The Iron Triangle of the PMO: People, Processes, and Technology


Project management has always been fond of the "Triple Constraint" or the "Iron Triangle." In traditional terms, the sayings represent the three constraints on a project: cost, schedule, quality. It is often taught as the iron triangle because if one shifts, one of the other sides must also shift in order to stay balanced. For instance, if schedule is the constraint and you are behind schedule, you either add staff (cost) or reduce scope (quality) to bring the date back within the constraint. As I continue to work with executives and their PMO's, the iron triangle for the PMO is people, process, and technology. Company after company continue to make significant investments in one of the three areas and often neglect the other two. For instance, a company will purchase Clarity, but then not hire project managers thinking that the tool will fix their issues. Another company may make significant investments in creating the process but then not hire enough project managers to complete the process. Each time this occurs, the company will then question the value of the investment. Just like in projects, the PMO must make investments and measure their success on the three sides of their triangle.

Process
In most of the organizations that I work in, they have some sort of governance or process that is documented. Many times, these have been purchased from various consulting firms and consist of templates and mandates of which documents are completed when. As outlined in an earlier post, "What About My Capacity" I outline how to quickly determine the amount of work it takes to complete the project management process. Companies are often frustrated at the lack of information or quality of information that they receive during project reviews. Their answer is to create templates and mandate the completion of the templates. However, they ask people who are not familiar with the concepts or the templates to fill them out. This is akin to handing somebody who finished high school math a tax form and expect the same results that a trained accountant would give them. An investment in the process is a key factor in the creation of a successful PMO. However, the process alone can't fix your issues.

PeopleThe right people in the right positions can make a tremendous difference in the quality of project management. I will state it as plainly as I can for the record: projects should be run by trained project managers. It is that simple. As an example, you are at a car repair shop because you have something wrong with your engine. You are told that the mechanic that is going to fix your car will not be able to fix it for 4 hours. Right then, a 17 year old kid walks up and says, "I know about cars, I can fix it." Do you wait for the trained mechanic even though it means waiting four hours or do you let the kid fix it? Most of us would wait. Why? We want someone who is trained, certified, and warranties the work. We also want someone with experience. You want experience and training. This is true for many professions: Teachers, Doctors, Dentists, Surgeons, Executives, Accountants, Home Builders, Engineers, Architects, etc. This is true for just about every profession.......except project management. I have worked with organizations that have invested many millions of dollars mandating processes. These processes require the project managers to complete forms, risk planning, project scheduling, etc. The process is so important that it is mandated. Then when they roll out the process, they do not have enough people to complete the demand for project management. This forces them to select someone who is not a project manager to complete the work. However, if the work is completed with poor quality or the results do not add up, it is the profession of project management whose value is questioned. Not the people performing the task, but the profession itself. In some cases, I have seen resources that cost three or four times the amount a project manager would cost to complete the activities. These people do so begrudgingly and will readily admit they don't want to do that type of work. I have seen organizations lose highly valuable resources because they were making them do activities outside of the job that they were hired to do. Why do we invest so much in a process, but do not invest in the people to complete the process? Or better yet, we think that if we by the right product, it will solve our issues.

TechnologyI have completed over 70 project and portfolio management technology implementations. I have worked with Clarity, Microsoft Project, Planview, Primavera, Daptiv, @task, and others. These are all great tools. However, they do not solve your project management process or people issues. What they will do is make your poor processes run faster or expose the lack of quality of information. They are compliance tools that help make your processes and people efficient. If the project manager you have selected on a project has never really written a project schedule or been trained how to do so, why do we think making them enter it into Clarity is going to make it better? I will give you the number one reason why PPM tool implementations fail: lack of executive mandate. Unless the executives prove that they are in the tool, looking at the data, using the data for decisions, and mandating compliance, then the tools just become another process that project managers (or the people selected to do project management) must fill out. I have taken over many failed PPM tool integrations. In each case, the executives were never really looking at the information or making sure that the information within the tool is accurate. I worked with one organization where they spent a significant amount of money purchasing and installing the tool. They never trained their project managers to use the tool properly because they thought that the cost was to high. In three months, the data was so disjointed that the project managers held a meeting and decided that the tool was too hard to use. So they all agreed that they would use the tool as a project reporting tool, but would maintain all plans and schedules outside of the tool. The executives never really checked the tool because they were using printed reports that came from the tool. The tool had become an afterthought. The next question then become, what is the value of the tool? In other organizations, they will say that the tool was the wrong tool and will consider purchasing yet another tool to try to do the same things. This tool then is not implemented properly so they will question the value of project management itself. It is a downward cycle that happens in roughly 70% of the clients that purchase the tools. They think that the investment in technology is going to solve their issues. It just exposes them.


PMO Value: Process, People, and Technology
Unless there is investment in all three branches, the PMO will usually either fail or become a non-strategic resource. To build a successful PMO, the following must occur:

  • People - If project management is important to the organization, then invest in project managers. Stating that you do not have the funds to hire a project manager and then turning over the duties to someone who costs three times as much is not only a waste of money, it is provides poor quality. Invest in the right people and the right training.
  • Process - Do not just invest in templates and mandates. Make sure the investment is made to educate the executives on the value of project management and the value of the proper process of project management. Dr. James Norrie in the book "Breaking Through the Project Fog: How Smart Organizations Achieve Success by Creating, Selecting and Executing On-Strategy Projects (Jossey-Bass Leadership Series - Canada)" has the best answer to the value of project management that I have heard to date: the value of a project manager grows exponentially the earlier you involve them in the process. The other key to proper process is to ensure the right amount of governance to the right amount of projects. There should always be some sort of tier system within projects so that the process to complete the governance of the project does not cost more than completing the project itself.
  • Technology - Invest in technology that will enable the organization to enforce compliance, each roles data builds on the other roles, and provides key decision metrics to executives. The technology should be invested in that streamlines the process, stops duplicate entry of information, is the single source of the truth, and provides value add activity. If you are entering the same information into three different systems or the system that you are entering information in is not the single source of the truth, then we are adding cost for process, not for results.

I have seen many organizations spend tremendous amount of money on one or two of the sides of the triangle while neglecting the others. To be successful, the three sides must be balanced to an organizations needs and ample focus should be placed on all three.

Be strong and stay true to your principles,

Rick

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

AWESOME article! Thank you.

Amani Phoenix said...

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