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Establishing a PMO in a Hybrid Environment

As hybrid workplaces become more commonplace, Project Management Offices (PMOs) should examine their balance of standards, practices, and tools to enable successful project and program delivery. Hybrid workplaces require the delicate orchestration of remote and in-person team members; while the core concepts of establishing and maintaining PMOs hold regardless of the type of workplace – hybrid or in-person – there are distinct challenges and nuances of establishing PMOs and their successful execution in a hybrid work model. Though the success of PMOs is dependent on many factors, we sought to evaluate three high-impact considerations for successfully establishing a PMO in a hybrid environment: 

  1. Impact of PMO Maturity on Hybrid Teams 
  2. Collaboration Tools and Processes During Critical Project Phases 
  3. Project Managers as a Catalyst for Hybrid Team Productivity  

1. Impact of PMO Maturity on Hybrid Teams

In a mature PMO, where standards and tools are established and used consistently, where there’s strength in portfolio governance and project control, and where ubiquity in cross-team collaboration yields clear business results, the consideration of a hybrid workforce may simply require education within the project teams of common pitfalls to avoid when working with hybrid teams and adopting certain processes and tools for a hybrid workplace. 

On the other end of the spectrum, a low-maturity PMO tasked with building standards and tools while considering the need to engage hybrid teams and ensuring the tools and practices work well, will require keen focus and effort. It’s important to ensure the fundamentals are in place (e.g., key templates) to run projects efficiently with an acceptable degree of consistency. Given the unknowns and higher degrees of uncertainty (e.g., success of standard tools, templates, etc.), you can’t let perfection be the enemy of progress. Members of the PMO are encouraged to react to project team feedback, adopt changes quickly, and share learnings across the PMO regularly, thereby, taking advantage of its nimbleness while making meaningful progress toward elevating the organization’s PMO maturity.  

Organizations should evaluate their current PMO to assess where they are in the maturity spectrum and determine the best approach for establishing a PMO hybrid environment. 

2. Collaboration Tools and Processes During Critical Project Phases

Fundamentally, team members (client, third-party vendors, and contractors) must be able to communicate with one another – whether it’s MS Teams, Slack, or phone – throughout a project. While we don’t see a dearth of collaboration tools, a common pitfall is key decisions made within offline exchanges that aren’t communicated with other team members. For example, on a recent project, Clarkston captured project issues, actions, and decisions in a centralized SmartSheets RAID Log that is reviewed weekly. The team instituted a simple process of ensuring RAID items are discussed and closed in team meetings to ensure all are informed vs. individually closing them offline.  

Another common pitfall is having too many tools, leaving messages ignored because teams are overwhelmed or simply forgetting which platform to check. In a hybrid world where one cannot drop by another teammate’s desk, it’s important to be clear on what platform to use for project communications, including when the broader team should be informed. 

While technology to support team communication and collaboration is important across the project lifecycle, there are certain phases within projects where collaboration tools are unequivocally paramount to successful project delivery. For example, during the design of a new process/system or end-user training, the need to effectively share ideas with a hybrid team requires the right tools in place (e.g., virtual whiteboards) and the team’s knowledge in leveraging the tools. Project managers’ thoughtful use of these tools is just as important; for example, in a recent system implementation project, every End User Training session began with a status overview (MS PowerPoint) and then a shift to a Miro Whiteboard. In the physical classroom, end users were provided with dual monitors. For the virtual audience, a pre-training check-in was held to confirm access to the proper tools.  

Throughout project delivery, the real-time public views of project status and task/issue tracking using Trello boards and other trackers helps the team identify any bottlenecks and stay in sync, especially around activities with heavy interdependency. To further aid in information exchange and transparency within hybrid teams, regular (e.g., daily) short standup meetings help to ensure all team members understand the latest status updates, their specific tasks, and any issues in a timely manner. This also helps project managers stay abreast of project updates in a real-time manner, which otherwise, could be a challenge with hybrid teams.  

Organizations should map out their communications and project management applications to see how information flows and how work is done. This application map will show how tools are leveraged across teams and can be used to optimize their usage for hybrid project teams. 

3. Project Managers as a Catalyst for Hybrid Team Productivity  

A project manager’s ability to build relationships, think strategically, and foster collaboration is inarguably a key asset and a direct link to overall team performance and project outcomes. More so than ever, when working with hybrid teams, project managers are a critical catalyst in project productivity and issue resolution. In a hybrid environment, the ability to calm a room during frustrating moments and ask probing questions to move toward productive outcomes requires a unique set of skills (especially when you cannot see body language/unspoken cues). Project managers must be able to detect interpersonal dynamics and nonverbal cues, possess an outcome-driven mindset, and have the courage to ask the probing and, at times, difficult questions that are needed to identify issues and thoroughly resolve them.   

These skillsets, supported by standardized meeting management practices and tools (e.g., meeting agenda and minutes) mean the difference between being stuck in a cyclical loop of issue discussion vs. issues that are clearly identified, root cause diagnosed, and resolution fully applied. On a recent project working with a client and a software vendor, the tension between the two teams slowed project progress. The Clarkston Project Manager worked individually with the key stakeholders to understand the cause of the friction and served as an intermediary to arrive at a mutually acceptable approach. This included setting a process and weekly time to discuss the issues raised and document decisions, with a focus on facilitating these meetings efficiently but thoroughly, that allowed the team to cover the issues in a meaningful way without overconsuming the team’s time. The process alone would not have sufficed; the outcome required a refined set of listening and problem-solving skills to gain the buy-in of the stakeholders, reduce friction, and move forward. 

Organizations should think about upskilling opportunities for their project managers, especially around managing interpersonal dynamics, facilitation and problem-solving skills, and use of key tools with hybrid teams. 

Concluding Thoughts: PMO Hybrid Environments 

The role of PMOs in providing standards, governance, and structure for successful project selection and execution cannot be overlooked; in a hybrid workplace, a strong PMO is a critical force in effective project and program delivery.  

Undoubtedly, the success of PMOs hybrid environments also hinge upon clear hybrid work plans to support productive work. Alignment on working norms, laid out clearly during project kick-off, helps to ensure that team members are aware of expected response times, know when a team member may be out of pocket, and, in general, encourage good working dynamics. As with anything, organizations respond differently to these challenges; therefore, it’s critical to establish a forum and process to discuss learnings and monitor for continuous improvement opportunities. 

For more PMO best practices and guidance, reach out to our team of project and program management experts today. 

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Tags: Project & Program Management