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Principle #5 Supporting a Learning Organisation

PMO Enablers of Program and Project Management Learning

Recently, we introduced our readers to the Principles that make a PMO and PMO regardless of style, maturity level, and strategy. We reached out to the PMO Community to bring to life each principle through experience and thought-provoking articles that will help organisations to develop their PMO to the next level.

This week we have the third instalment in that series and introduce Milvio DiBartolomeo from Queensland Health where he played an instrumental part to bring AXELOS Global Best Practice from the UK to Australia to deliver pilot training in their new Agile SHIFT product. Milvio chose PMO Principle #5: Supporting a Learning Organisation.

As a principle, PMOs facilitate programme and project management learning by building on the reflective practice and knowledge transfer activities to create individuals and collective opportunities for learning that allows continuous improvement and the ability to evolve the organisation to cope with changing conditions.

At a portfolio level, effective portfolio, programme and project management is underpinned by effective resource management. Efficient and effective achievement of strategic intent depends on the capabilities and deployment of existing organisational resources. Capability building, which is central to organisational performance, requires a systematic management approach to learning and development as an integral part of resource planning. Firstly to ensure a balance between running the business and changing the business but secondly to ensure the right people with the right skills, experience, behaviours and capabilities are in the right roles at the right time.

PMOs facilitate this process by establishing and embedding a capability improvement framework within the organisation to improve career development and capability where the progressive levels of a program and project manager role are assessed and assigned to a program or project based on its specific characteristics for size, risk and complexity. For example, a junior project manager or someone with an interest in becoming a project manager would only be assigned to a project that is straightforward, requires a predictive delivery approach and where procurement is from a standing offer arrangement. In an environment of fail fast, making safety a priority provides an opportunity to enable experiential learning where mistakes or learning opportunities can be leveraged and exploited. It is only after a set number of successful delivery of project outputs, capabilities, outcomes and/or benefits to those who gain value by using the project’s products and/or services, or where the project manager has proven themselves capable are they rewarded by being assigned to a more complex or higher risk programme/project.

There is a wealth of information to be extracted and disseminated. Learning from experience should not only be derived from an individual perspective but also from the broader collective across the portfolio. That is, the totality of an organisation’s investment (or segment thereof) on changes required to achieve its strategic objectives. Learning, adapting and continuous improvement forms the baseline of good programme and project management and service management within any organisation.

The role of a PMO is to progressively extract and analyse the data being captured in lesson learned logs, end tranche/stage reports, gateway reviews and end programme/project reports and to implement activities to redress any negative findings. Likewise, it also has a duty of care to promote any good project portfolio direction, management and delivery practices being actively used by an individual project for collective use. The most valuable and prevalent information however that is often forgotten is how potential risk threats are mitigated? For reflective practice and knowledge transfer activities to occur, PMOs are the ones best placed to analyse any data trends, particularly where similar potential risk threats, are being recorded by one or more independent programmes or projects.

If Portfolio, Programme and Project management maturity is to improve, then organisations need to embed learning into their cultural mindset, so lessons from past experiences are propagated into other programmes and projects so the same mistakes can be avoided. The organization’s ability to rapidly respond to changes and opportunities will be enhanced by identifying ways to accelerate and share learning.

A good way to embed learning is to establish a portfolio project management community of practice. These forums consists of members who interact with each other for their pursuit of a common portfolio, programme and project management practice. It is a collective social practice that links like minded individuals together across organisational and functional boundaries that makes up the community. Many mature organisations have these in place, where particular topics of interest are discussed by thought provoking professionals who think outside the box. The forum are typically open to anyone in the organisation. Its a great opportunity for any project portfolio management professional to learn from others and to adapt their thinking and ways of working to ultimately improve portfolio, programme and project success within an organisation.

For those new to project portfolio management, the experience of working on a portfolio, programme or project can provide a wealth of information and knowledge. Its important to actively seek these opportunities or to register your interest through professional development plans so you can broaden your mind and skill set. The importance of experiential learning or learning by doing is a well known model in education. Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory (Kolb, 1984) defines experiential learning as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience. Learning from experience is the learning we gain by reflecting on the experiences we encounter or observe. Experience without reflection does not always result in learning. It is through the reflective process that meaning is created and new insights gained. It is the responsibility of everyone to seek lessons learned rather than waiting for someone else to provide them. The crux of the learning occurs during the reflective process where project portfolio management professionals assess their decisions and/or those of others in the light of natural consequences, mistakes, and successes.

Taking a holistic approach to professional portfolio, programme and project management development takes into consideration that people learn by doing, by observing, by listening, by reading, and by teaching others. People also learn through both informal and formal means. It’s often said that learning does not end at the school gates, rather it continues as a life ambition. Formal education is useful as a launch point for a career, and it provides a framework to organise your experience. But experience is ultimately what makes you a skilled resource in portfolio, programme or project direction, management and delivery.

The PMO principles are covered in depth in the APM Accredited PMO Practitioner 2-day Course.