Building Your PMO: The Alpha & Omega of Project Management – Part II

In our last blog we talked about the two most important project phases for a new Project Management Office (PMO) to focus on, the beginning and end. The last blog spoke about the “Alpha,” the start of a project, and how you can leverage improvements from project starts across all projects. Today, we will look at the “Omega,” the value that you can get from the ending of projects. Talk to any PMO director and you’ll hear tales of projects that go on forever, or never close, or never close properly. By not having a true ending, these project fail to deliver essential benefits to the company. Let’s dive in and see how each of these Omega elements deliver value!

  1. CLOSING: The closer you get to the end of a project, the more that you and other members of the project team become weary and want to move to the next project. Everyone will be tempted to skip steps or take short cuts. The PMO is there to resist this urge. Don’t add any tasks that don’t need to be done, but ensure that everything that needs to be do is done. Like creating a folder of all the closure documents and ensuring that all deliverables are completed.
  2. CONTRACTS: It’s an official part of most closing processes, but it’s frequently forgotten. It’s not unusual that contracts and vendor agreements are left in place. You may remember to close the contract for a consultant who helped on the project, but did you close the contact for a software product that was replaced, or an office that will no longer be used? When servers are retired, what happens to the software licenses? Creating a checklist for different types of projects will help future project teams.
  3. PERSONNEL: The project may be ended and closed well before personnel cuts are made. If the project is the installation of software, leading to reduced staffing, the new and the old processes may need to run in parallel for months. Personnel cuts may be incremental and take a year or more to complete… AFTER the installation has finished. Alternatively, by the time the project  is completed “cut” staff still be on the payroll, but reassigned to other positions. Tracking staff changes in a large group with significant turnover can be very difficult, as staff are continually arriving and departing due to other projects. You need to start the project with a snapshot of personnel(names, positions, status: full-time, part-time, temp, other), and specific names or positions to be reduced (see the last blog for more details). Only use reports from your HR department, not from the project sponsor. Be prepared for complex discussions when the people and positions still exist, but departments claim that reductions have occurred. Be sure you base reductions on reports that the entire team can agree on.
  4. FEEDBACK: Especially when a new Project Management Office is just getting started, you need feedback from the entire team when a project closes. Part of this is in the signoff from each group… a verifiable agreement that deliverables have been delivered, and that a completed project is completed. You also need to get feedback on how well the project went. Did everyone work well together? Are the Project Mangers fulfilling their roles properly? Is there room for improvement?  The PMO itself is one of your firm’s greatest opportunities for continuous improvement. You will not only improve the processes of the PMO, you will also spread the use of best practices, continuous improvement and other methodologies.      
  5. PROJECT SUCCESS: When you close your project, you need to indicate if the project was successful or not. Consider carefully what success means and how you will track this going forward. Were all the deliverables completed successfully? Was the project completed on or below budget? Was it delivered on or before schedule? If all deliverables were successful, the project was on budget and on schedule, did the expected outcome (faster turnaround, lower cost, better quality, development of a new group, expansion into a new market, etc.) occur? Today, as little as 5% or 10% of corporate projects are FULLY successful. All projects should have a report card, with: cost, personnel changes, schedule, objectives,  and results.  
  6. LESSONS LEARNED: Now that you’ve rated a project’s success, is it clear to you why the project succeeded or failed? You may not know the complete answer, but you will probably have learned lessons along the way that will help many future projects. This information is invaluable, yet before a formal PMO is created these lessons are often left undocumented and fade from memory before they can be reused. Document what works and document what should be avoided. Don’t just use these lessons to improve projects, use them to decide if some projects in the project portfolio should be removed, rescaled or re-estimated!
  7. POST PROJECT SUCCESS: Once the project is completed and fully closed out, what happens next? Unfortunately, what often happens is that the group you worked with… the product group… goes back to their old way of operating. The PMO has methods to track the progress of a project, but can (and will) the product group continue to track key metrics after the project is over? They may lack the processes or software to know how well their groups follow processes. You may need to help the group develop these methods (perhaps as a separate project) or you may need to have a follow-up audit, a few months after the project closes. You might be surprised to see what has (and hasn’t) changed in that time!

When every project closes, you have the opportunity to not just ensure the continuing success of this project but to also ensure the success of many future projects. The PMO provides a wealth of information on best practices, poorly performing, corrective techniques, corporate expertise (who are the experts) and knowledge repositories. By mapping the resources, spreading this knowledge and replicating valuable lessons the PMO multiplies the value of each project. At the start and end of each project you will be given access to a trove of information that can deliver great value to your firm… if you use it correctly! And that’s my Niccolls worth for today!

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2 Responses to Building Your PMO: The Alpha & Omega of Project Management – Part II

  1. John W. Gunkler says:

    Why do managers, and “experts” like you, Chris, continue to push the idea that a desirable outcome of a project is to get rid of people!! This is (1) patently a stupid idea in most cases because while it may seem to save money in the short run it inevitably costs much more money in the longer haul, and (2) shows complete ignorance of what made Toyota so successful (respect for their people!), and (3) damages relationships with your remaining workers, which (4) makes it difficult or impossible to conduct the next project.

    It is far past time that we stopped talking about headcount reduction in business, period! It should not even be on the table except in the most unusual cases!

    • John,

      You touch on a very sensitive topic that I want to address. However, I do need to make it CRYSTAL CLEAR that your opinion is… completely, totally, right!
      The news stories that we see today about people being needlessly terminated are very rarely because workers are lazy or inept. Instead, these are stories about failures of management. Most jobs today are liked to technology, and technology is constantly improving. Competent managers must understand how to deal with change and improvement or their employees are at risk. Unfortunately, we both know that few managers understand change, and workers suffer as a result.

      Take a department with 100 users, 10 of which perform a specific function. A new version of software is released making the function twice as efficient, requiring just five people to do the work. What happens next? In an ideal environment, the next steps were worked out BEFORE the project started. The manager thought of ways to usefully redeploy the five workers, perhaps creating a new service. HR is informed of the change, processing a request for five new positions (with new job descriptions, responsibilities, hours, etc.), and people are officially transferred. Too often this does not happen. Instead…

      When management fails… the manager disagrees with the project but doesn’t say anything; expecting failure no plans are made for the five workers; if the project succeeds, the manager shuffles staff, changing titles without a real process. After a few projects, “regulators” (procurement, accounting, audit, an efficiency department, PMO office, etc.) notice a pattern. Senior management loses faith in the manager, and the entire department is OUTSOURCED …without a real plan, just to get rid of a management problem. I’ve seen this cycle over and over again. However, it is almost always avoidable. “Kitchen sink” outsourcing results when managers are dishonest and practice lazy management. Managers MUST make difficult decisions, that’s why they get paid the big bucks! When managers fail to: make difficult decisions, develop new services, maintain high-quality services, develop a long-term plan… everybody’s job is at risk!

      Once again, an excellent discussion point John!

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