Industry:  Logistics company thumbnail Robert

Location: Europe

Interview with Robert Agamirzyan

Interview by Frank Turley

 

Q1.  What was the status of PMO when you joined the organization?

When I joined the company as the Head of PMO, from my point of view the general attitude among the company employees were neutral or negative and taken as a burden.  There was no clear structure or PMO methodology that answered the existing challenges or aligned to the company strategy.  There was no head of PMO for some period of time. Methodology and forms existed earlier and had been used in the past but were abandoned due to changes in the business environment. The information system was in place but outdated, therefore, it was neither used properly nor supported. Nevertheless, some employees used it as a task tracker, it was Project Server 2010 with some customization (dashboards) and integration with the local financial system.

Some projects were in the delivery phase, some were suspended and some were in the everlasting identification/definition phase as there were no clear goals or funding.

One of the main problems, from my perspective, was that there was no clear distinction of how, when and why the projects should start or not start and who should decide.

In addition to that, the lack of coordination among projects resulted in most of the problems listed below:

  1. One of the blocking issues amongst others was the outdated ERP system that was based on an old programming language with little or no documentation on some modules. Most of the specialists had already retired, therefore, making any changes to it was a problem.
  2. Projects were frequently late and/or over budget and missed benefits realization goals and were even abandoned despite huge investments.
  3. Nobody knew exactly which projects exist and their status (there was no updated list of projects), hence the inherent problems.
  4. Some senior managers were starting new projects on their own.
  5. There was no process in place to report project status to the management board or to exchange information about projects among PMs.

Q 2.  What were your first steps when you joined as Head of PMO?

First of all (and that was the main reason why I was hired, not because I am so cool at P3M), I started with a thorough and rigorous financial and non-financial audit of past projects and programs. That was a very tricky task because part of the information was in excel spreadsheets, part in corporate ERP, part elsewhere and most of it was mismatching.  Moreover, most PMs and sponsors of that program were non-existent in the company.

Anyway, I drafted a list of past projects and the current undergoing projects and initiatives. Based on that, I developed a further strategy of renewing the Project Office like categorization and prioritization methodology, initiation procedures and so on.

Q 3.  How open was the senior management to change?

In general, they were open to open discussions in the project committees which existed in the past, so I just re-energized the process.  However, one of the obstacles was that there were no dedicated support resources to prepare business cases, project charters and so on.

Q 4.  Did you have to do a high-level PMO priority exercise?

As we did not have any investment budget, only the regulatory and optimization projects were allowed to carry on and regulatory projects had higher priority. Priority "wars" were held at IT committees about operational questions and I don't know how they did this.

 Q 5.  What was the main data used to identify the most valuable projects?

 The company that I worked for was part of a big group of companies, therefore, the company rules were partially followed.  However, most companies of the group were from the industrial sector of the economy, so their principles did not align well with the Logistics Industry, so I reinvented what I was offered.

We divided all initiatives into 4 groups: optimisation projects, business development project, compliance projects, business continuity projects. Thereafter, we developed the success criteria for each group of projects, i.e. financial criteria like PI, IRR, NPV, ARR, IRR and other applicable; non-financial criteria in case we could count direct financial implications and also unmeasurable criteria.

 As the strategy of the company was not properly defined - strict digits were not defined, so we judged all the projects against each other.

Q 6.  How many projects were dropped?

 As a Head of PMO, I served also as a Secretary of the Projects Committee so I tried to make a yearly plan for project execution.  If we had 10-13 initiatives from Head of Departments, 1-2 were accepted with comments, 2-3 were diverted to reworking and others were postponed for better times and these results were mainly expected by managers because of the unannounced economical crisis.

Final decisions were made by the General Director based on the votes of Board of the Directors.

Q 7.  What was the role of CFO in this exercise?

CFO did not play any serious role in projects or any other committees because of the “tradition” in the company.

The company had it’s own very complicated financial model. Projects mainly fell into the CAPEX part of the model for several reasons. One reason was lack of resources. Finance departments integrations between Projects Server and ERP financial planning module were not planned, so this was done manually when capital expenditure was agreed for projects.

 Q 8.  What do you think will happen in the next two years from a PMO point of view?

 I worked for about two and half years for the company and since then 8 months have passed.  Now they are flourishing, continuing to use the methodology that I developed, hired a new PM, developing integration Project Server with other IT systems in the company.

I think that it may be disbanded.  In case they find a strong partner to integrate with will play a significant role. Depends on the business context.

 

Robert Agamirzyan is an independent PMO Consultant and is serving as a personal coach and trainer in the field of project and investments management to top managers of various local and global companies, represented in Russia and CIS.

LinkedIn Profile:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/pmo-robert-agamirzyan/

A Member talks to the members

Author: Michaël De Bruyne is a trainer/consultant and trains leaders of public and private organisations in their performance management, team management and conflict management. 

LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-de-bruyne-61a975b/


Dressed to kill: The appearances of conflicts

Conflicts in (project) teams can occur in many ways.

Conflict unsplashTeam members may disagree on content level, on the way of working, disagree with each others’ roles and tasks, the lack of strategy or clear targets, etc.  Discussions occur and may create frustrations, but no harm done: the frustrations are authentic and pure. A PM might even consider these frustrations as signs of commitment.

If, however, the PM does not focus properly upon these frustrations, conflicts may become more personal and subjective rather than objective.  The authenticity of frustrations is being replaced by a instrumental aggressiveness: an unsatisfied team member uses verbal/non-verbal weapons (interruptions, insults, refusals, rejections, …) to put pressure upon the PM. Authentic frustrations are being replaced by language instruments in order to get something from the PM.

Finally, conflicts can turn into a conflict of interests, when a team member only considers his own interests, advantages, profits rather than the team interests. These types of conflicts are more difficult to handle as long as the members with conflicting interests hide their agendas…. Resistances are masked, unspoken, invisible and yet growing …

OK, shit happens, then what?

A PM should listen actively to frustrations: what is it exactly that irritates someone and where does it come from? A conflict on one level may cover another conflict on another level.  A colleague can disagree with decisions of the board (company level), or just not feeling well with certain departments (interteam level), or being distracted by the way his own team works (intrateam level), or by the leadership style of the PM, or another colleague (interpersonal level) and finally, every frustration can also by a symptom of an intrapersonal conflict (demotivation, stress, problems at home).  

That’s why a PM should be more process-oriented during team meetings.  A PM’s communication should focus on four axes:

  1. Content: What are we talking about: facts, figures, objectivity
  2. Proceeding: How are we talking about it: who interrupts, who talks too much, who is multi-tasking during meetings, do we manage time efficiently?
  3. Relations: How do we treat each other:  do we make a distinction between feedback and criticism? Are we giving feedback based on facts and factual solutions or are we simply demolishing ones point of view? Who is hiding (silence is just a disguise)? Who imposes? Who always agrees even with opposite point of views?
  4. Emotions: How are we dealing with emotions?  Do we show empathy for others’ frustrations? That might help the owner to calm down before he is able to reconcile. One cannot convince someone as long as emotions are blocking the rational insights. 

A PM must get in contact with the owners and their potential conflicts on all levels before conflicts start living their own lives. If a PM does not invest in conflict management, he will have no real connection with his members; conversations will become fake and superficial.

A PM needs contact and connection in order to have impact.

If a PM fails in his communication, his feedback and his control on group dynamics, then team members start looking for coalitions related to their resistances. Once coalitions are being installed, people feel strengthened to tackle opposite coalitions. Politics come into play which are deadly for a project, killing it softly.

Case

A manager of a small local post office had difficulties to integrate a young graduate who was recruited by the HR-department of the main headquarter. Symptoms of conflicts occurred: the graduate refused to work at the client’s window counter, did not do his share for the Saturday morning shifts, was not popular in the eyes of the far more experienced ladies at the counter….

After some individual coaching’s with the employee, different conflicts turned out.

  • The employee had a clear view on modernizing the post office with financial products; but his work at the counter, selling stamps, was not part of it ( frustration conflict on organisational level)
  • His local manager had no leadership skills and only tried to maintain the comfort zone of colleagues and clients: traditional service, no change management. He admitted that he considered the young graduate as a future treat for his own chair. The graduates’ irritations, originally pure content frustrations, turned more and more into a relational conflict with his manager with different interests.
  • The graduate was aware that the local manager and the three ladies at the counter exchanged their opinions on him behind his back. Coalitions were established (interpersonal conflict)
  • The employee had applied successfully for a marketing job where he could launch the post office on social media, but was sent to an office ” just to learn the job”-since then, HR had not contacted him anymore. He felt abandoned by HR (inter-team conflict)
  • The absence of the graduate on Saturday mornings was merely for personal reasons (assisting his old mother requiring help – an intrapersonal problem on top of the rest)

Once all these problems were unveiled, the local manager asked the graduate “Why didn’t you say so”? The graduate replied, “cause you never asked me to”.