I recently shared an update from the folks at EMC, which referenced some of the amazing changes in various industries (Uber – the world’s largest taxi company that owns zero taxis, for example). Towards the latter part of 2015, I also attended the TSIA Conference called Transformations. Essentially, the theme focused on the shift that so many hardware-based companies are making to become service-based companies. It was a tremendous week of learning and understanding of how business models (and the respective roles) are shifting to deliver outcome-based, service-focused experiences for their clients.  With all of this transformation talk, I couldn’t help but wonder what may be in-store for the project management profession.

This post isn’t designed to be one of those Top 10 Predictions for 2016 type of posts. Rather, I hope this is the start of an on-going conversation between business professionals from various industries and different functions of the enterprise.

Here is where I want to start….Project Managers need to get their heads out of their SOWs!

Project Managers love their acronyms, methodologies, and PM speak. It’s almost like they are trying to prove their value or make sure they get their money’s worth from their PMP ‘bootcamp’.  Don’t get me wrong, some of the key benefits of project management stem from all of those things…lessons learned, proven delivery frameworks, and so on. The issue is that no one cares..at least in the business. Possibly the worse term/concept that gets PMs in trouble is “scope”. Followed closely by the SOW it is written into. There is nothing more disheartening than working to build a relationship with your client, or gain the buy-in from internal stakeholders, only to be stiff-armed by a militant project manager. “According to the SOW, our scope will be ….” and “We can absolutely do that, as long as we follow the change request process to update the scope.” While I understand the absolute importance of the project scope and controls the SOW bring, it simply hampers the relationship your service is trying to deliver – when referenced verbatim at every turn.

Services are all about people and project management is, without a doubt, a Service. TSIA takes this a touch further and states that SLA based SOW’s need to shift to business outcome SOWs. I may be playing with semantics, to some of you, but this verbiage and mindset change is crucial to the success of both your project and long-term client relationships. And with a shift from a product-based economy to one that values service experiences, this has never been more true. Whether you buy into it or not, “the business” is opting for external vendors to support their strategy, because many find it to be a quicker, cheaper alternative than traditional IT and PM enablement.

So what should project managers be doing?

  1. Remember, you are delivering a service and that means relationships. Make sure you are taking time to inject some conversation, fun, personal interaction into your meetings. Don’t just check the scope check box, but ask what their strategy is, what innovation lies ahead, etc.
  2. Get your head out of the SOW to understand your business, the overall market, and why your customer/company has initiated the project.
  3. There has been a lot of talk about strategic alignment (folks roll their eyes almost as much as when they hear about Agile). Consider the business outcome of your project. What is it your company/market/users will be trying do with your deliverable. Then consider your approach, design, launch, support, etc to ensure it achieves those business outcomes.
  4. As the project manager, you are delivering a service to your project team as well. It is easy to blame the absent executive or evil sales team, but this is why you were hired. You are not there to be mom or dad and tell people what to do. A PM saying it is not my job has missed the point. It is all yours!You may not do the activity, but you are absolutely  responsible to make sure everyone is clear on what they need to do, that they have what they need to complete the work, and everything that goes with that. Validating plans, engaging partners, coordinating calls, escalating roadblocks, etc. Your team must commit, but you must provide a service that supports their success in achieving those commitments.
  5. Change IS going to happen and people must follow process, but your job is to provide translation services. Yes, translation services. We all know the SOW calls it out and you have amazing MS Vizio diagrams and RACI charts explaining who is doing what and how. The business doesn’t care. They are trying to sell…trying to get media attention…try to code….etc, etc, etc. Your job is to make sure that the team members know what they need to do, manage change and risk, report status and all in  way that everyone can understand, without learning to be PMs. If Sales wanted to learn how to use Jira, then they would become a developer or QA analyst. You can enter the defect for them…provide a Service.

I know this is going to rub some of you the wrong way, but we must consider the future of our profession, as everything around us changes. Project management is being incorporated into curriculums from high schools through MBA programs and it is bound to become a business skill, rather than a profession/career (for all but the most complex initiatives). If we don’t put on our business development, sales, marketing, and customer service hats then we may go the way PC-based applications (rare…in case you didn’t get it).

What do you think? Am I being too harsh on PMs? What else do we need to consider, as changes occur across every industry.


One thought on “Get Your Head Out of Your…SOW

  1. Let me respond from two perspectives: time and materials, and fixed price. If I am managing a project where time and materials were estimated, I have an obligation to the people paying the bills (who may not be the customer) to either come close or give them choices. If I am managing a fixed price project, I have an obligation to the people who assumed the cost risk to either hit the target or give them the opportunity to re-negotiate. Many projects are approved with a reduced scope, compared to what was originally requested. When a stakeholder who isn’t getting a pony decides to lean on the project manager to deliver it, saddle and all, that demand needs to be escalated to the portfolio manager who approved the scope. I don’t recommend digging in your heels on every request, but scope management is not solely the province of the PM. There is a wide gray area in every significant project, and that space needs to be navigated; we establish change control processes to get the choices to the right people.

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