As many of you know October and November are symposium months and this year I had the opportunity to the around the world circuit of Orlando, Cannes and Sydney. It’s a well kept secret that sometimes these events are a bit of blur for the analysts and I am afraid I’m no exception. I had planned to get this blog entry written a month ago but holidays and the beginning-of-the-year rush delayed me.
So what did I observe on my travels? The unfortunate side of the equation two things that stuck in my mind. The first was that too many companies are struggling with incorrectly scoping their projects and programs and the second was is that too many companies absolutely had no idea of either the role or the benefits that can be gained from program management.
To go a little deeper into the scoping issue that I observed, the problems seems to be a struggle between IT and the business as to who does what when, and with how responsibilities should be partitioned between each organization. Our research has shown this is a very prevalent problem with companies at PPM maturity level 2 or below (see Exploring Level 2 of the Program Portfolio Management Maturity Model for more details) but knowing it’s common doesn’t make it any less comfortable for the companies that are struggling with the issue.
To be honest the program management issue surprised me. Naively I had come to the conclusion that most of the program management misconceptions were limited to North America but on this trip I found it not to be true. The GFC (otherwise known as the Global Financial Crisis) has caused organizations that might have known better two or three years ago to make the decision that they should approve all work at the project level even if they knew it was or should be part of a program. To make matters worse organizations were also beginning to add back in all the project processes and governance that programs are designed to simplify which was unfortunately beginning to result in higher cost, longer project durations and potentially a higher level of duplicative or unnecessary work.
Of course I don’t want to leave the impression that everything I observed was negative. As frustrating (for clients) as I found the two issues above I also found some overwhelmingly positive factors. The first big plus was what I would consider a sea-change in management’s willingness to be involved in creating a culture of results. I normally bend the ear of anyone who will listen about the dangers of believing that projects can be treated like a repeatable process. According to me, no matter how attractive it seems, the notion that if the requirements and the estimates of cost and schedule are right up front it’s possible to get to the end with absolutely no variance or change is based in wishful thinking and not fact. This trip when I explained that the reason for this was that projects and programs generally function as complex adaptive systems with inherent risk and unknowns I saw both nods and active requests to “tell me more”. Given that I did my public conference presentation on the “Uses of Chaos theory in Program Management” 14 years ago at a PMI conference, I was delighted to see interest and inherent understanding of the subject in many of the companies I spoke with.
Finally the interest in how to move to an Enterprise Program Management Office from an IT PMO (see The Enterprise PMO: An Emerging Force in Strategy Realization) has been encouraging. While developing an EPMO isn’t appropriate or desirable for every company it’s an approach that a significant number of companies are finding valuable as a way to ensure that they have rapid and effective execution of strategy in today’s uncertain economic times.
All in all the trip was a wonderful opportunity to meet and speak with clients and even though I always say I’d like to travel a little less, every year I find it an opportunity I don’t want to pass up.