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  • Writer's pictureAstutely Obtuse Staff Writer

Beyond Agile: Part 2 | The PMO: Definition of a Diva

Now that we’ve discussed some of the key and support players in a PMO, it’s time to start to define what players you need when you are starting out. Now, you can look back at part one and argue that every one of those positions will be needed from the outset, so why not include them all… right?

Well, the short answer is no. The long answer is fuck no, are you kidding? You’re just getting started, why the fuck would you need to fill every single one of those positions you daft motherfucker.

We’ll just go with the short answer for now.

Before even thinking about hiring or promoting people into your new PMO, or revamping and updating your existing PMO, you need to ask yourself why you are doing this in the first place.

Maybe you see a gap in the organization's ability to respond to change. Maybe you have the strategic goal to further leverage new technologies. Maybe there is a gap in the market you are hoping to fill but need a project team to implement the specifics. Regardless, you need to have a strategic direction, because that will help you define the roles that are needed, and how you divide their responsibilities.

Going into this bit of exploration, it’s important that you first understand the roles you choose at the beginning of this journey, they do not have to be the only roles you have forevermore. It’s ok to start somewhere, and then make incremental changes to refine your team.

Side note, when our beta reader got this, he said “iterative/incremental changes… like Agile.” Ha-ha, Mr. Funny Man. Anyway, if you are looking for an unpaid beta reader position, click on that contact us link.

Where It Starts

When meeting with companies that are looking to refine or create a project team, the first thing I ask is if the team is internal or external. Working with an external team poses unique problems that can potentially require additional staffing (but not always).

Why this is important is because it’s going to define our first required role. Let’s look at the second part of the first part of where it starts which is… you know what, never mind… NEXT QUESTION!

Are you promoting from within, or hiring from outside?

This two-part question strikes at the heart of something that is frequently forgotten when building up a project team, where does the knowledge come from, and where does it go?

The Rednex LP "Cotton Eye Joe"
I can't believe I ear-wormed myself at 12:30 at night

If your project team is internal, you will have an inbuilt system (to some extent) to handle knowledge. If they are external, communication is typically restricted and highly structured. Likewise, promoting the project leadership from within is going to bring with it institutional knowledge, whereas hiring outside will require a system to handle that knowledge management.

If you have an internal team with leadership promoted from within, you can probably get away with not having a BA (to start at least, once the team grows and work becomes more complex, a BA can revolutionize the way you are doing things). The reason I say skip the BA if you are fully internal is that the benefits they would provide are mostly in regard to scalability and communication (in the early stages at least). With an existing knowledge base in place (tacit or explicit), those benefits tend to get filled in by those who have the knowledge and experience already.

For any project teams that are going to involve external employees, you should definitely have a BA, as they will be responsible for being the center of knowledge for that project. They take on the role of SME, and relationship manager.

Beyond a BA, who else do we need? Well, imaginary person possessing my keyboard...

Dual Roles: Tapping into Eddie Murphy’s Brilliant Performance in Bowfinger

No, you don’t need to watch Bowfinger in order to understand what we are talking about when we discuss dual roles.

Note: Our beta reader suggested a role/movie combo that was more approachable. We discussed it and came to the conclusion that a more approachable example would have been Peter Seller’s brilliant performance in Dr. Strangelove, but I felt that Bowfinger is so underappreciated, and Murphy really brought the film to a new level of crazy fun.

A company recently reached out to me. They were kicking off a new PMO, and they wanted to hire me as their scrum master. That’s it. The scrum master. When I asked what else I would be doing, they were confused, I mean, scum master and that's it? I can knock out the work for a scrum master of a small team in a day. I told them that they don’t need a dedicated scrum master. They politely, but firmly, disagreed.

When you take a look at the structure of your team, you need to first start thinking of what roles can take up the entirety of their workweek. If there are only a few project members, and the work being done is relatively simple to manage, your PM might also take on some of the responsibilities of the PO, the BA, and the QA. You might find that your steering team/strategic planning team/c-suite can handle all of the work of a PO, a significant portion of the BA, and all that is left is for someone to write tickets, organize meetings, and quality tests.

Going back to the company that wanted to employ me, after discussing what they were designing, I came to the conclusion that they only needed two people (not the six total they wanted to hire). First, a senior PM, who would act as a PO, PM, sit in on strategic meetings, and handle the planning portion of the BA role. Secondly, a junior PM, would manage stakeholders, take on the implementation portion of the BA work, handle all QA work, and run daily scrum meetings. Two people, handling what they wanted six people for.

When you are running a project team, you don’t want to overstaff. First of all, it is bad business, and extremely wasteful. Second, it can be detrimental to the mental health of your team members. Online rants would suggest that employees love it when they are getting paid to do nothing, but when you really start to talk to them about it, you begin to uncover that boredom begets internalized concerns and fears of being expendable. You want to strike a balance between being overworked and overstaffed.

There are a few strategies that you can use to determine if you are under or over. First of all, ask yourself if someone in a particular role decided to take a week off, would it completely cripple the team? If so, you need an extra body.

Secondly, be mindful that there are limits to how many hours one can work.

I asked a friend and HR rep what her strategy is for determining if a new role is warranted. She said she uses the 30-hour rule. That is, for every 30 manhours needed, you need one employee. If you have nine employees, and they are doing 300 manhours a week, you need to hire a tenth person. Even though those nine employees are only working an average of 33.3 hours a week, that exceeds the threshold that she has set. It allows wiggle room during the week to ensure that everything can get done and that no one is so absolutely necessary that they can’t take time off.

A woman trying to work while someone piles a ton of books and paperwork in front of her.
"Are those comics?" "Yeah, Dave reads them to the CEO, helps him sleep"

You will certainly notice that when I described the roles of the two employees that would be needed for the example company, I called them junior and senior PMs. Why I don't specifically call them out as being a PM and a BA, or PO and PM (or any other title for that matter) is that the verbiage used to explain these roles is less important than the actual roles are.

Yes, I specifically called out needed a BA as the first line of questions, because it was identifying a very specific need that can get easily lost when trying to plan it out. It provides you with a foundational understanding of a vital need on all project teams, who handles knowledge management. The complexity of dealing with external teams can benefit from a BA responsible to manage knowledge exchange. Otherwise, you can give a PM or QA that knowledge management responsibility, since it will be less complex. Understand?

Alexis from Schitts Creek saying "I don't get it but whatever."
Why do I feel I'm going to get a lot of use out of this gif

Let’s recap. We’ve figured out who is absolutely necessary to kick off your team, where the onus of knowledge management lies, and we’ve ensured that the workload is balanced as best as possible. What next?

Define Responsibilities, Implement Redundancies, Collect Feedback

Even if you choose to ignore everything else in this article, remember this one section.

When you are trying to build a new project team, or you are trying to refine and improve your existing team you need to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

I have screamed into the fucking void in organizations that hold to a dying philosophy that employees should inherently desire to fill in any gaps that they might see in their workplace, instead of what they should say which is “that’s not my job.”

Would you rather have a proper risk analyst running your qualitative risk assessment, or the maintenance worker that the landlord pays, even though they are a terrible maintenance worker (but you know) “he’s family, and just having a tough time right now, but once he gets back on his feet then we’ll look at bringing in a better maintenance worker.”

You know what, don’t answer that.

Of course, you are going to want the best possible person to do that job, and not just anyone who thinks, oh… someone really should be doing a risk analysis of some sort, why not me?

There are a lot of reasons why you should eliminate role ambiguity, many of which deal with the effects on your team's mental health and how it can encourage trust and organizational commitment, but I want to look at it from a slightly different angle than what our former resident I/O psychology specialist would.

The defense I hear all the time for role ambiguity is that it allows employees to expand their influence and take on new and interesting challenges, as they see fit. Great… ask yourself the following question: How are you measuring their performance?

“Well, they are clearly a go-getter, taking on extra work, and not complaining 10/10.” No, fuck you, that’s fucking dumb, you should feel fucking bad, you fucking twit. Because they are not being a “go-getter,” they are being forced to pick up where you fucked up…. Fuuuuuuck.

Let me put it in a way that is understandable and has fewer words that start with 'f.' There is a barrel with 100 apples in it. You hire five people and tell them that we need to move the apples from one barrel into another. Each person is responsible for moving five apples. If you came back and saw that only 25 apples had been moved to the new barrel, would you claim that they were “quiet quitting?” Would you be upset that they didn’t take initiative and move more than what they were being paid to move? Do you see how fucking dumb that is?

It’s the same thing with project work. Roles get very loosely defined, with the expectation that those extra 75 apples will get picked up by someone. The belief is that companies are saving money by doing this. They are getting 75 apples worth of work for free, right? No. You’re wasting money.

Let’s say the barrel has ten different types of apples (still 100 total). Your five people are still only required to move five apples, but they are also given specific apples to move. Let’s say Skylar is able to move her five granny smith apples very quickly and knows that other things will need to be moved as well, that don’t fall into anyone else’s purview. Without prompting, she decides she’s going to move all of the cosmic crisp apples as well. Well, poor Elliot was supposed to move five of the cosmic crisp, so he moves those back to the first barrel, and then moves them back to the new barrel.

Sound far-fetched? I’m here to tell you that it happens a lot more than people would like to admit. A real-life example was someone stepping up to take on extra work in my previous job that was supposed to be handled by the BA team. As a result, the BAs had to go back and redo the work that was already done by this other person. Just like Eliot, the BA was fucking pissed.

Role ambiguity leads to confusion and overlapping tasks.

It also creates the issue of miscommunication, something that can be the death of a project at every stage of the process. Why is everyone asking Skylar about the work being done on the cosmic crisps? That’s Eliot’s job. Oh, you see, everyone assumed it was Skylar, since she did all the work for it, right? Now, Eliot is pissed off at Skylar, and Skylar is mad that Eliot has clearly been building a voodoo doll on his break, it’s pandemonium.

The little lizard from Tangled saying "calm down bro"
Ok... sorry... deep breaths... I'm good... ok

Ok, so you’ve determined the roles you need. You’ve defined their responsibilities and made sure that all the required work has been covered (no free 75 apples), next step is redundancy.

I know I went on a rant about how ambiguity causes overlapping work and how shitty that is, but… here me out… You need that overlap, you just need it to be structured overlap.

Let's go back to our apple thing. Let’s say instead of Skylar being told to only handle her granny smith apples, that part of her role was to assist Eliot with the cosmic crisps if needed. Now she can focus on her own work, and then when she wraps up, she isn’t taking away from Eliot, she is helping him to finish the task. It’s structured.

Do you fucking see how… no…no… deep breaths… goosfraba…. Ok, I’m good.

At the heart of the problem with role ambiguity is its complete lack of structure. The underlying philosophy is that the employees will provide structure. You can have role overlap, that’s a big part of project management, the way roles overlap with each other. The problem is the lack of structure to it. Deliberately having redundancies as part of the defined responsibilities, and structuring it in a way that each redundancy supports the greater whole is the key to successfully establishing a healthy project team.

How do you facilitate overlap? With someone who is managing the knowledge base for the project team (holy shit on a stick, I came full circle!). It's a bit far-fetched to believe that everyone will have enough experience to be able to overlap with others on the team, after all, Skylar hasn't even been trained on crabapples, let alone Jonagold's, how is she supposed to help others on the team? Well, someone dedicated to making sure that knowledge can be transferred is the first step in facilitating that overlap. It's why we specifically recommend a BA when dealing with external teams. A BA can act, not only as a knowledge manager but also as a conduit to funnel institutional knowledge to these external teams.

However, even with a dedicated knowledge manager, there can still be problems that exist, which is why it is absolutely vital that you collect feedback from the team.

Building a PMO is never a one-step and-done process. It is an ongoing process, ever-changing and evolving. Ask your team how things are going. You might find that you chose to forgo a PO for your initial project team, but that there exists a strong need to have one on the team. If you get that feedback, take it and implement it. Get better. If there is a second thing to hold on to from this article it’s this: if your project team isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse. Process improvement should always be a primary goal for your organization, if you are stagnant, you’re wasting money.

In the next part, we will begin to uncover methodologies to get you started with a new or revised PMO.


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