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Project Management Office Improvement and Lessons Learned
By Owen Head

Like any other functional organization, the PMO is made up of individuals. These individuals (PMs) can learn and develop as individuals, but each will excel in different ways than their counterparts. No matter how well trained or experienced they become, conventional wisdom suggests that no one individual will be able to compete with the collective talents of the team as a whole.

If a team of individuals are allowed to operate independently, each using their own unique methods, the result will be a different performance for each project managed. No consistency from PM to PM or project to project, and your quality guarantee is only as good as your weakest performer. Furthermore, unless an individual PM follows his/her own written script each time they manage a project, even the individual will produce inconsistent outcomes project over project. In this situation, the PMO cannot help but fail in its mandate to establish consistent and improving project performance and product quality.

Based on these facts. It becomes clear that written process:

  • must be produced and complied with to ensure repeatable/consistent management outcomes
  • must borrow from the individuals that routinely produce the best outcomes for the specific work being scripted

What is needed, is a team of individuals that all bring their own unique talents, skills, and approaches to a shared system of optimized procedures.

Is that it? Hardly. No process will ever be put to its best use unless those responsible for following it are entirely bought in to its use. They must believe. That means each process must be written by its users (to engender personal ownership) and they must be held accountable by management for its failures and rewarded for its successes. Since people generally do what they’re rewarded for, management must show a keen interest in process development, compliance, and performance. Employees must realize that as long as they followed process thoroughly, they will not be blamed for a poor outcome, but instead, the process will be questioned and reviewed for potential corrective action.

So where do lessons learned (LL) fit into the picture? Let’s first classify each LL as a positive or negative lesson. The question becomes: how do we repeat the positive lessons and avoid repeating the negative lessons in future projects? The best answer of course is by altering written process to institutionalize the learning.

LL gathering should be a requirement of written PM closure process, while LL resolution must belong to PMO QA improvement process (resolution is not a function of the project). If there is a real lesson to be learned, then it’s that the best response to a lesson learned is an update to permanent process so the lesson response isn’t simply discussed, only to be quickly forgotten.

I’m going to break with long winded tradition and end here, but I will leave you with the following declaration: no PMO can achieve its mandate for consistent and improving project performance and product quality without process and process improvement. The value process actually delivers, depends on how well the culture of quality takes hold within the adopting PMO.

Owen Head has over nineteen years of technical Program and Project Management experience in ISO/TL 9000 compliant organizations. He has built a number of PM Office practices from ground up, and managed more than 70 technical, business process, and change management programs and projects, in all areas of IT and Telecom development and support. He holds a B.Sc. in Computer Science Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington and has been certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP) by the Project Management Institute (PMI).

Owen is the Managing Director of PMOSoft, LLC, a company dedicated to PM Office performance maturity, through fast and affordable maturity management system (MMS) solutions. For more information, please visit http://www.pmosoft.com or our blog http://pmosoft.wordpress.com.

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