Spring Cleaning or the Tyranny of Process

The application of process in projects and project management. It’s a subject that I’ve had come to my mind after talking to several people over the past two weeks. Consider the frequency that business changes. The statement that I was offered is that a PMO often doesn’t look at how process needs to change to meet those new needs in the business.

Do your stakeholders think the PMO is injurious?

It seems obvious enough that business changes. The procedures that project managers enforce should also change when those business needs change. It would be ridiculous to assume that the processes would always be the same for every objective for every unit for every division in every company for all time. So why assume the same is not true in the PMO? To the contrary, project managers, and portfolio managers work to adapt processes to fit.


Even when not running an organization with Agile, I suggest that using a retrospective at this time of year (before crunch times) is an ideal way to gauge whether steps are accomplishing what they need to.

Create in audit team like your Change Control Board. In fact, the project’s CCB may be the perfect place to start for this kind of activity. When there is a candidate for change, walk through the different possibilities that could be done in your organization. Attempt a paper pilot and work it through. Determine if that is a change that is going to advance the deadline or if it’s going to actually set it back. You may have a recommendation to push up the pipeline for other PMs to share in that success.

As Agile is increasingly accepted, for example, it becomes more and more clear that business is trying to adapt to change. On the front lines, specific teams reshape themselves to accomplish doneness criteria as opposed to trying to hammer projects into the shape a dated corporate routine. If you’ve ever explained a PMO’s process template to your stakeholders it probably turned out that the language isn’t in their vocabulary. Those terms they have heartburn with indicate those processes that are specific candidates for change or possibly even elimination entirely from the project management template.

When going into a new project and setting up rigid activities that we expect to be carrying out, new managers find that just simply isn’t the way the business works. It has to then be molded. The successful PMO responds to the vocabulary and activities of the business as well, introducing new controls, reporting, and definitions into the template. Simultaneously, that which is molded on the project level is offered back into the operational activities of the company. Change is a success.

To be clear, it’s equally important for the PMO to hear and understand in the absorbed language and use the same definitions of the business–not the other way around. Secondarily, the PMO then become evangelists for the activities that we as project managers need to do our jobs.

During the process retrospective, PMO professionals look for a red flag indicating that spring cleaning is needed in standards. When we find that PMs are performing process for processes sake–an activity that does not result in an artifact, a report, work getting done in contributing to the minimal viable product–it is likely that’s a procedure that needs to be altered or done away with entirely. So, an audit of a suspect process would first determine if there is an actual output of an activity.

Begin by heeding the input from the teams. The individual contributors will tell you when an activity extends deadline as opposed to accomplishing work. Yes, process is king.  However, the PMO fails the business when effort is expended satisfying project management requirements independently of bringing projects to completion.


Remember the red flags

  • Process for process’s sake
  • Activities that do not produce artifacts
  • Creation of artifacts that are not consumed
  • Process that does not contribute to minimal viable product

Use your CCB or create a new board to audit the processes that your project is committed to. Clean out the cruft and refactor your schedule with that in mind. Let the fresh air in.

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