Last week I suggested that there was value in setting aside an occasional Friday to reflect, plan, and learn. This week I decided to take my own advice. I’m currently in the process of preparing my presentation on the subject of whether or not an organization is ready to establish and Enterprise Program/portfolio Management Office for presentation at the U.S Gartner Symposium and the Brazil Symposium. I’ve covered EPMOs for over three years now and I’ve collected lots of stories of both success and of failure. In the past, when I’ve talked about this subject I’ve often shared my own success stories. My intention in sharing my story wasn’t ego—it was simply to set a baseline that if I could literally stumble into success when I was at the start of my career then everyone else could be equally as successful since we now understand much of what works and why. Today though I found myself reflecting on the powerful learning that only acknowledged failure brings
Upon reflection I’ve decided that readiness for an EPMO has two dimensions – the first is whether or not the company is ready but the second and possibly more important issue is whether or not we are ready as individuals to do what it takes to get the job done. Are we willing to put in 5 years of hard work to build a foundation of trust and results though out the enterprise first? Are we willing to do what the company wants first–rather than insist on putting our judgment of what they need first? Are we willing to invest the personal time and effort necessary to build a relationship with the man or woman we’ll be working for?
At various times in my career I’ve answered yes to these questions but upon reflection there was one time when I answered no and worse than that I have occasionally been guilty of saying that the company wasn’t ready when in fact it was me who wasn’t ready to do the hard work that was going to be required to capitalize on what little readiness the company did have.
While my story will be different than anyone else’s I offer it because it shows a case of ego-centric blindness that we all suffer from to a greater or lesser extent. I could offer the excuse that it isn’t failure if you let an opportunity pass you by and that it isn’t failure if you are so focused on what you want that you can’t hear what someone else is offering you. But the truth is that it is failure. There’s nothing wrong with saying no to an opportunity that isn’t right for you (and this one wasn’t right for me) but there is something sad about not being able to even see or acknowledge the opportunity because it didn’t come wrapped in the right package.
To make a very long story short I was consulting at a company several years ago and my executive sponsor recognized that that I had the background and the experience to build something he was only vaguely aware he needed. Without talking to me he was busily making plans to hire me when I chose to take another job in his organization (also without talking to him). Let’s be clear what was going on here. If he had made me an offer to set up the EPMO then and there I would have taken it, but he correctly knew that positioning me elsewhere in the organization to give me time to build grassroots support and acceptance was a better approach than simply creating a top-down organization. I, on the other hand, saw a fun and exciting opportunity to do something completely new elsewhere in his org and wasn’t willing to invest years in building something I had already built and run successfully elsewhere in the past.
So here’s the learning. If there’s a mismatch between your readiness and the organization’s readiness the organization’s needs ALWAYS TRUMP YOURS.
So how has this reflection changed my own thinking? I would have to say profoundly. Running an EPMO isn’t like running finance (something else I’ve done in the past). It’s a unique function and as such needs to be in sync with the organization at a level that most other organizations (like purchasing and IT) don’t need to be. This means that in order to be successful you either need to build it yourself over multiple years or you need to have already invested multiple years in the company to have established yourself as a know quantity if you are going to succeed with taking over an already established EPMO.
If you are interested in learning more about our view of the EPMO please check our research
The Enterprise PMO: An Emerging Force in Strategy Realization (free to current Gartner clients)