About this time last year, my husband and I took our son to see The Lego Movie. Little did I know that a movie created for children and its antagonist would lead to professional self-reflection. The antagonist, Lord Business (also known as President Business), wants everyone in Bricksburg to follow his instructions on how to build and behave all the time. He is convinced the natural result of an orderly Bricksburg will be a happy Bricksburg. Those that defied Lord Business’ instructions were permanently glued in place. As I watched the movie, I started to think about a previous position I had held and a period of time when we were steering large portions of the organization away from ad-hoc processes and inconsistent departmental focused outputs to documented and repeatable processes with enterprise-wide perspective. This transition was met with resistance and departments felt a loss of independence. As I sat in the theater and thought about that time, I started to get a little uncomfortable. Given my role in this transition as a leader driving the PMO process changes… was I Lord Business?
Leaders of PMOs are often caught between company leadership and the teams executing projects. PMOs are expected to consolidate and report on data from multiple teams, departments, and projects in a consistent manner. Processes are put in place to gather that data and ensure it is timely, accurate, and relevant. Problems start to arise when there are different approaches and outputs to tracking and reporting that data. Those differences could be due to different development methodologies or a general lack of experience with project management metrics. Rather than being able to focus on supporting actual project execution, I spent all of my time communicating, training, conducting quality checks, following up with people that didn’t meet deadlines, and in one unfortunate case begging! In order for me to meet the expectations of the leaders and provide the information they were seeking, I had become Lord Business.
The Boston Consulting Group found that “over the past fifteen years, the amount of procedures, vertical layers, interface structures, coordination bodies, and decision approvals needed…has increased by anywhere from 50 percent to 350 percent.” Additionally, in the most complicated organizations, “managers spend 40 percent of their time writing reports and 30 percent to 60 percent of it in coordination meetings.” This was my reality during this transition with nearly 70 to sometimes 100% of my time spent coordinating efforts to receive and report on the data. This clearly screamed there was a problem, but when pushing through the day-to-day activities it is hard to see just how bad things have become (although resorting to begging should have been an indicator!). Assuming automation was not a near-term possibility, how could I have improved or removed some of the processes that were consuming my and others’ time?
I became Lord Business because I was seen as the requester, designer, and enforcer of the processes. My mistake was collaborating with the participants and stakeholders separately and then trying to bring their perspectives together on my own. In a more recent experience, I shifted the Lord Business perception through deeper group collaboration across process participants and stakeholders. My first step was to ensure everyone understood why the processes were necessary and what true tangible value they brought to the organization. If that could not be clearly communicated the necessity of the process was called into question. Next, participants and stakeholders together helped design the processes and worked to streamline them as much as possible. The output was a group effort with increased understanding and buy-in.
So I have to own that, yes, in that previous role I had become Lord Business. I truly believe the best solutions are developed when many minds with different experiences and perspectives come together, but that was not demonstrated with my approach. Processes are a necessary evil to maintain structure and consistency, but they should not be driven by one person. If this strikes a chord with you and leaves you wondering if YOU may be Lord Business, ask yourself: are you able to articulate why this process is important to the organization? Do your stakeholders believe it? Do you believe it? If not, take a step back and clarify the true business need behind the process. Or you may just find yourself itching to glue your non-compliant stakeholders into place.