Will 2012 be the year of people projects? Over the past few years, changes in the economy have driven changes in business models. However, this has largely been a reactive change, without a clear plan for changing staffing in the firm. In the last few years we have seen waves of layoffs, outsourcing and “re-sizing” to support cost reduction goals, but not with a clear plan of how these changes are reflected in the firm’s ability to work. The corporate staff has been stretching to adjust to these changes, but when you continue to stretch year after year, eventually things can suddenly snap… and you suddenly see the results of many years of changes all at once. The U.S. economy went through one of these “stretch and snap” periods in the early 90s, and now the same forces seem to be lined up to create similar dramatic changes. How will this affect your PMO’s plans for 2012? Today’s blog will explore the big change in the 90s, see what that means for 2012, and how to tell if your organization is ready when things snap! Ready… here we go!
Before the 90s recession, saving and loan banks were deregulated and then had reserve requirements slashed. By the late 80s, thousands of S&Ls (largely located in Texas were regulation was the weakest) collapsed, draining capital from individuals, corporations and governments. In ’87 the stock market collapsed, providing a follow-up blow to trigger the recession in ‘90 and ‘91. Corporations, which had been investing in computers for decades, now had a big portion of the workforce using computers, making long distance outsourcing cost effective. The recession forced corporations to examine their operations and find cost savings. Across corporate America a trend was noticed, the primary functions of middle managers and sales managers (consolidation and reporting of information) was “hollowed out” by the new technology: email, accounting systems, procurement software, report generators, CRM’s, and proprietary databases. Higher-level managers could ask computer systems directly for information, and B2B systems made sales managers far less effective in selling commodity items. Large numbers of highly paid staff with unclear value to the firm were finally let go. However, the process was chaotic and unplanned. Authors such as David Williams, have argued that the reactive method of laying off whole categories of mangers hurt many firms more than it helped.
Today, we’re looking at a very similar situation. Deregulation, followed by the collapse of financial institutions, followed by the collapse of the stock market… happening after decades of corporate investment in technology and outsourcing. This recession was deeper than the 90s, and today’s corporate investments are more diverse than in the past. Every possible market and industry has… and continues to be… changed: oil, financial markets, technology, the decline of Detroit based cars, the rise Chinese and Indian economies, Brazil eclipsing the UK economy, and on and on. With diverse economic changes, and divers corporate investments in process improvement, the impact on corporate processes has been… diverse. To put that another way, there are MANY opportunities for cost savings and for improvements that are scattered across your organization. These pockets of opportunity are not always obvious, and at a glance, they are not connected. Together these are huge opportunities, but they are buried because of the way corporations report data. In order to take advantage of these opportunities, someone needs to unearth these opportunities. Who? Why that would be You, my fellow PMO Geniuses!
PMO offices did not exist in corporations in the 90s. Today… PMOs, process improvement groups, and similar organizations to track investments and identify opportunities are being rolled out like never before. PMOs must look beyond simple project managements, and take responsibility for assembling individual operational snapshots from projects into a “panorama” of the firm. In order to do this, the PMO needs to be sure that the project portfolio reflects reality. Look at your 2012 portfolio and see if the projects reflect the changing employee profile of your firm. If not, you need to talk to project sponsors and department heads to see why projects are missing. Here are the projects that should be in your portfolio:
- HIRING: HR department not only need to hire ever-changing types of talent, they need to develop new ways to find talent. Facebook, LinkedIn and social-networking sites have surpassed job boards. LinkedIn now has far more activity than Monster.com. The labor market has already shifted to recruiting through social-networking… but are there projects to support this shift? Ask your HR department if there is a plan for the new recruiting reality.
- TRAINING: With new corporate positions and functions, is training keeping up? Do you see training projects, especially projects to develop web-based training? Share relevant projects in your portfolio with the training department; they may not be aware of all the opportunities for training!
- AUTOMATION: Your firm is always rolling out new applications, automation and tools. A changing business can greatly benefit from automation, especially when small groups suddenly grown and need to be more efficient. Yet while many firms are quite competent at buying or building applications, most fall short on quality user documentation and training. Software by itself doesn’t deliver improvement. It takes training to make it work; without training even “successful” software deployments fail to deliver expected benefits. Follow-up with last year’s software projects and this year’s new software projects. Share your fin dings with the training department.
- MOBILITY: More and more positions require laptops, iPads, mobile phones or remote access. When you look at the contents of your portfolio of projects, do you see a clear mobility plan or just a bunch of disconnected projects with diffused goals. Is there a single head of mobility projects? If there are different mobility leaders, do they all know about all the projects? Share a cup of coffee and the contents of your portfolio with these managers.
- OUTSOURCING: Every PMO can expect some outsourcing projects 2012, especially outsourcing to Cloud services. Your firm has probably been outsourcing for years. Create your own project: an analysis of previous the last couple of years of outsourcing efforts! Have projects been effective? Expect earlier efforts to have missing data, invalid metrics and unclear goals. Before investing more money in 2012: develop a cost saving baseline, a set of best practices, and a case study that shows if there are any benefits beyond cost reductions (increasingly, studies show that innovation and other expected benefits are not happening).
- SITE ANALYSIS: When markets and products shift significantly, corporations rethink whether their facilities are in the right place. The skills in a PMO are great for performing a site analysis and determining the best location for different corporate functions. Speak with corporate planning and facilities to see if you can lend a hand.
- SPACE: The downturn in the economy has been going on for years. Leases that expire in 2012 were written when business conditions were very different. If your firm has a multitude of leases, is your firm looking at the entire space issue, or is it just a lease by lease negotiation? Are facilities managers aware of important projects in your portfolio? Speak with facilities and ask about their long term space management plan… a PMO’s planning and workflow skills could be a useful asset.
- HEALTH: A far-reaching change is coming in employee benefits. Corporations are scrambling to lower the cost of health insurance. Some firms are raising insurance rates for smokers and the obese. Others provide free gym memberships to encourage better heath. Whatever the method, lowering health costs and a healthy work force are no-brainer objectives… but developing these objectives into projects is no small task. The projects are usually reactive and executed in isolation from other business objectives. Your PMO may have just the right skills to help HR develop a more comprehensive plan for this complex issue.
As the economy continues to change, so too does the workforce. Firms not only need to constantly seek new talent, they need to constantly discover new ways to find the very best employees. And that’s just the beginning of the process. Having the right facilities in the right place for employees, supercharging productivity with the right applications, and seeing that they have the training they need to bring all of these elements together require more than a little coordination. But when you choose the right projects, and get all the sponsors working together, then you just might make a bit of magic happen! At least, that’s my Niccolls worth for today!