Architecting a Transformation Initiative

Like many posts I write, this one started as something somewhat tangentially related.  Originally, this post was supposed to be a rousing survey of funding models for large transformational programs.  Yes, I know….sounds exciting.  As I started looking at the funding models currently utilized however, I realized that this story is not really one about funding models – but about how transformational programs are fundamentally structured, about the fundamental operating model or architecture of the transformation program.  (“Structure” or “architecture” being shorthand for the combination of processes, tools and behavior required to support the transformation effort.)  Hence, at some point during the writing, this post transmogrified from the original discussion of funding models to one on transformation program architecture.

As with most of my posts, these conclusions are still evolving and are based on observations made working with and talking to hundreds of organizations over the years.  That being said, most of the organizations I work with tend to view large scale transformation programs according to one of two main paradigms:

  1. Step change transformation
  2. Incremental change transformation

A step change program is one that is embarking on a specific goal over a relatively short time frame.  Examples of this may be a regulatory remediation project, M&A activity, a divestiture, or an asset rationalization initiative.  The main challenge, of course, in a large step change transformation program is preserving the value proposition of the original proposed change – and in maintaining the new target behavior once the formal program has concluded.  After all, most large transformational programs are designed to permanently modify the underlying behavior of the organization.

An incremental change program is one that occurs over a potentially much longer period and involves the gradual alignment of culture with the long term needs of the enterprise.  Where the step change program is a “big bang” approach, the incremental change program is more of an evolutionary transformation conducted by tweaking the levers that guide project selection (among other things).  Think of this approach as an implementation of formal governance processes followed by a gradual adjustment of those processes and the metrics that govern the organization to steer it in the right direction.  Arguably, this approach is harder to implement due to the sheer number of moving parts – but it may also lead to more lasting change within the organization.  (Which is another post).

These two approaches could be mapped to a top-down vs. bottom-up model in terms of organizational change management.  If we were to visualize these two models, it might something like the graphic below – albeit the incremental transformation is probably significantly slower to achieve the same level of lasting performance as the step change model.

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Process Perspective

Each transformational program architecture includes a series of critical processes: standard program management blocking and tackling; project identification, prioritization and selection; funding, metrics and analytics, etc.  Some of those processes may come naturally to the organization and some of those processes probably don’t.  In fact, unless you work in an organization that is always transforming itself (which does exist) or in a consulting shop, it’s likely that you may not have the required skills to structure a transformation program.  Anyways, suffice it to say, there’s almost always a series of new processes that must be defined to support any large scale transformation program.  The focus on which processes to develop does change based on the specific architectural model applied to the program.

In a step change transformation architecture, the focus will be on the traditional program management blocking and tackling.  In this centralized structure, the desired end state is defined, split into multiple workstreams – and then each workstream is planned out and rolled up into a single Integrated Master Schedule (IMS).  The program is then staffed with a program manager, IMS scheduler, workstream leads, and all of the other required staff.  It sounds easy – but it still surprises me how few organizations manage to do this properly.  (Pro tip: the more time you spend planning and structuring before just jumping into execution will be time well spent).

Incremental transformations rely on a different model for driving lasting value.  In this model, the transformation program piggy backs off of existing functions and processes.  Instead of instilling a new structure outside of the existing organizational structure, incremental transformation attempts to control the existing planning mechanisms to implement the change.  Typically, this means that the program goals are translated into strategic drivers and metrics which are then injected into the annual/quarterly planning processes of the different subunits of the organization.  This requires that these subunits employ some level of formal planning in selecting project portfolios – and that these methods are subject to some level of influence by the transformation program leadership.

Funding Models

Now we arrive at the original premise of this post.  What are the funding model implications of these two approaches?  This is actually a perennial question that many organizations struggle with.

For example, what often happens is that a particular transformation program is decomposed into multiple workstreams, and that one of those workstreams is IT.  The IT components are then added as projects into the IT portfolio during the next planning cycle.  From the perspective of the IT portfolio manager, several projects have been added to the intake process that have been classified as either high priority or as mandatory projects.  These projects may draw on the same funding sources as all of the other IT projects, but be flagged somehow as belonging to the transformation initiative.  (One might suspect this funding approach is indicative of trying to “transform on the cheap,” by simply absorbing related projects that would have been initiated anyways as part of the overall program effort.)

The alternate approach is to secure funding for the entire transformation program and to treat that as a coherent, holistic budget.  As projects are defined and moved through the approval pipeline in the context of the program, those projects represent committed funds against the program budget.  A slight variant on this model is to budget for each workstream, and then to allocate funds within each workstream as projects are identified and moved through the approval cycle.  (The latter approach representing a more agile approach for an adaptive program management model within the step change framework.)

As always, the decision for how to architect the funding model lies on control.  If the program requires firm control and visibility into progress as in the step change model, funding should be through a central program entity.  If the program is less urgent in time, and is dependent on gradually shaping the direction of the organization, a deferred funding model is probably appropriate.  That being said, the more sophisticated organizations that I work with still have a portfolio coding mechanism to flag wholly or in part how much of the investment in a particular project is supporting the transformation initiative.

Supporting Technology

The two approaches also imply a separate supporting technology architecture.  In a step change model, attention must be paid to the structuring of the work portfolio, the decomposition of the overall program into its component parts, and the required blocking and tackling for each of those parts: budgeting, scheduling (deterministic or agile), risk management, schedule integration, etc.  Each of those parts must then be mapped to the overall context of programmatic risk management and governance.  These processes require appropriate technology support, i.e. a mechanism to structure and support the overall governance of the program.

Incremental change is typically more dependent on a federated PMO model.  Organizations usually maintain multiple planning organizations by function and/or business unit.  These organizations are responsible for selecting the appropriate mix of projects for the organization – and in turn, their specific spending authority is subject to a number of factors such as how nimble the organization needs to be, economic factors, etc. (see an older discussion here).  The critical consideration here is that to support the overall needs of the long term incremental change, leadership needs a way of influencing the behavior of the specific units within the organization, and that is most often performed through pulling the levers of the project selection mechanism.  Hence, if each unit within the organization has a centralized function to perform portfolio planning, and the factors that impact the planning are capable of being influenced from the central organization, the entire ship may be steered in an appropriate direction.

In the incremental change model, attention should be spent on ensuring the appropriate technology is in place to support visibility into the pipeline of projects passing through each of the various planning entities – and to ensure that project approval decisions are made according to the appropriate drivers.  In this case, the technology is focused on making the approval decision making process transparent and consistent.

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Transitioning from Step to Incremental

The reality though is that the question of step change or incremental transformation is not an either…or… decision but an either…and… decision.  I typically see organizations leverage a step change opportunity to implement the technical and process infrastructure required to support the long term adoption of an incremental change culture.  Hence the processes that get created to support the step change transformation get baked into the organization and reinforce long term behavioral change and performance improvement.  This approach also serves to reinforce the value proposition that the original transformation was designed to bring about in the first place.

 

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Architecting a Transformation Initiative

Under What Conditions do PMOs Naturally Emerge?

I remember reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace in high school.  The book (tome may be more accurate), if you haven’t read it, depicts life during and after the Napoleonic invasion of Russia.  The book tells a story, for sure – but it’s also a very (very) long essay on one fundamental question:  Does history make the man…..or does the man make history?  Let me restate the question in terms more relevant to what I do….do PMOs make the environment they operate within…..or does the environment create a PMO?  More specifically, perhaps, what are the conditions upon which a PMO naturally emerges – whether or not it’s actually called a PMO.  In what environment does a PMO-like structure naturally emerge?  The goal in asking this question is not to identify what PMOs actually do – but rather, in what environments, where a PMO doesn’t exist, it should.  In what circumstances should we look to create a PMO function when none exists?

To answer that question, I first looked at the different domains in which PMOs typically exist.  What role does a PMO play in each of these domains?  Can we extrapolate any truths that cross domains to govern when PMOs naturally form?

PMOs within the IT Domain

I know I’ll oversimplify this and probably make some folks cringe, but the basic narrative, which I’ve never really had reason to question, is that PMOs formed in IT right around the run up to the Y2K remediation exercise.  They sprung up to support the coordination of massive numbers of critical tasks and resources that needed to be coordinated to remediate coding issues.  Subsequently, PMOs have stuck around, generally to provide a portfolio alignment capability within IT and process compliance.  Hence, from looking at the IT domain, we might surmise that PMOs emerge under the following conditions:

  1. Large number of tasks that need to be coordinated with a shared resource pool.
  2. Aligning the work of IT to best provide business value.

I might theorize that IT PMOs are required to also drive process compliance, i.e. to mitigate the risk of unscheduled outages in organizations ever more dependent on IT.  The interesting thing here though is that many other domains, such as manufacturing, tackle the challenge of process compliance in different ways, without PMOs.  My theory here is that perhaps IT policies are rapidly evolving, and as such the PMO is required to continually monitor process compliance in a world where process keeps shifting.  In that sense, we may be able to conclude that PMOs should exist when process compliance is an imperative, and when that process compliance governs technology or conditions that are inherently dynamic.

Now the original question may not make sense in the IT domain context.  Of course IT needs a PMO.  That’s been accepted wisdom for years.  But what about other domains?  What about other domains with the same needs but without the same acceptance as to the value of the PMO function?  What about PMOs in oil and gas exploration and production?

PMOs for Exploration and Production

Historically, exploration and production has been a slow, methodical capital driven process where projects required multiple year ramp ups.  In the new world of unconventionals, that paradigm is shifting and organizations are reorganizing and restructuring around a more nimble paradigm.  Historically, that paradigm has been based on local optima, where each group was responsible for managing its piece of the oilfield.  In the new world of depressed commodity prices, that pattern is changing, and unconventional organizations are moving to knit their operations together more holistically and support the ability to shift tasks and schedules based on changing priorities.

Hence, PMOs are appearing in the unconventional E&P space.  Admittedly, some of these PMOs have been around for years, but there’s a growing awareness in the industry of the role and value that may play.  Hence, going back to the original thesis of this article, the appearance of PMOs in unconventional E&P portfolios appears driven by:

  1. The sheer volume of tasks that must be performed in synchronization to generate value and reduce cost in the oilfield.
  2. The need to constantly recalculate and reprioritize the work being performed based on enhanced data and real world performance.

Now, let’s skim a rock over other domains that I typically play within.

PMOs for Professional Services

PMOs seem to often take less of a role in professional services organizations.  In these organizations, projects are generally undertaken for a clear, profit driven reason.  These projects were proposed, went through an economic review, and drive margin for the company.  As a result, there’s less of a need for the PMO to ensure portfolio alignment – but more of a need for the PMO to drive margin through risk avoidance/process compliance.

Going back to the initial discussion, the role of the PMO in a professional services portfolio is to enforce process compliance to deliver results in a rapidly evolving field.

Program Execution

Finally, we have program PMOs – which perform a coordination function required to coalesce many disparate disciplines into a single endeavor.  Again, here we are leveraging the coordination model….made all the more important as the groups are probably not used to working together and need the central coordinating body to ensure work is performed in the appropriate sequence.

Other Examples

I could run through other examples, but as I thought through them, I pretty much end up with the same conclusions.  PMOs tend to emerge when the following conditions are identified:

  1. A portfolio of work loosely aligned to profitability and/or the overall goals of the organization.
  2. A portfolio of work that outpaces the ability of a centralized resource pool to support.
  3. A portfolio of work performed by many agencies that is continuously shifting in response to external factors.
  4. High risk processes that must be adhered to in a domain that is rapidly evolving.

Identify those requirements within your organization, and chances are you need (or have) a PMO.

Under What Conditions do PMOs Naturally Emerge?

Understanding the Value Proposition of a PPM Investment

After writing yesterday’s post, I started thinking about really how to define the value proposition of a PPM investment.  While the primary value remains (as I wrote yesterday) alignment with portfolio goals, there are still quite obviously benefits related to operational excellence, increased efficiency, and reducing the risk of rework or potential safety issues.  In fact, as I started writing down all of the various value propositions of a PPM investment, I realized that pretty much everything falls into one of two categories:

  • Benefits that align the portfolio/program/project with the goals of the organization.  (Aligned)
  • Benefits that reduce the delivery overhead of the portfolio/program/project. (Efficient)

I then mapped those value propositions to the engagements and organizations that I’ve worked with to see if I could map them to specific characteristics of an organization, i.e. to determine if some organizations value efficiency while other organizations value alignment.  I played with a couple of different taxonomies, before settling on this one:

  • Organizations working with a defined project / program / portfolio scope (Defined)
  • Organizations working to translate a high level strategy into an execution plan.  (Derived)

Once I mapped that out, I realized that many of the organizations I’ve worked with have evolved over time.  I initially engaged when they were focusing on operational excellence and efficient delivery, and then over the years, have watched as they’ve grown in maturity and become focused on how to effectively define the portfolio.

Finally, I overlaid some of the component capabilities of a PPM solution to see where they fit into the model.

The end result is as follows….thoughts?

 

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Understanding the Value Proposition of a PPM Investment

Accelerating the ROI of Your PPM Investment

What if I told you that I know how to short cut the payback period on a typical PPM maturity initiative?  What if I could tell you how to abbreviate the growing pains and go straight to the results?

Getting to a solid ROI on your PPM investment takes a while.  Take it from me,  I’ve been working with organizations for decades on this (sometimes even the same organization).  I’m not saying there’s isn’t a quick ROI on investing in PPM maturity.  Rather, I’m saying that many of the organizations I work with could get better ROI and faster if they just followed a few simple principles.

The first principle is to truly understand how PPM can provide value within the organization.  Once we understand the real value proposition, we can make a bee line for that goal….knock it out of the park, and then turn around to focus on the less critical things.  Think of PPM maturity similar to how I played Capture the Flag with my kids at a paintball park last weekend.  When the referee kicks it off with the whistle, you sprint to the back of the compound, grab the opponents’ flag, and then turn around to begin mopping up the remnants of their force.

So what’s the underlying goal in any PPM maturity exercise?  Resource metrics?  Operational excellence?  Risk avoidance?  Predictability?  No, I would argue all of these are secondary goals.  They’re necessary at some point, but not sufficient.  No, the main goal of a PPM maturity undertaking is almost always to align project execution with the strategy of the company.  Period.  The challenge is that many times these endeavors are chartered at the wrong level, i.e. as an investment in project delivery by the PMO organization.  When that’s the case, the journey takes on the characteristic of a salmon swimming upstream.  We have to start at the bottom and keep working our way upwards until we can get to the point where the project portfolio may be aligned with the fundamental needs of the organization.  This approach may be ostensibly risk averse, but it greatly slows the realization of the ROI on the PPM initiative.

So how do we address this principle?  Start at the top.  Imagine that you’re starting with a white sheet of paper.  Understanding the organization and its goals as you do, how do you design the perfect mechanism to execute on strategy?  That becomes the end goal of the PPM maturity exercise, to build the processes, tools and behavior required to support the execution of organizational goals.  Don’t stop there however.  If you start at the top and never take it down to the execution layer, you end up with some fantastic reports and slide decks – depicting a fantasy world that will never get realized.  Start at the top, and follow through all the way down to the project execution processes.

The second principle is to truly understand the importance of change management as an enabler of PPM maturity ROI.  Without the behavioral change, nothing happens.  How do we get that behavioral change?  There are a number of ways and frameworks to accomplish this, but the main way I’ve seen to succeed in this space is to really focus on inclusive involvement and a solid consensus as to the underlying goals of the initiative.  This means allowing the folks at the execution end of the portfolio to participate in discussions on how the portfolio links back to organizational goals.

Change management in PPM maturity endeavors is most often subverted by two things:

  1. An overriding focus on the technology required to enable PPM processes.
  2. The cognitive dissonance caused by acknowledging the underlying issues driving lack of organizational performance and then capitulating to immediate needs by focusing on the wrong issues.

What happens when organizations ignore these principles?

Ignoring these principles makes the road to PPM ROI even longer and more winding.  Many organizations give up in the middle, or get stuck in endless loops trying and failing different things….like iterating through execution maturity to find just the right fit of methodology to map to the organization.  This is a great discussion – but it tends to distract us from where we’re trying to get to, i.e. portfolio alignment.  Similarly, I find the resource management discussion tends to distract us from our true aims….and by distract, I mean put everything on pause for 6-8 months while we focus on something tangentially related to our goals – which then fails to achieve our actual goals, resulting in ever increasing cultural resistance to the overall PPM story.

Curious what the path to PPM maturity looks like for many organizations.  Take a look at this post that walks you through the evolution of PPM in most organizations.  Notice something?  The main reason most PPM investments fail is that they’re too limited in scope.  It’s an investment in strategic execution, and we almost always begin with operational excellence.  This is certainly not without value, but the sequence should be reversed if we want to push the needle meaningfully. It’s not about executing better, but about aligning better.

Hence my tips to accelerate the ROI of your PPM investment:

  1. Start with the strategy.
  2. Design the organization to execute the strategy. (i.e. don’t stop at strategy, but carry the discussion forward)
  3. Involve the organizational execution folks in the discussions.
  4. Wrap it all with analytics.

The major return on the PPM investment lies in getting important things done faster and in not wasting time on things nobody particularly cares about.  Follow these principles, and while you may not have the results you need in a couple of months, you’ll certainly have them faster than you would following a more traditional path.

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Accelerating the ROI of Your PPM Investment

Calculating Demand with the New Resource Engagements Feature

Looks like when I wrote that post on how to incorporate Resource Engagements into the portfolio analysis module of Project Online / Project Server 2016, I left out one critical step.

For resource engagements to show up in the calculated portfolio demand, you’ll need to open the Project Information dialog box within Microsoft Project Professional and toggle the calculation settings – then republish the project.

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Note that the option only appears after the project has been saved to Project Server.

Calculating Demand with the New Resource Engagements Feature

Conference Catch Up: Critical Path Drag

Catching up on some of the discussions from the last conference I attended, the Critical Path Management conference.  Had a good hallway conversation about the concept of Critical Path Drag.

Not familiar with the concept of drag?  If you’re at all interested in the world of scheduling, it’s well worth the time to check out this article in Wikipedia.

Read the article and curious how to calculate this in Microsoft Project desktop?  Here’s a helpful macro courtesy of Tom Boyle.

Conference Catch Up: Critical Path Drag

In PPM, Situational Awareness Trumps Operational Excellence

Consider, for a moment, a cautionary tale of two organizations: Organization A and Organization B.  Each organization takes a significantly different approach to delivering the project portfolio management (PPM) capability.

Organization A has a relatively immature approach to project portfolio management and performs annual planning on a, well, annual basis.  Each business unit compiles a list of project requests which are submitted to a central repository.  Months of back channel negotiations and positioning ensue.  At the end of the process, the organization has a list of approved initiatives for the next fiscal year…which may then be summarily ignored in favor of last minute project requests thrown out by the business.  This is what I would classify as a typical “pull” approach to PPM, where each group submits a request to pull the project through the approval cycle and into execution.

Organization B, on the other hand, takes a different approach to portfolio execution and starts a bit farther back in the value chain with an exercise in defining what organizational performance actually means.  This is broken down into strategic programs comprised of projects that are identified by the program management structure.  This is more of a push model where the PMO organization is responsible for identifying projects and pushing them into the portfolio.  If we apply this to the traditional v-model validation concept, we would end up with something like the graphic below where the traditional PPM measures actually fall at the lowest level, i.e. the “Execution Plan.”

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Where do these goals come from?  These days, those goals are increasingly being driven by gains in the field of analytics.  As analytics platforms mature and the volume of data generated by the Internet of Things expands, analytics are expected to drive ever more decisions as to what projects need to be executed and where capital should be prioritized.  Are assets providing the expected return?  Is equipment performing as it should?  Increasingly, analytics will drive these assessments.

Once gaps are identified, i.e. once we identify reality is not performing according to specifications, what is left but to charter an intervention in the form of a project?  Now, however, the project is not driven by a request or saddled by the lack of an ability to track benefits.  The project is born of analytics and will support a specific measurable goal.

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This then becomes the key indicator for the maturity of a PPM system….not how many strategic drivers are leveraged to assess projects, or how structured the process is.  Instead, the single indicator that will drive PPM maturity into the future is how much data, or situational awareness at the highest level, is actually being used to drive the project identification process.

In PPM, Situational Awareness Trumps Operational Excellence