Many IT organizations have developed a Project Management Office (PMO). They are usually staffed with competent project managers who have good project management tools and who understand how to get their project across the finish line in a predictable manner (cost and quality). However, there are unique characteristics of Communications / Telecom projects that demand a hybrid approach, with simple and flexible tools, and staffed by PMs with unique skills. Yes, this premise is counter-intuitive for anyone who thinks of themselves as a progressive IT leader (me included). But reality can’t be denied.
First let’s describe how telecom projects are unique, and it all starts with the carriers. They are the central part of the project, we are trying to implement THEIR services. Hard to pin down on dates, constantly changing resources, no firm commitments on anything, seemingly no one who can make a decision, “escalation” as a standard operational term, email driven processes, he-said-she-said mistakes … on and on. Then add a complexity like last-mile services delivered by a completely different LEC than the one holding the contract, and the resulting tiered service model. And add to all that the environmental component: the services are delivered outside in mother-nature’s domain, where weather can trigger delays, and streets and buildings and parking lots hold secrets until the digging starts.
How does a telecom PM manage through all of that? First, they need to have a personal skill set that is a match for the chaos:
- Masters of context switching, as some days are only about nudging a project forward. They have to be able to manage multiple initiatives, just to stay busy
- Broad telecom knowledge, the technologies, yes, but equally what can go wrong, and how to get it back on track
- Expert communicators
- Skilled at getting things done via influence. Knowing the art of escalation
- Managers of project risk and predictors of impact to schedules
- Effective meeting leaders, covering status and to-dos with clarity and conciseness
- Unflappable and dogged.
Then their execution model has to simplify the project for everyone involved, right to its essence. Their PM processes should boil down to:
- Create and keep a basic project plan
- What are we trying to accomplish
- What are the key milestones
- What help do I need and what resources do I have
- What are the constraints (time, budget, etc.)
- Maintain an issues log and decision tracker
- Effectively build and leverage a stakeholder-based communications matrix.
Trying to model out and maintain a beautiful Work-Breakdown-Structure with task dependencies, resource allocations, activity-level dates and a critical path is ultimately counter-productive. It will be out-of-date and incorrect almost immediately on project commencement, and take a ton of time to maintain.
And finally, their tools need to be aligned with the execution model. Flexible, simple to use, easy to understand. The tools just help track activities, keep project participants on the same page (status) and allow for issue tracking. Most projects can be run most effectively with a relatively simple spreadsheet. Put your energy into staff development and coaching, not tool deployments.
If you apply that lens to your telecom PMO projects it will pay huge dividends for your organization. The work will get effectively completed, the costs of Project Management will be optimized, and your PMO staff will take great pride in their results and productivity.
About the Author
As Vice President of Client Solutions, Paul Cashin is responsible for leading the services organization at Renodis.
With over 25 years in business/IT consulting, Paul brings strong leadership experience in developing strategy, service offerings, sales/marketing programs, team development, partnership management, and implementation management of projects.
For more information on driving Telecom PMO and improving business outcomes, or if you have any comments or questions related to this post, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.