Many times we hear that we need a Project Management Office (PMO). And many times we assume that this means having a written system and few steps in place before we begin our project, but having a good PMO in place is important, and is more than just a written system.
This is actually a very common misconception: the idea that a project management system is just a document that tells people how to do things and in what order to do them is one small part of the whole package. Don’t get me wrong, it is important, but there is more to this equation.
Being in project management for years and working with large multinational companies in reasonably large projects, my experience has shown that sometimes we are told that our focus should be in getting our systems documented and this should be our ultimate goal, rather than focusing on the means to reach a goal which is the actual focus of project management systems. It takes some effort and energy to ensure that people follow the system step-by-step, but this also creates a certain inflexibility in doing business. It is therefore of paramount interest for those companies who do not have an official project management system in place to consider the following explanation about systems, before they establish an official system or a PMO:
The Difference Between Systems (ones that work vs. ones that don’t work)
First, let’s define the word system. A system is a repeated course of action – a way of doing things – that brings about a certain result. Think of how many things you do on a daily:
You brush your teeth.
You take the same route to work.
You open your email and scan for the emails that you really need to read.
But here’s the kicker. There are intentional systems and unintentional systems. Systems that work and systems that don’t work.
Here’s an example of an intentional system or a system that works:
You go out on a sales call and meet with your prospect. You greet your prospect and you begin to ask them questions about their situation and their needs. You are gathering information that will enable you to make them an offer. You’ve been doing this for years. The routine is automatic. It is all in your head and you are operating from your subconscious mind. You’ve crafted it in order to get the exact result that you want. You’ve created an intentional system. It just happens to be stuck in your head. We’d say you should write that one down!
The Real Power of a System!
It is important to understand that systems are all around us, and they have the power to breathe life into a business or project – or cripple it. And having the right system in your projects can be crucial. We need to shift our mindsets from thinking that a system is merely “a list of steps” to believing it is a way to harness the potential that exists within a business and doing projects far more efficiently. Think for a moment on this quote from the E-Myth Revisited:
“Systems run the business, and people run the systems.”
It says that people run the systems! They’re in charge of the systems.
People innovate the systems when necessary and in project management, a little tweaking here and there depending on the project is good. People who use the systems as a way to run a business, instead of abdicating authority are people who have it down right. People are the power behind the systems. The systems are their levers not their replacements! Your business has enormous potential because you and your people have enormous potential! And when your people have the freedom to find the most effective way to complete their job, not only will they take pride in their work, they’ll also contribute to making the systems better per project.
Now some people may disagree. Maybe they don’t see their people taking that kind of initiative and that is a fair stance. There are those who go into their work, put their heads down and do the bare minimum necessary day-in-and-day-out. But maybe this can be remedied.
Are they clear on their position and how important their position is in the company?
Do they know what their larger purpose in the project is?
Or do they think that their job description is to follow a bunch of steps on a page?
Do they have any reason whatsoever to be inspired?
Do they have a safe space to communicate their needs to you or their teammates?
Building a Project Management Office (PMO) where these systems are recorded, managed and are hopefully improved upon over time, we must also consider the people who are running the show.
One important thing to understand is that the people in these projects are not the same people over and over again and they all have different needs and ways to be led. In short, when your people understand that the systems they follow are really a means to an end – and that they are expected and empowered to reach that end result – that’s when they feel valued in your company and your company projects. That’s when they’ll start thinking differently about their job. That’s when they start looking for ways to go above and beyond the call-of-duty. That’s when they start creating systems that serve them – systems that serve as an expression of their potential. And isn’t that what you want? Systems and people that produce great results?
Tips that can help you and your staff make efficient systems:
Begin tomorrow with this phrase stuck in your head: “Everything that I see in my business or project is actually a system.”
Identify a good system in your PMO. Something that you or someone else does that gets the result you want. If it’s not yet documented, document it!
Find one hidden, unintentional system in your project – even if it’s small – and examine why it is yielding undesirable results. Think about how it could be changed to get a more favorable result and even ask your team mates for their input and opinions.
Observe your staff as they execute the work packages. If you see someone following a system, but not getting the desired result, remind them that they have the freedom to change the system in order to get the best possible result! Then make sure they capture those changes so the results can be repeated. If you try to fit your projects into the systems you’ve created, your projects will be stuck within the box you’ve built for it. But when systems are used to support the vision and the passion of you and your people, when it is there to COMPLIMENT talent and not control it, then your company can strive with your projects higher than you ever thought possible.
In summary, a system is only as good as the people who adopt it, improve it and use it with common sense in place.