Jumping without a Parachute
Forms of specialization are becoming increasingly popular in most industries, but the pace and volume of specialization in delivering technology projects has been astounding. I continue to read that the next wave of ‘nano-specialization’ expands on the specialization of certain jobs by outsourcing activities and even tasks within jobs to distinct experts. Between outsourcing, in-sourcing, off-shoring and near-shoring, the proliferation of specialists has certainly made running programs more complex, but I find myself wondering if businesses are really benefiting from increased specialization? One should expect increased efficiency and quality from projects, yet industry metrics indicate that a greater percentage of technology projects are failing every year. Could it be that we are losing any efficiency we may be gaining through specialization by making management more complex and decision making more difficult? My contention is the latter, because we have not adjusted our program management styles and techniques to be most effective in this new world of extreme specialization.
The biggest problem I have experienced is that as the amount of specialization through outsourcing has increased, Business and IT Leaders are becoming less comfortable taking ownership over large programs. In addition, they are also shying away from the accountability over decisions that need to be made to move programs forward. The reason for this is obvious: More and more large programs fail, because the leaders do not effectively manage the many moving parts. I have had senior level managers tell me they will not sponsor a certain initiative, because it has become so complex, that they have come to expect failure based on a history of failures. The crux of the discomfort seems to be that individuals can no longer fully understand every aspect of a large program, because it touches between five and ten (or more) organizations, some of which are most assuredly represented by outside companies specializing in only one piece of the puzzle. But who oversees the assembly of the entire puzzle? It seems to me that we are so reliant on experts in individual functions that we have forgotten how to make comprehensive business decisions by understanding enough of a situation to take calculated risks. The problem is that these specialists will often abdicate real decision making authority for fear of making an incorrect decision. We’ve all been there! Taking ownership of a large, complex program can feel a bit like taking a small step off a giant cliff. The problem is a business cannot be successful by limiting itself exclusively to simple, small projects. Sometimes, business demands that we jump off the cliff. So, how can we control our descent and soften our landing?
Remember the “good old days” when technology programs seemed so much easier? In reality, the programs were just as large and complex, but the difference was that we controlled more of the resources directly, or at least knew them and their bosses personally. This level of trust and knowledge of whom to go to for straight talk provided a level of comfort and accountability that is difficult to replicate in today’s highly fragmented environment. In my opinion, Business and IT leaders must demand more from their PMO if they want to be successful. Gone are the days of simply creating a project plan, scheduling meetings and distributing minutes, and frankly those days should have never come to be. Successful programs need a PMO to be more than a glorified assistant. A PMO must first establish an infrastructure of governance; tools and processes by which data points from across the program can be collected and synthesized into messages that allow Business Leaders to make calculated, educated data-driven decisions.
The PMO is also uniquely positioned to take the lead in bridging the gaps identified above and getting to the root causes of these problems. A PMO must understand when to hold outsourced resources accountable, and understand how to open the appropriate lines of communication for a project so that specialized resources do not equal disparate resources. The right PMO will not only keep a project schedule, but also will partner with Business and IT leaders to move programs forward with a clear understanding of their landing point, which hopefully will be a successful implementation that drives business value.
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