only apply for your friends or – worse – for those in power, forget it. I have seen too many people who set their behavior standards based on the size of a person’s office. I have nothing but contempt for that kind of behavior.

Understanding

So we have values and standards, how to ensure that everyone (all your stakeholders) understand them. You want to make sure that not just the team, but everyone associated with the team understands your values. When your customers know your PMO will do what is best for them before grabbing for some personal gain, you become valuable.

Understanding of your values and standards will establish the identity of your PMO. You are as your customers perceive you. I won’t get into the whole “perception is reality” thing, but perception is understanding. By acting according to your standards, you create the reality, perception and understanding that you want. Your PMO is too important to leave this to chance.

You will also need to communicate your values and standards. I’m not a fan of big posters or plastering slogans all over the place, so how do you communicate?

First, you communicate by how you act. For example, what does it communicate when a project is rejected because it is not written on the latest version of the Project Charter? Not teamwork, that is for sure. However, when you cut and paste the old Charter into the proper form and work with the sponsor to fill in any missing elements, you send a clear message that you will do what it takes to make your sponsor successful.

Branding your PMO is important in giving it an identity and helping people understand. Think about any popular brands and what that brand means to you. How quickly you can understand values by simply thinking of the brand. Wal-Mart is low prices, Disney is fun, Nordstrom’s is service and so on. You PMO will have a brand and identity whether you like it or not, best to make sure you have the one you want.

Good old written and verbal communication is part of the mix too. How do you communicate the success of a project, by giving accolades to the team members or crediting the PMO? Do you freely share information, or do you hoard it? Do you seek feedback; do you talk with your stakeholders constantly? Lots of good communication help out there from all walks of business, use it.

Management

Now the ugly part, you’ve got to manage all this. Standards provide value only when consistently applied and enforced. Quality can only exist where it is measured and required. Training is effective only when planned to achieve a goal and tailored to each individual. All this means a lot of work for the manager, so some ideas:

  • Tie the standards to rewards and penalties. You can not be serious if you are not willing to reward and penalize behavior. Reward is easy, but penalize is vital. If you do not take appropriate action when values are violated, you’re sunk.
  • Train your team in what you expect. Don’t just lay down a standard and say “meet it”, help them meet it. Give your team members sufficient time and training to achieve the standards. You are creating elite professionals. Olympic-level athletes train constantly, even more importantly, they think and analyze their performance. It will be no different for your team. I’m not talking about sending them off to a 3 day course and marking the “training” box complete. Training is ongoing and career long.
  • Align your individual goals with the team goals, which are in turn lined all the way back to the company goals. Clearly link the work of each team member with the success of the company. As a PMO you are probably already doing this for all the projects, just do the same for the people. Knowing exactly how you are contributing to the success of the company (and yourself) is a great motivator – particularly for the type of people you are hiring.
  • Feedback, feedback and more feedback. High performance individuals want to know how to perform better, don’t expect that they will “know” that what they did is good or bad all the time. Your team will be making mistakes and they will be hitting it out of the park – you need to be there both times. Spend the time to take a careful look at how the event came about and in the former, work to avoid it and in the latter, seek to repeat.

If there is any way to do it, create a significant performance-based component to you salary plan. Not just on-time, on-budget, on-scope, but also including teamwork, personal growth, and contribution to the PM culture that you are trying to build. One performance goal we used was for each PM to design and give a one-hour class (lunch and learn type) on a Project Management topic at least once every quarter. This got the PM some time in front of audience, let them prepare a class; learn more about a topic and share that knowledge with others. This was a real win for everyone involved.

I haven’t talked much about the customers / partners yet, and not to slight them at all. I really believe that your partners hopefully are the key to the PMO success and the success of each individual. Here I’d like to suggest something off the beaten path and that is to have your partners provide key input into any review or performance evaluation / compensation for you and your team. This can be pretty scary, and unconventional, but let me give some reasons:

  • It is really all about the relationships you build with your partners and your ability to work with them towards mutual success. If they are not successful, you can not be. Feigning success because you delivered exactly what was asked for when your partner is unhappy is rude, unprofessional and dishonest.
  • Your partners are vital to your success, what better way of telling them and showing that you mean it than to give them direct control of your success? You will never be a “them” when you share your success this directly. If you can somehow tie your success to your partner’s even better!
  • It places you in a vulnerable position by showing you trust your partners. Vulnerability is a key component to trust. Partners will never trust you if you can not show that you trust them. This is a great way of showing you trust them. As always, this isn’t a trick or gimmick – you must be sincere and ready to take the consequences, if this is only a token amount, then don’t bother, it has to be a significant amount of money.

By tying your values, goals and objectives directly to performance, you give them teeth and meaning. No one is confused about the value of money and this is you voluntarily placing your money where your mouth is. Just be ready, lack of commitment in any form will invalidate this strategy, and worse lose the trust of team members and partners.

Mr. Derry Simmel, PMP, MBA, FLMI

Derry Simmel has been in IT and project management for over 15 years. He has started 3 PMOs in the last 6 years, the latest of which is with a large project for the State of South Carolina. Derry has an MBA from University of Phoenix and a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from the University of South Carolina. He currently serves as the Vice-Chairman of Membership for PMI’s Project Management Office Special Interest Group and as the VP of Programs for the PMI Midlands Chapter. Derry maintains All about Project Management Offices, a professional blog covering all aspects of PMO.

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