How One Department Transformed Their Culture by Partnering with the PMO

In our first article, Why Innovation is so important to organizations and why its not being driven properly, we highlighted why innovation is so important and how companies are generally failing in their attempts. We showed that innovation was not being championed properly, that leaders were not informing employees as to how things will change and how they should now execute their day to day operations.

We then explained how there is a team in the organization that has all the skill set to drive and facilitate change but is distrusted by the company as a whole. In our second article in this innovation series, developing a new project-centric culture for organizational innovation, we explained that the standard approach that the PMO adopts actually drives a wedge between themselves. What the PMO should do is merge their skills with the departmental staff and thereby make sure the change is adopted by the entire team.

In this article I decided to give you a brief case study as a potential template that I used to help transform a department in a large retailer that was stuck where business wanted nothing to do with them to where they become known as the drivers of real innovation.

An Unique Approach and Situation

The problem team was the internal development department of a large retailer. This team had for all intents and purposes become a bit of a dinosaur and company confidence was at a all time low. The department which consisted of around 50 staff were supposed to be highly innovative. But they were stuck. Their discipline was at an all-time low, the rest of the organization did not want to work with them and most development initiatives were being outsourced to external providers.

This team had an inspiring leader, who had faith that he had the right people to provide the desired service but he knew he needed an external skill set to bring about the required change in attitude and approach. He was well aware that for a number of years they had tried to bring about the change within the team itself, but it was just not happening. So, what he did was approach the project management office with a unique ask. He was looking for a programme manager to help him drive the change, and while the project manager would be subject to the PMO’s oversight and guidance he wanted the programme manager to become a permanent part of his team.

This team had an inspiring leader, who had faith that he had the right people to provide the desired service but he knew he needed an external skill set to bring about the required change in attitude and approach. He was well aware that for a number of years they had tried to bring about the change within the team itself, but it was just not happening. So, what he did was approach the project management office with a unique ask. He was looking for a programme manager to help him drive the change, and while the project manager would be subject to the PMO’s oversight and guidance he wanted the programme manager to become a permanent part of his team.

Gaining the Trust of the Team

I was introduced to the large software development team, more than 50 people consisting of developers, analysts and testers. All the team knew was that I was new, but that I was part of them, I was not part of the PMO. The feeling of acceptance was tangibly different from any of my previous engagements. The department had selected a programme that was to rewrite their software library and upgrade their infrastructure. This was a programme for five years that had not made it past the first round of investment approval as the rest of the organization did not see the value of it.

We started by holding workshops and conducting surveys from representatives of different members in the team as to what were their major pain points what were the challenges that they faced on a day to day basis. These members became my change army.

The change army highlighted the following pain points.

Old technology – The team was working with old technology which made development slower and less able to scale.

Poor documentation, old legacy code – Only a few members of the team could work on the code, new people or juniors were often not effective.

Increased complexity meant longer lead time – the less than efficient ways of working was resulting in support and development times increasing. They were not able to commit to dates which was causing the relationships with business to deteriorate even further.

Partnering with Business – How Things Changed

After hearing their pain points we did something completely new. We expanded the workshops to include their customers and business partners. We discussed how or if solving the teams problems could benefit the customers and would the customers be interested in this occurring. We were overwhelmed by their emphatic yes!

The business shared with the team, if they could decrease their development times, then this would lead to the business team actually charting a new product and service roadmap, which eventually became the main motivator to the investment committee for the business case.

New technology more established patterns and practice meant that new developers would have an easier way of navigating the code. Suppliers and potential future employees were easier to find, and career growth was unlocked. This made the HR team strong advocates of the solution as it allowed them to hit their KPI’s as well.

Shorter lead times meant a large customer base which lead to increases in the departments budgets and more attractive salary packages. This programme was firmly providing the team members with a strong reason why to change their behavior.

The business case was presented and was unanimously passed by the investment committee. During the life of the programme, one of the deliverables that was created, was a new playbook. This playbook outlined how things would change for the staff, what their typical day would look like. Exciting videos, as well as instructions and step by step guides, were made on the intranet all explaining to the team members the new ways of working. The sentiment on the floor was that the playbook prevented each team member from feeling lost and it was a great sense of comfort during the change.

In the end the team we were able to roll out this transformation within 8 months, 2 years ahead of its scheduled completion date. That was 5 years ago, still to this day the innovation that has begun in that team has continued building momentum and has been one of the greatest success stories between IT, the PMO and the business. This team has firmly entrenched itself as leaders in innovation and business departments are now vying for opportunities to work with them. It’s my belief that your team can follow the same approach to success.

Ben Richardson

Ben Richardson

Ben Richardson runs Acuity Training, an IT training business offering classroom courses in London and Guildford, Surrey. A leading provider of MS Project training the UK, it offers a full range of Project courses, from introductory courses through to advanced. He blogs and can be contacted at Acuity’s blog

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