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October 2011

Highlights from Gartner's PPM and IT Governance Summit -- Part 2: Effective Communication

Effective CommunicationIn my last post, I commented on Gartner's points about the evolving role of the EPMO. Now, I'll talk about another of their key points -- that communication is key to PMO success, and that when communicating to executives, "it's more important to be interesting than complete."

As anyone in marketing knows, truer words were never spoken. Gartner illustrated the following common pitfalls when communicating (I'm paraphrasing their points below):

  • Lack of Candidness (All good news):
    For example, communicating the "all green dashboard" where everything looks rosy. To an executive, this raises warning flags. It also sends a message that the culture doesn't allow for candidness in its reporting. It may even send a message that the project sponsor or manager isn't being aggressive enough in their strategy or schedule if there are no issues at all.
  • Communicating Problems without Solutions (All bad news): The presenters used the example of the "deeply troubled project," where it's late and over budget and problems are blamed on scope creep, low morale, unclear priorities, uncooperative sponsors, and so on. Without a recommended solution and evidence of effective leadership, most executives would lean toward either shutting the project down (ignoring sunk costs) or bringing in a new management team to rescue it and get it back on track.
  • Missing the Value: Commonly, a PMO will communicate its charter and include goals such as delivering successful projects, increasing maturity, standardizing processes and tools, and so on. And any metrics included in the charter focus on things such as quality and timeliness of documents, process compliance, tool adoption, and project success. But there is nothing whatsoever about business value or the "products" of the projects. Executives want to know about business value. They also want to know about accountability. They want to know who's responsible for what, and whether everyone’s headed in the same direction as a team.

Returning to the overall challenge posed at the beginning of the session -- "Delivering projects that provide value in turbulent times" -- the presenters cited two enablers: accountability and effectiveness. To achieve these enablers, they suggested focusing on:

  • Reliable results
  • Value-based prioritization
  • Effective leadership
  • Effective communication
  • Organizational Change Management

Overall, I liked their focus on value. As Albert Einstein said, "Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value." Too many PMOs are inwardly focused, buried in minutia, and struggle to demonstrate value to the organization. If they looked at every bit of communication and asked "How does this portray value to the organization and relevance to the intended audience?" they'd be a lot better off. I'll expand on this in future posts.

Also, I'd suggest that slides, charts and graphs need to be effective as well. Information presentation guru Edward Tufte states that effective visual or graphical communication:

  • Encourages comparative analysis
  • Shows causality
  • Explains with annotations
  • Avoids unnecessary noise
  • Avoids distortions

In my next post, I'll cover Gartner's third point, how a PMO can help drive competitive advantage and innovation, not stifle it.

Related post: Highlights from Gartner's PPM and IT Governance Summit -- Part 1: The Evolving Role of the EPMO

Fare Thee Well Steve

For those of you with passion for the world of technology, today is without question a very sad day. Whether you are an Apple disciple (like myself), or someone with just a passion for technology, we all lost an inspirational figure in our industry and a remarkable human being. Of course the power of Steve was that he made the most innovative technologies accessible to everyone. The fact that my 75 year old mother (who loves her Mac) was one of the first people I called upon hearing the news of his death is testament to his legacy.

It is interesting talking to people today and the general sense that so many feel they lost someone they knew, although none of us have ever met the man. Few people in history have created that sense -- JFK, Martin Luther King, John Lennon, Jerry Garcia. In all these cases the person’s mission and vision were almost indiscernible from the person themself. In the case of Steve, every time you hold or interact with an Apple product, you get a visceral sense that his personal stamp is on every aspect of the product. Those products are the technological incarnation of Steve Jobs, and thus we all feel we know the man because we know the products.

I read a piece recently that discussed some recent research concluding that we "love" our iPhones. Through MRI scans of the brain, it was determined that iPhone use stimulates the same regions of the brain associated with feeling of love. Love is a strong word, but I can assure you that watching Steve at a launch event or playing with one of his creations certainly has brought joy to my life -- some of that joy will never be recreated in the same way.

We were blessed to have lived and experienced his genius. Over the past few months, anticipating this day, I will admit that at times I felt cheated out of coming decades of undiscovered joy that Steve would have brought us. But today we need to focus on the genius we were all able to witness and the path that he opened up for all of us. We were fortunate to be a part of it.