3 Things Great Project Managers Do

The week leading up to the latest installment of the PMO Forum (a special interest group for PMO Leaders and Executives), I got really excited to explore customer experience within project management offices. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Customer Experience Management (CX) are more often associated with sales and marketing teams than with project management offices, but I was keen to understand how it could aid project management offices.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) reports that 90% of large enterprises have active project management offices. Furthermore, they report that 50% close in three years only to be replaced later by another PMO with significant time and cost to these organizations. In my view, the success of a project management office today relies not on better adherence to governance and methodologies, but the ability to demonstrate value, establish trust and build relationships with their internal and external customers.

Customer Experience Focus

With customer expectations continuously increasing, I’m finding that more and more businesses are dedicating significant amounts of time and effort to CX initiatives (both externally and internally) with the aim of achieving a strategic advantage over their competitors. Gartner’s surveys confirm that customer experience is the new battlefield with 89% of companies expecting to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, versus 36% four years ago. So, why should it be any different for a project management office? The PMO may not need to get knee-deep in customer relationship management, but it does need to build trust and credibility with their stakeholders and focus on customer experience, which will become the secret to their success.

Here’s my view on what it takes to align people, process, technology and governance to build a customer-focused PMO that delivers a great customer experience:

1. Do You Have The Right People?

Your project management office’s identity is defined by its resources, especially when it comes to customer experience. If CRM and CX are not already part of what you do, this undoubtedly means you need a change in the vision for your PMO, so begin hiring for the vision. Start with hiring the right project managers, business analysts and project office support staff that are collaborative, responsive and put the customer (both internal and external) in the center of everything they do. It’s not always as easy as just employing new people; so if that’s not an option, then train for the vision. Introduce a strong onboarding process that re-enforces the new normal. Equip your resources with the soft skills and emotional intelligence training required to deliver customer-centric projects. Ensure your resources value customer experience above governance compliance.

2. Is The Process Killing The Experience?

Over the years, I’ve witnessed a number of project management offices that are so focused on enforcing the project process, that they often lose sight of the fact that the process is just an enabler to ultimately delivering projects successfully. Don’t get me wrong, the process and discipline are key to a successful project management office, but the truth is that PMOs are too often seen as an expensive overhead from the business’ point of view, especially when there’s too much focus on the process with little real business value in return. Organizations with a project management culture that leans toward adherence to process, structure and policing of control mechanisms are likely to struggle to implement any customer-centric approach. Start by taking a critical look at your methodology and project processes, and consider the experience of your customer. Spend time engaging with your customers and understand their needs, their experience and perceptions of your project management office. Identify the processes that facilitate customer engagement and help you to get to know your customers better and prioritize these over maintaining the governance status quo. Having a cup of coffee with your customer outside the day-to-day pressures of the project will help gain a much better understanding of their experience and perception of your PMO.

3. Do You Measure The Things That Matter At The Right Time?

We all know that too many project teams only turn their focus from time, cost and scope to the health of their customer relationships when stakeholders are already upset, or during project closure as part of the tick box “lessons learned” exercise. If this is your PMO, then I’m afraid your efforts will be falling short. PMOs measuring customer satisfaction throughout the process are much more likely to get more truthful and unbiased feedback than those that leave it to the end. Regular measurement also gives you the opportunity to take action, give feedback and improve the customer experience all year round. It’s critical that you keep the satisfaction scoring criteria simple, know what you’re measuring and be clear on what a happy customer looks like. Don’t confuse the measurement of project delivery, the project manager’s skills and competence with the customer experience. From my experience as a CEO of a Software as a Service (SaaS) company, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) process is the best to use. Start by asking “Would you recommend our project management office to a colleague?” and follow through on a process to measure and address the responses. I’ve done this with a number of our customers, and they find massive value in the experience and process.

In Summary

Adopting this mindset is a journey and better managing the relationships between the project management office team and their stakeholders will naturally keep them more engaged and excited to reach project success. This shift will not happen overnight, and the chances are that you’ll falter and fall back into the project tick box mindset when overwhelmed and under pressure. Don’t give up! Consider the only alternative, which is another PMO closed within three years. Contact me if you’re keen to explore the NPS survey as step one in driving greater customer experience within your project management office. Good luck!