I saw something on Twitter recently that gave me pause: “The quickest way to ruin the productivity of a small company is to have it adopt the practices of a large company.” As I read down through the comments, I was surprised by the passion supporting the sentiment. Someone even offered that small companies should in fact do the exact opposite. I refrained from posting the questions running through my mind that stem from my dad’s mantra, “Never build your house on sand.” While it’s sage homebuilding advice, he meant that if you lay a solid foundation, you can confidently build on its strength.
I ‘grew up’ in a large company where repeatable and scalable processes were sought and documented at every level; they were critical for everything from efficiency to audit results. As I moved to other companies and into leadership roles, I started to understand the value of repeatability and consistency when applied in the context of a new company and a different situation.
One time, I was hired as a senior project manager (PM) and quickly realized that my actual role was to lead an entire initiative’s project management team. My response was, “Great! Who leads the PMO here?” The question was met with silence. No one had heard of a project management office (PMO) in this company, and I was told to do what I needed to so that my PMs could lead us to success.
As projects kicked off, we worked together to understand the needs across the entire group, which grew to more than 70 PMs. We developed project plan templates that we could tweak and reuse to run any project. We created templates for kickoff decks and other deliverables to ensure consistency and so that PMs could easily shift to any area and be successful.
Months later, during the peak of the effort, someone said to me, “Hey, Joe wants to talk to you.” When I asked who Joe was, he replied, “He’s the PMO director.” Gulp.
I met with Joe and explained what happened. He laughed and said he wasn’t surprised no one in that group knew about the PMO. He had already reviewed what our team accomplished and felt that our governance and templates could be incredibly valuable to the company as a whole. Together, we looked at the entire process set – those already existing in the PMO and the ones my team created – and combined them, leveraging the best of each one.
The Development of Geneia’s PMO
When I started at Geneia, we didn’t have a PMO. We were a young enterprise startup, that is, a startup funded by a parent company. As needs arose, we started putting together templates and processes to support our work, including a strong basis for release and change management. We formalized these things for two critical reasons:
As Geneia has grown, our PMO has evolved. We started as a waterfall shop, moved into hybrid delivery and now run 95 percent of our projects using an Agile practice. Our governance is lean and flexible. Our tools and the way we use them have adapted as the company has expanded and evolved. We have positioned ourselves to scale in product delivery, operational support and client implementations.
Sharing Geneia’s PMO Experience with Harrisburg University Students
In September, I was privileged to be able to talk to a group of Dr. Ron Johnson’s graduate students at Harrisburg University about how we developed Geneia’s PMO and everything it comprises – from the challenges to the successes. We talked through the critical elements of a PMO, including how Geneia employs the following:
- PMO models and stakeholders
- Metrics/KPIs and proving value
- Delivery frameworks
- Tools and soft skills
- Establishing and evolving governance
- Maturing and sustaining a viable PMO
I had a great time with his class; they came prepared with excellent questions. It was refreshing to see students coming into the field so excited to learn. And it was reassuring that I had so many relevant examples that I could provide from my work at Geneia to answer some of their more challenging questions!
Today, Geneia’s PMO works across our organization to ensure the governance and tools fit all areas of the company, and we constantly evolve them so that they don’t become stale. It’s fulfilling to know our efforts around governance and processes have played a role in the productivity of our product, technology and business services teams. We’ve become efficient with regular sprint and release delivery, and I’m proud of what we’ve built here. It is incredibly rewarding to be able to point to what’s been successful for us as a guidepost to others.
Productivity is not ruined by process when process is done well; it’s enhanced by it. If productivity suffers due to process, then the processes are not aligned to the organization. If you wait until the water starts to rise before you begin building a boat, you wind up trying to swim and build at the same time. If you build a small boat that you can easily expand on the fly, you can scale up quickly while staying afloat. Many thanks to all my colleagues at Geneia for proving this time and time again!