Why the PMO is dead, done and dusted?

Lets look at some core functions of the PMO and how it is dead, and why they will continue to be irrelevant.

1. Major responsibility that I did when in an IBM PMO was review of a bunch of projects. Review of progress is not so useful in the world of constant communication, low planning and high coordination. Primarily because there will always be a delay to this reporting and whatever form of output, will not be fresh or add to current decisions and progress. Only being engaged constantly, in-situ works esp in the complex/emergent and chaotic/novel domains.

2. Second job within the PMO was demand and intake management. As I see today, the central IT departments are so warped in their own cocoon of legacy processes and structures, their client business departments are fortunately free with their own IT budgets and prefer to go independent.

Thus leaving the IT department only with some of the following that are stuck in a different age tenet.

  • GRC, ERP, finance, other corporate systems, stuck in the records era
  • providing infrastructure that is already commodity, stuck in the pre-cloud era
  • or licensing of standard software, stuck in the PC/pre-mobile era

For example take document storage, editing and collaboration, in the age of dropbox and google docs, when all we get within the company is a PC age MS Word to be sent over email or uploaded in a sharepoint, all these were the IT department’s independent decisions. Take connectivity or storage, with  at least 2 mobile devices per head that have better connectivity and also employee’s overall personal storage leads the standard enterprise storage with poor connectivity. OK those for another post.

Point I am trying to make is the legacy standard processes have lived their life (and dead now) to be managed from the PMO. Recently I was filling a paper form for deploying a mobile application internally, and I realized this in a worst possible way waiting for some PMO to review this and get back on the request. Surely their demand management processes are outdated and responsibilities have shifted elsewhere which is business itself.

3. When business departments have gone independent, it makes it clear for them to track accountability for their investment not some un-translatable set of IT metrics that the PMO tracks. At least through my career, I have seen so many promotions inside the IT department, because of this lack of clear metrics, that even a failed business outcome project could be a grand success IT project.

If the PMO was to be even marginally useful, only way is actually play/perform, not review/report…


Innovation risks

Drucker‘s Landmarks of Tomorrow lists clearly 3 risks that arise out of innovation is comprehensive and can orient towards tasks and outcomes around innovation quickly. Even if outcomes are a function of many variables and ambiguous,(an excuse that innovation managers typically ride on to retain jobs/titles while not really “tasking”) you still have to act. That said  “tasking” / task orientation is necessary and not arbitrary or ambiguous in any enterprise. That’s a post for another day. So these tasks arise after the enterprise decides to reduce its first risk in innovation.

1. Risk of Exposure. Exposure risk is an inaction risk, while remaining very successful in the chosen market, this risk makes the whole business irrelevant as newer models and innovations take over existing customers and create new ones. I visualize this risk on a slider bar, where there is a NO on the left end and an YES commitment on the right. Depending on the level of YES, time and resource availability is determined for innovation.

Risk of Exposure Slider bar

This YES commitment (on the risk of exposure) does not mitigate but lead to the next, new set of risks below. In any case this risk cannot be avoided. You can see examples today in education like the massive open online courses offered by Coursera and the likes while the incumbent i.e. every higher education player could have very well acted earlier or the popular digital photography disruption misses by Kodak.

Risk of failure in developing the innovation When I heard Ravi Venkatesan at the recent Zinnov Confluence, he mentioned “skunkworks are interesting to see in labs, but unless the whole organization aligns to an innovation, there is really no chance”. I believe that, by organization he would mean the “tasks” on business processes starting from budgeting, development, sales/marketing, service, legal etc. that are specialized and entrenched across departments, but need to come together. Successful businesses ideally should not delay capex investments into innovation, and commit to experimenting the next set of revenue drivers. Experiments could be for example

  • small like skunkworks or community driven developments internally
  • taking ownership in companies that are doing the development

Still the structure has to commit itself to this developmental action and evaluate all along even if it means changing directions many times mid way to make sure the next risk of failure is covered. With the crowd sourcing possibility on almost anything this risk has greatly reduced, this as a model has been operational across many platforms like kickstarter (for investments), or ninesigma (for effort).

Risk of failure of the innovation itself

This is the biggest of all risks and can be really dramatic, and we know many stories like these in recent times. What Drucker calls here as ‘responsibility for the consequences’ of the failure itself, while constantly acting for the opportunity. It is no more a chance but choice and choosing to resolve contradictions between the global versus local, profit versus free, etc and thus becoming a value decision in itself. Most of us are aware of the commercial failure of much touted innovations like Segway and others.

Risks in Innovation


On Authority Types

Especially in corporate functions, the talk of being “handicapped without authority but only more  responsibility” usually echoes in at least one meeting room daily. Governments and their structure teaches a thing or two about authority, for me the most important is the distinction between statutory authority and executive authority.

Statutory authority is usually independent of the government itself, i.e. the political party in power, an example could be the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India or the Securities and Exchange Board of India. They have certain key responsibilities like protecting interests of consumers, shareholders, investors and others, they set standards for transactions broadly, and they monitor adherence. They get their form from a legislation and they have a tribunal mechanism attached where disputes can be resolved. Resource needs for statutory authorities are usually small.

Executive Authority is usually part of a government and is controlled by the party in power. They execute simply, the Central Public Works Department is one such example. They take ” full responsibility for planning designing, estimation, evaluation of bids, finalization of contracts, defending arbitration and court  cases” but all within some statutory framework only. Resource need for this form of authority is huge.

Obviously to function effectively both are needed for the common good, issue within organizations and corporate functions is the confusion between what authority are we talking about among other minor issues like in dispute or lack of use how to deal and existence of competing standards.

Can we clarify when next time some one complains “responsible without authority” please.

And “empowered” means granting at least one type of authority.


5 easy ways to kill an idea

Organizations claim they are open, innovative, smart etc, but unquestionably every organization’s ability to kill an idea easily overtakes the ability to build an idea and deliver value to customers…from what I have seen below are the 5 easy ways to kill ideas with very less action.

1. Delay till all parties forget: Really 2 kinds here, first one is, accept ideas only during a small annual window (typically called jams or camps) or second kind to have the idea submitted in a system and just let it rust or decay there. In case of smaller companies that have not invested in systems this death may very well happen in someone’s Inbox.

2. Ask for details that are already known in a different format and then ask for more: This is common in the so called knowledge intensive industries, where there is a template to submit the idea, with so much detail that by the time you actually finish filling it, someone else has implemented the idea. It manifests as mandatory fields in web forms and also in workflows of the idea itself within the system, if it goes through.

3. Dissent the person, language, package, identity and talk nothing of the idea: Here the idea submitter is typically outside of the knowledge domain, but nevertheless has the urge to give an idea to people in the domain. Submitter gets beaten by jargon, rules, constraints, and other special linguistic tools that each domain has. Usually the submitter never returns after the first conversation. Manifests as status changes in the system with complex comments or as an email response with sentences averaging ~21 words each.

4. Hide the Station Master and his Suggestion Book: Manifestations will be announcements typically sent to media or emailed across a thousand people stating, there has been 100% conversion on ideas/suggestions that came to the station master, while no one has actually see the station master. For those of you familiar with the sub-continent might have seen the notice in all railway stations.

5. Install a large Suggestion box beside the front door and throw away the key: This is the second most common; no one really bothers to open the suggestion box. Manifestations will be usually some static content marketing page stating the organization is open to ideas and may also have some primitive classification of innovations.

There are other ways like making it really hard to form groups in the organization, equate busy to value, equate IP to value, measure performance from yesterday’s hindsight etc among others,

but these are either results of processes in action for a long time or current action.

So still the above 5 are the easiest ways to kill an idea.


Fitting KM

Business drive comes in different flavors,

1 Take state bank of india that is predominantly process driven average age of employees is in the high 40s and there is a huge wave of retirements upcoming, and without understanding of the processes it will be difficult to improve productivity beyond a point at branch level. Other than the usual training, employees seem to have no access to other learning methods, and networks seem to form only around personal magnets, people who get transferred most or as part of some union or an executive initiative. Really there is no in built support for natural communities to form and develop. Is this not a problem that KM can solve?

2 Or Idiom whose business is really creative endeavors When we vis,ited Idiom (equivalent of Ideo in India and has done some great work) the entire KM system (they don’t call it that) was with one librarian (they don’t call him that), who simply knew from the company’s history what work had they done and where we can find references (which are typically pieces of design). None of this is re-used, just because of the nature of their business. What they do with these design artifacts is observe how it had evolved and retain them as props to tell better stories and give all employees a sense of history. Much of their ground floor in the Bangalore office is occupied by these artifacts, it is really a walk down memory lane. Is this not great KM?

3 Or a Qualcomm that is purely technology driven, Where weak signals on technology evolution direction need to be surfaced and magnified. Tremendous scope for multiple safe-fail experiments outside the scope and investment of RD department that will have direct business tie-in. Most likely there is already something brewing, is it not necessary to know where techies are putting their time outside of their day job just on pure passion? If we came to know of it, will the company invest to just encourage it. (OK lets for a moment forget privacy, IP concerns etc). Is this out of bounds for KM? Point I am trying to make is “fitting KM” comes from understanding the organization drive, nature of business and culture and designing actions to suit the motives at ground level. I am sure then KM will not be called “intervention”.


Stimulus Agent Model

This is an unfinished concept I tried to visualize what happens when we are flooded with so much information and how we react and make sense of it and respond.

Read it starting from the contextual stimulus to the agent which are people making sense and responding with say a new way of doing something. I have intentionally left out intermediate processes like decision making.
Note reaction chains back to the contextual stimulus