Executing your strategy: 2014 Project Management Office – Your PMO philosophy and culture

Last week we discussed driving strategy to projects. You can read about it here. This week we want to take  a few words and talk about the philosophy and culture behind your PMO.

Philosophy

/fəˈläsəfē/ - a theory or attitude held by a person or organization that acts as a guiding principle for behavior.

Attitude is a key word in the context of this post. The philosophy behind your PMO clearly has an impact on what it becomes and what it accomplishes. If the philosophy is one of mechanics – let’s get as much as we can through it and out of it – that will dictate one set of outcomes, which will, in turn, influence culture. Another attitude is one of quality and precision. This does not mean you need a perfect outcome. It does force you to concentrate on the desired outcome and the work needed to reach it.

Culture

/ˈkəlCHər/ - the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group.

Organizations and teams, ultimately, are social groups. There is commonality as well as daring independence within these groups. Philosophy and culture are intrinsically linked. It is clear that the philosophy that leadership adopts will inevitably influence the culture. What type of culture do you seek? There are many articles out there on this topic. Many. From my perspective, a project management culture should have the following:

  • Uphold a begin-with-the end-in-mind focus. The late Dr. Stephen Covey drove this terminology into our lexicon and rightly so.
  • It’s not about the project manager. It’s about the project and the work.
  • It’s not even about the result. It’s about the work; good things follow good work focused on providing good for all.
  • Stop-and-think: Take a moment during the project and ask, “Is this is the highest and best use for us, our customers, and our community?”

Strategy to projects and philosophy to culture. Next time: Your PMO tools and talent.

The Frequency of Cake

Statue_d'Alfred_le_Grand_à_WinchesterKing Alfred the Great ruled England from 871 to 899. Much of the writing about Alfred is quite positive: His leadership capabilities, his empathy, and his charity. In some high-spirited discussion last night, an interesting story about Alfred came to light. The story of the cakes.

The story is told in many ways, but here is the gist:

Alfred was returning from battle and landed upon a cottage in the woods. He rapped on the door and was let in by the lady of the house. He begged for a place to rest. Looking tired and worn, she took pity upon the soldier (he did not look like a king, and if he did, the nice lady would not have known.) He asked for some food and a place to rest. The kind lady advised Alfred that she was headed to town for some rations and that he needed to watch the cakes baking on the hearth. They would be ready in a short amount of time and he needed to remove the cakes before they were overcooked. He agreed to the task and she set about her trip into town.

In this short period of time, the king began to ruminate about his army, his kingdom, and the strategy and tactics of it all. The cakes burned to a crisp. Upon her return, as legend has it, the nice lady beat the king with a broom. He laughed at the situation. Am I, after all, responsible for the cakes or the kingdom?

As leaders, we must be tuned to the frequency of the significant, not distracted by the inane. Otherwise, the ability of the organization to grow and progress will invariably be limited. And the walls to the kingdom become vulnerable. That’s not to say that leadership foregoes applying right amount of money, manpower, and minutes (time) to the management of cakes. For England’s sake, it’s a good thing Alfred was on an altogether different frequency and not the frequency of cake. We should all be so wise.

The Art (and Science) of Decision Making

Before making a decision, the right state of mind, and the right state of the organization must prevail. We often make decisions irrationally. Those that we do make with some level of thought, we do so with a focus on the wrong things. We propose three elements that you, or your organization, must have to reach the point of decision making. It is part art and part science. These elements guide decision making. They arrest the bad and invoke the good.

They are:

  • Set emotions aside each and every time

We are too emotional, too sentimental. Having these qualities are fine until we let them get the best of us. The first thing needed to reach the reach a state of careful decision making is to set aside emotion. This does not mean that one should not care. In fact, it means the exact opposite. It means that one should put one’s actions before one’s emotion. What will be needed to solve the problem? When will the action need to be taken? Why are we taking the action?

The action will not always lead to an outcome that everyone finds favorable. On the battlefield of life and work, we have to accomplish many things. We have to help many of our fellow human beings. However, we cannot let emotion stand in the way of clear thinking and reasonable decision making. It is imperative that one set aside emotion before making a decision.

  • Elevate thyself to the level of witness and trustee

In a recent conversation with a very close relative, we struck up a discussion about one’s role as witness to and trustee for an organization, whether that organization is a company, a community, or a family. Allow us to explain. As a witness to what is going on, you are neither completely in a situation nor completely out of a situation. Well, we’re sure you’re asking yourself, “How can I act?” or “How can I truly make a decision?” Fair enough.

That brings in the second point of this section: Your role as a trustee. As a trustee, you own everything, but yet you own nothing. You are administering on behalf of someone for the stated goal of fulfilling a purpose, acting as a dutiful agent. You must proceed down this path without the desire to serve yourself.  Invoking the witness/trustee role provides the second key component in one’s decision-making process.

  • Integrate the concepts of concentration, consistency, and cooperation

In our quest to integrate the intellectual aspects of business leadership with the intelligence-gathering components of business management, we came across* some very fundamental concepts that we believe should be integrated into one’s decision making process. These three concepts – concentration, consistency, and cooperation – serve as filters for how one makes decisions.

Concentration

As humans, we have a tendency to let our minds wander. When a decision maker focuses on the now, without being burdened by the past and captivated by the future, he will ensure a higher level of concentration. This does not mean one should not plan and/or learn from his or her mistakes. One should not let the past or present get under your skin. Concentrate, leaders, concentrate!

Consistency

Mission. We talk about it. We poke fun at it. It’s the bane of strategic planning sessions the world over. However, it cannot be something a leader sets aside. Consistent devotion to the fulfillment of mission must be part of the decision making process in your organization. Does this decision lead us down the path to mission realization? Are we jeopardizing the mission by making this decision before us? Consistency of mission is key.

Cooperation

The term “Kumbaya” really has taken on an alter ego in our modern vernacular. It has become a joke. We have relegated the cooperation between human beings to the trash heap of off-sites and rock climbing exploits. Cooperation is more than just team building. In decision making, leaders must understand whether or not the outcome of their actions will instill a sense of cooperation or drive a wedge between themselves and their customers, or between the customers themselves.

Gaining teamwork within an organization is, we believe, fairly easy. Forging cooperation in families, communities, markets, and countries is an entirely different level of achievement.  It is a level of achievement for which we should all strive.

It is not easy to make decisions when leading a company, a family, or a nation for that matter.  Internal conflicts, politics, resource management, and fatigue, among other obstacles, can hinder good decision making. Don’t let these obstacles stand in your way to making sound decisions.

Cheers!

* Parthasarathy, A. The Fall of the Human Intellect. Mumbai: Vakil & Sons, 2008. Print.