Did you know a PMO (or Project Management Office) can really drive business results?
Increase customer happiness? And ultimately boost sales?
Yes, a PMO can actually help you achieve that. How?
Read the following article to find out. It is based on an interview I recently did with Jordan Moomau, PMO Manager of AMS.NET.
About The Company: AMS.NET
AMS.NET is a technology solutions provider that has been on the market for over 30 years. With a team of about 130 employees, the company provides technology infrastructure solutions to customers throughout California, with a focus on state and local government entities, particularly within education. AMS.NET’s services cover the whole range of IT infrastructure solutions, from network switching technology, wireless technology, data center, VoIP, collaboration and video surveillance solutions.
Meet Jordan Moomau, PMO Manager
Jordan first joined AMS.NET part-time as an Operations Assistant where he helped setting up infrastructure for clients.
After joining AMS.NET full-time, Jordan first went into sales where he conducted sales calls. After evaluating different career options, Jordan decided he wanted to try project management and took over a Project Assistant role, where he supported the project managers of the organization.
He really enjoyed the project environment and his supervisors clearly saw his leadership talent. Thus, it didn’t take long until Jordan was made a full-time Project Manager where he got to lead dozens of projects with million-dollar budgets. In 2017, Jordan eventually took over as a PMO Manager, where he put customer focus at the core of the PMO strategy.
A PMO That Existed Only In Name
When Jordan joined the project management team of AMS.NET, the company already had a PMO in place. But according to Jordan, it existed more in name than in practice. There were some standards and agreements in place, but in the end, everybody managed their projects based on their own preferences. This meant that, depending on which project manager was assigned, the experience and outcome could be very different. Why was this not optimal?
Think about it in the following way: As a business, you have many ways how you can provide services (e.g. in the form of projects) to your clients. But there are usually only a few specific approaches that can be considered “optimal”: Optimal in the sense that projects are delivered successfully in time and within budget, in a very cost-effective way (which is good both for the client and the company), with smooth and transparent communication, and maximum benefit for the client, and overall a great experience for the client.
As project-driven businesses such as AMS.NET, this is how you want ALL your projects to be managed – according to this “success formula” that has been proven to work. All projects are unique, and there needs to be flexibility in how projects are executed, but it is important to keep core values and ideals in the forefront. If you have too much variation in the way projects are handled, and if the project success is very dependent on the individual being in charge, then it can be difficult to consistently deliver excellent projects for clients – a goal that the ambitious team of AMS.NET had set for the company.
Thus, when Jordan became the new PMO Manager, it was clear what goal he had to focus on:
New PMO Goal: A High Level of Service, Delivered with Consistency
To achieve consistency in project delivery sounds very abstract. What did this mean in practice? Jordan describes his vision as follows:
“My desire was to establish the PMO in such a way that you could pull a random project manager, a couple of engineers and the sales person on behalf, for two different organizations on two different projects – and those two customers would have largely the same experience.“
On a deeper level, this meant to improve communication within the project team. We all know how challenging it can be to ensure everybody is kept in the loop and to make sure team members have up-to-date information to accomplish their work in the desired quality. But at the same time, a high level of communication among the project participants is critical for a project. Especially when projects are carried out at the client site, as is the case for AMS.NET.
Asking the CEO: ‘What do you expect from our PMO?’
Although this was the first time for Jordan to be a PMO Manager, he clearly understood that the influence of a PMO was much larger than just devising a few standards or templates and making sure project managers were working in concert with each other. To have the biggest impact, the PMO truly had to serve the business and pursue the objectives of the entire organization.
But how do you figure out how exactly the PMO can help the company?
Jordan took a brilliant step. He met with the CEO for a long conversation to understand everything that he wanted to see out of the PMO department. Jordan left the meeting with four pages of notes and specific feedback on what the CEO liked or didn’t like and what should be improved about the way projects were handled.
The conversation started as a list of improvements but became very much about the kind of value the department should deliver to customers and the internal organization. This is what differentiates a to-do list from a playbook to make organizational impacts.
Setting Up PMO Standards
Equipped with a clear vision for the PMO as well as an understanding of the expectations from his management, Jordan went to work to create the necessary standards and processes for the PMO. He had intensively studied project management best practices and learned techniques from other project leaders. Plus, he had acquired the PMP. So now was the time for Jordan to apply all his knowledge and experience for the benefit of the company.
The centerpiece of the new project management framework at AMS.NET became a simple document which Jordan created. The document outlined the process of how projects were supposed to be carried at AMS.NET, including templates to be used and values the project managers were expected to adhere to. This document, which Jordan refers to as “mini-PMBOK”, became the “playbook” for project delivery at AMS.NET, and it was also used as a training program for new employees.
Apart from the new PM guidelines, the following standards were established:
- A standard tool for project planning (Jordan and his team use Smartsheet)
- Standard locations for storing documents
- Standard tool for tracking project tasks and issues
- Use of mandatory project templates
- Escalation Procedures for Project Satisfaction
- Metrics and goals for what success in the PMO would be
Getting people to follow such standards requires some convincing. And it is not always fun for the people involved. For example, we all know that it can be difficult to get all project participants to use the same set of templates, let alone agree on the philosophy of the project management team. But this is just one of the essential steps how you can achieve consistency in your project processes. And this is so important, especially when working with external clients!
Imagine one project manager used his own status template in presentations with the client. And assume that the template had a confusing format, or it would not contain all the points the company wanted to share with the client.
This would lead to confusion on the customer side, triggering questions that had to be addressed. Firstly, that would not be a good customer experience. And secondly, it would mean unnecessary effort both for the client and the project manager. Such situations can be avoided by using proven, standard templates in projects as well as having an adaptable framework for how to manage projects.
So, when it comes to defining project management processes and defining standards, the work doesn’t end just by sharing a few documents and templates. As a PMO, you have to make sure those templates are actually being used and processes are being followed.
Beyond just templates, however, it is about getting people to buy into the greater strategy of the department. You need people to think differently and provide unique perspectives, but they need to have their goals aligned with what makes the experience valuable for the customer.
How does the customer define ‘value’ in a project?
Apart from achieving consistency in the way projects were managed, another goal of Jordan’s PMO improvement initiative was to provide additional value to customers. Every project activity from now on was evaluated from the perspective “Does it generate value for the customer?” and “Does it help us meet the customer’s requirements?”.
This was a remarkable step because it gave the project teams a clear focus for their work, and it put AMS.NET on a path to become even more customer-centric and thus more successful as a company.
What was the idea behind focusing on added value for the customer? Is it not enough just to have a good project and provide the customer with the product or service he has asked for? Well, as customers we don’t judge the quality of a product or service just based on the product or service (the outcome). Whether we like a product or not is also greatly influenced by the experience we have in our interactions with the company providing the product or service. Jordan and his team understood how much the customer experience mattered, and he also knew that the project team played a key role in shaping that customer experience.
“People remember projects mainly through two lenses: how they felt about it when it went on and what they live with now that it’s over.”
Talking about customer experience is one thing, but how do you actually implement the idea in your daily work? According to Jordan, one key area was project deliverables and communication with the client. Whatever deliverables were defined, or whatever communication was shared with the client, they had to meet the requirement: is this helpful for the client?
Jordan shared with me the following example: Imagine the team was doing a hardware upgrade for a client. Providing information as basic as serial numbers, MAC addresses, exact locations for each of the devices and maps would all be valuable to the client because it helps with day-to-day management and future issue troubleshooting. On the other hand, if the team installed 10 network switches at 10 different sites, then making a network map with a single device going to a single connection is likely not very valuable for the client, so it would not make sense to put any effort into creating such a document unless the customer required it.
Providing value to the client is all about doing those things that will make the life of the client easier, and helping the client achieve his goals. Often, it can be as simple as providing the client with the right kind of information at the right time. Understanding what “value” means for the client is of course not something you have to guess. You can simply ask the client what would be helpful for him, and you should put some effort into understanding the context of how your products or services are being used. That’s the key to understanding what value means for the customer.
When we look at project management as a practice, it is really about the creation of value through the coordination of resources. Effective project management must be value-driven, or a project is at risk of being driven in the wrong direction.
A Stronger PMO, and Project Standards That Were Actually Being Followed: Did It Make a Difference?
How did the establishment of PM standard processes turn out? And did the strengthened role of the PMO at AMS.NET really have an impact on customer satisfaction? Jordan summarizes the results as follows:
“What we found was the level of consistency drove value. The level of customer satisfaction went up, and even internally we were faster and more effective. So, it benefited everybody when we started putting these in, because we had happier customers, we got projects done faster and they were done more consistently, in line with our best practices done more consistently.”
These were not all of the improvements brought about by the greater influence of the PMO under Jordan’s leadership: The success with project execution and the use of standard PM processes made it much easier for the sales team to sell AMS.NET’s services. They now had a proven framework for implementation that could be easily explained to clients, making the offer much more persuasive.
Jordan summarizes his work and the process of strengthening the PMO as follow:
“It is really about taking the vision and making it a reality, and building a framework that supports the goals.”
This is a great closing statement for this article. Because – even if it sounds obvious — this is exactly the way you should follow for setting up a PMO – FIRST defining a vision and THEN creating the processes and standards that will help you achieve this vision. By making that link between the PMO’s work and how it will (positively) impact the business, you have a strong justification for your role. And your work as a PMO Manager or team member become much more meaningful because you know you are actively contributing to the success of the company. Just as you can see from Jordan Moomau’s wonderful story.
So, what is your vision for your PMO?
Big thanks to Jordan for being available for this interview!