Top SaaS Implementation Risks: #3 Project Managers and Project Management Offices (PMO)

Is this the NFL?Ellen Loughrin Photo

I was raised in a home that loved Sunday professional football. My mother was bigger fan than my father—at least she yelled at the television louder. My siblings and I still connect on Sundays talking about our favorite teams. My brother always says it is almost as fun to root against your least favorite team as it is to root for your favorite team (ahem…Packers!).

So what does professional football have to do with Project Management on a SaaS implementation? Nothing! I repeat…N-O-T-H-I-N-G. Decidedly, Project Management is NOT a competition. It is not about two sides where one wins and the other loses and the goal is to get the better of the other. Quite the opposite. Successful SaaS project management is a situation where both sides should want the other to be successful; a win-win so to speak.

Counterpart Project Manager

When I implement SAP’s SuccessFactors I typically am working with someone from the client organization whom I call my “counterpart PM”. Together we are tasked to implement a Statement of Work (SOW) that has outlined our engagement. This “never-perfect but close” document outlines my deliverables as the consulting organization and what is the responsibilities of the client organization. It outlines roles and responsibilities as well as timelines and requirements.

In the early days of the engagement, my counterpart PM and I are the first to meet of our respective teams and we get to know each other. We talk about approaches to project management and the details of managing the project plan, communications and meetings, names and roles of individuals, and nuances of our organizations. I hold my breath during these meeting wondering…will this be a collaboration or will this be contentious pairing?

Offense, Defense and Otherness

I had a friend who said his high school football coach told him, while on the field of play, to never help up a member of the opposite team. With pride, he told me of this lesson well-learned long ago. The team member of the opposing team was identified as “other—the opponent” and to not be helped. That story always made me sad as I wondered who else was later unconsciously labeled as “other” on a field of play and not given assistance when doing so would have helped both them and my friend.

Over the years as both a client implementing SuccessFactors and now as a project manager implementing SAP’s SuccessFactors, I have had a lot of counterpart PMs. When I was a client there were some PMs that were so positive, professional, friendly, and effective as they went the extra mile to help make me and my project successful in my organization. As a client these professionals inspired me so much that I wanted to do what they were doing! So I became one.

Over the years I’ve also encountered some counterpart PMs that seem to think that we were on a 100-yard field and their job was to, well, win. Presenting an aggressive offense looking for yardage, they delighted in a fumble, called out for flags, and made an occasional tackle on my blindside. And when I tried to move the project ahead I experienced a defense that seemed to think that my goal was to gain something more than what was in the SOW.

Professionalism, Respect, and Collaboration

In my current role, I have also experienced some wonderfully collaborative counterpart PMs. With respect to our individual organizations and the SOW, we worked through the project and problems with a goal of supporting each other to a mutually successful implementation. Often we shared project management tips and tricks and sometimes mutually beneficial coaching sessions (thanks Deb!). Realized risks (problems and issues) did happen, but we found a way through with respect and professionalism that almost inevitably resulted in projects that were completed on time with requirements realized and both organizations feeling successful.

When I was studying for my Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, I remember a question on one of the practice tests. It was about defining a successful project where there are two parties. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t know the correct answer when presented with options about approach. I answered that it was good to get a little more than my counterpart. Then, when I corrected the test, I saw that the correct answer stated that a successful project was one where both parties are successful. I read that and I sat back and I had to think about it. The world-wide Project Management Institute (PMI) was teaching me a profound lesson. We BOTH need to feel successful. That is what is meant to be a successful Project Management Professional.

Capabilities and Maturity

My football-fanatic mother was also a professional teacher. On more than one occasion she was told, “…anyone can teach…” Anyone who has sat through some bad teaching knows that this is decidedly untrue. Sometime I wonder if this has been said about project management…that anyone can do it. I’d postulate that that, too, is decidedly untrue.

Like the Software Engineering Institute’s Capability maturity Model Integration (CMMI) we project managers possess different capability and maturity levels. Yes, we can all grow in our skills (capabilities)—myself included. In particular, proficiently Microsoft Project, that piece of software we all mutually curse, has not been replaced by anything better and is the default tool for managing projects. For complex projects a certain level of proficiency (capability) is required in this tool by both counterpart project managers.

As for maturity, which speaks to how someone performs without someone looking over their shoulder, I’ve experienced a wide range of performance. Not all project managers possess the same maturity levels of project management skills including managing, motivating, and facilitating team member tasks. It also speaks to both understanding project methodologies and then successfully implementing to them in a collaborative way. To use my football analogy, real maturity means all PMs on a project operate from the same playbook.

What Do You Want for Your Project?

With illustrations and hyperbole, I’m calling out the relationship between PMs and PMOs as a risk. I’m bringing to light certain approaches can almost guarantee additional costs as issues are contentiously dealt with resulting in schedule slips and cost overruns. Meanwhile, collaborative and professional approaches can increase the likelihood of on time delivery and successful implementation of requirements…which I think we both want.

So, with this reflection, I’m offering an opportunity for organizations who are planning on a SaaS implementation to thoughtfully and carefully select your project management representative and set expectations of approach. Your choices will greatly influence the tone and the ultimate success of your implementation.

In the meantime, I’m rooting for ya!

Hello! I welcome the opportunity to hear your thoughts and ideas about this post and this series. Please reach out to me through LinkedIn–Ellen

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