A roadmap of continuous improvement (let’s call it “agile” with a small “a”) has the capacity to generate innovation, productivity and a competitive commercial edge. But the PMO, striving to deliver these goals in an iterative fashion, may struggle to justify the working reality without the ability to report against traditional Waterfall milestones.
So, as a PMO professional, how can you keep your executives aligned with your improvement strategy, whilst also retaining the flexibility you need to innovate, test, react and improve?
The Role of Emergent Strategy: Iterative Does Not Mean Inarticulate!
Formerly seen as something of a cult newcomer, agile approaches are now reaching high adoption rates. CollabNet’s 13th State of Agile Report recently found that 97% of companies are adopting agile techniques. What’s more, the motivations behind iterative working are changing. TechBeacon reports that 2019 is seeing agile approaches appear above the parapet of DevOps, as companies expand their agile portfolios beyond software and into the realms of product development, portfolio management and even human resources. As Andrew Filev (Forbes) points out, though, when it comes to executive engagement, larger hierarchical organisations in particular can struggle. The cultural parameters of iterative delivery – sprint, release, repeat - can be tricky to align with the organisational need to articulate the longer-term business goals.
The key is to recognise that agile approaches do not justify throwing out the rule book and jumping into an organisational free-for-all. Defined goal and scope are equally important in an agile world – but the strategy becomes emergent, not solely predefined. The PMO brave enough to champion that emergent strategy initiates the right agile environment to win executive confidence in the workstack’s scope and value. Over time, reporting upwards against those parameters creates the cultural transparency and freedom the PMO needs to take control of iterative delivery in alignment with the overall organisational goals.
Establishing Velocity of Delivery for a Quick Win Roadmap
Within that overarching cultural context, though, is the need to quench the executive thirst for deliverables. The ability to quantify velocity of delivery is crucial to the PMO’s agile mindset. Articulating the backlog, breaking it into packages of work and accurately quantifying the resources required to deliver creates a tangible structure for each project. It therefore creates a mechanism against which the PMO can report – a particular benefit when there are confidence-boosting quick wins to highlight, and indeed learn from, to drive the continuous improvement journey.
Underpinning that with a transparent relationship/resource map creates an environment that promotes streamlined escalation, eliminates unnecessary communication delays and empowers those closest to the project to apply their frontline expertise. Importantly, it also ensures that the executive is relieved of burdensome or inappropriate queries, freeing them up to pay attention to the “big stuff” that the PMO needs.
Ensuring Pipeline “Doability”
Traditionally, strategy has been treated as a multi-year, predefined plan. But iterative approaches recognise that it’s emergent strategy that drives success. Why? Because emergent strategy offers the capacity to understand, respond and react to the changing environment around you; new opportunities, evolving customer demands, supply issues, unexpected resource blockers and the like.
This is particularly useful when designing – and reporting against – the portfolio pipeline. Typically, even an emergent strategy should start with high level planning: What goals do we want to achieve in the next year? What projects must we deliver to reach those goals? What resources are required to get there? But, inevitably, influential factors will change over time. When that happens, it’s crucial that the PMO can convincingly demonstrate what the in-flight reality is right now, measured against the strategic pipeline. Because, if what’s “doable” is going to change, you’ll need to be able to justify that to win crucial executive support as the strategy evolves.
Engaging the Executive On Demand
When issues do arise, the executive who is equipped to immediately understand the nature of the challenge (or, indeed, opportunity) is the executive who can support the PMO with timely, informed intervention. Key to this is the ability to escalate risks, queries and so on in real time, and in a simple, engaging format. Contrary to popular misconception, executives do not appreciate lengthy, complex reports. These only add to their typically time-poor situation. They also do not like surprises, especially nasty ones.
Key to overcoming these barriers is the right reporting tool, one which provides a simple, intuitive interface that enables the PMO to push big issues to the executive in real time and a clear, accessible format. Gone are the days where the only communication between PMO and executive happens in lengthy meetings where activities over the past few months are “revealed”. For today’s iterative working methods, a continuous dialogue is what’s needed to facilitate prompt, informed executive input on a targeted basis. Harnessing the power of today’s always-on technology can transform the PMO’s ability to rapidly escalate, update and act on feedback. That, in turn, promotes the PMO’s capacity to deliver iterative improvement without barriers to decisions and actions.
With that in mind, here are five questions to ask yourself when exploring the world of PPM reporting tools:
1: Is the technology simple and intuitive? If an IT specialist needs hours of training to get to grips with usability, it’s likely that your executives will quickly self-select out of any kind of engagement.
2: Does the tool facilitate real-time data manipulation? When things change, the PMO needs to demonstrate the impact of that change to the executive – and quickly.
3: Can we illustrate the changing environment? The ability to map projects, pipelines, resources and external factors against an iterative workflow is crucial. Without that, reporting and decision making will be at best cumbersome, at worst impossible.
4: Will our data be centrally accessible? When a busy executive needs an update, the PMO should be only a few clicks away from the answers. Speed of intelligence saves time, promotes accuracy and wins credibility as the PMO consistently provides prompt, transparent answers to often challenging questions.
5: Is the tool always-on? Can the interface be easily accessed on any device, via any OS and in an elegant, responsive format? If not, the executive on the go will rapidly become frustrated and give up, preventing them from engaging with the dialogue the PMO needs.
For more information:
Find out more about the benefits of iterative improvement in our latest white paper.
Watch our webinar on bridging the communication chasm between PMOs and executives.
Explore Kivue Perform: the powerful, intuitive PPM reporting tool that empowers the PMO to delight executives and support project managers.
by Rupert Taylor February 2020