Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Carrot or the Stick

I know a certain Project Manager (PM) who we’ll refer to as “Bob.”

Bob was a new employee. As a Project Management Professional (PMP), he believed he was ready for the position at an established organization. This organization was a medium-sized company between   3,000-5000 employees and had been in business since the early 20th century. Its’ clients and customers were loyal to the products the organization sold and the organization was adept at keeping the price of its products within range of a typical middle class family unit. This is what attracted Bob to this PM role.

In the interview, Bob neglected to ask how the organization treated its associates in the IT department. But even if he did, he would have received the answer “no different from other organizations treat their IT associates.” This would be a bit of a stretch because in this organization, IT was seen as a necessary evil, even in the early 21st century. The other departments, especially sales, did not believe that IT brought “value” to the organization. So when Bob started with this new organization, he was presented with their version of a Project Management Office (PMO).

Using the PMO as a stick

The PMO was created by the organization to keep costs low and to maintain content control over the IT department. This PMO was set up with the most stringent rules that did not allow any deviation or process improvement. Whenever a PM submitted a document or put an artifact within its file share system, the leader of the PMO went over every single word, phrase, and task of that document. Project plans could not deviate from the template that the PMO had produced.  And every time there was a deviation of any kind, the PMO lead had a meeting with the offending PM. This meeting was not a constructive meeting in any way. This meeting was set up to demonstrate the errors of the PM and to suggest, in very strong terms, that the PM, even the new PM, had to follow the rules and instructions of the PMO. For example:

  • The PM had to use the prescribed MS Project template that was developed by the PMO even though each IT project had its own caveats.
  • The PM had to present certain artifacts during certain phases. Presenting them too early or too late resulted in the project being put on hold until the PM corrected this.
  • If the PM was brought in front of the PMO lead, the PM was not allowed to explain himself/herself regarding the deviation, no matter what the reason.  This meeting was set up to demonstrate the errors of the PM.
If the PM made a similar error more than once, the PM was written up to Human Resources.  Bob eventually left this organization.
  • There was an introductory webinar for the PM defining the PMO and its methodology.
  • A new PM “shadowed” another PM upon starting. Even though the new PM had projects, the shadow PM provided guidance.
  •  The PMO lead had regular PMO meetings and one-on-ones with the PMs to provide guidance and ensure all PMs understood the PMO process.
  • New ideas from PMs to improve process were discussed in the group and if the idea provided added benefits or reduced time and costs, they were eventually introduced into the PMO

Using the PMO as a Carrot

Once Bob left that organization, he joined a new one. This organization was the same size and also had loyal customers for the same reasons. This organization had an established PMO and used it to promote its IT projects. The big difference was the way the PMO was managed and how the PMs were treated in that PMO. For example:

Whenever a PM is taking on a new role, whether it is at a new organization or a new division in the same organization, I have tried to illustrate the types of PMOs that are in existence and the ones that are obviously preferable. 
When PMs are interviewing for a PM position, the obvious questions about the PMO should be:
  • How are PMs and other employees treated? 
  • What is the culture?
  •  Does the PMO allow any improvements?
  •  Does the PMO lead have regular meetings and one-on-ones?
  •  What is the organization’s belief towards IT?
  •  Is there growth for the PM?
If the PM can get positive answers to these questions, then the PM can distinguish how the PMO works with the PMs: with a carrot or with a stick. 

I am open to discussion at any time on these blogs or anything else related to project management you would like to explore. If you would like to comment about this blog, please do so by posting on this blog or by responding in an email at Benny A. Recine. You may inspire a blog article. I look forward to your comments.


  1. I would also inquire as to the age of the PMO within the organization. In addition, I'd like to know what is the organization’s belief towards the PMO and its effectiveness.

    In a former organization, where I was an IT manager, I was invited to move to the organization's new PMO with a lot of optimism. The goal was to centralize project management for technical business projects. However, some of the senior departmental management did not accept the role of the PMs. After 8 months, the PMO was disbanded. Maybe those managers felt threatened. Maybe they thought they were losing responsibility or control over their business processes. Within the PMO, I did not see that potential loss. However, the organization's leadership sided with the senior departmental management.

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