Introducing a Project Support Office

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Introducing a Project Support Office (PSO) is easily done. Introducing an effective one is not! As the principal impact is on the culture. In most organisations, sponsors typically preside over project managers, who in fact make up their own minds over what and how to carry out their projects. Funding is often obscure, and value assumed. Well implemented PSOs give portfolio managers real powers and responsibilities for money and facilities, as well as overall project performance. This is seen as such a threat to the status quo that few organisations manage the change. A culture is the set of shared beliefs and practises which are so deeply established in a group that its basic premises are rarely if ever examined.

They shape the very way the group conceive of their purpose. For this reason it's very hard to deliberately shift the 'deep' culture. Attempts to do so often evoke the characteristic cycle of resistance, anger, and poor morale, with enormous disruption to activities and loss of invaluable informal patterns of relationship and procedure.

Yet, all healthy cultures constantly evolve. An organisational structure evolves in response to changes in the environment, guided in part by its culture, but at the same time the culture itself adjusts to the changing demands of the structure and the environment. But when the rate of change demanded by the environment requires specific organisational responses, it is no longer safe to rely on unmanaged 'evolutionary' cultural change. After all, evolution has left humans with appendixes, ear lobes and a propensity for bad backs!

For many organisations, managed successful cultural change is not an option - it's a fundamental requirement. All the usual caveats of leadership, clarity of objectives, and commitment from the top go without saying, but how do you actually make it happen? Real cultural change is a dynamic process. It depends on a constant re-examination of the effectiveness of the methods used and constant vigilance to detect the establishment of informal fiefdoms and unofficial perks arising from weak points in funding control, as these often provide the focus for people's resistance to change when introducing a Project Support Office.

A key factor influencing acceptance is the balance between rewards offered by new opportunities and penalties incurred by old behaviours. Large institutions are most vulnerable to cultural ossification because the opportunities and penalties are rarely linked directly to individual behaviours, and the shared 'higher' values of the 'deep' culture always show strong self-preservation tendencies.

The problem is that, as Francis Bacon said years ago, "He that will not apply new remedies, must expect new evils: for time is the greatest innovator". And the times have changed - unless an institution changes to match them it, de facto, has changed whether it meant to or not. Projects are now too significant a part of most organisations' investment to let them be. You are going to have to dust off the cultural change process and get it to work.


Christopher Worsley
CEO, CITI Limited


Christopher Worsley

Christopher Worsley

My vision was to create a company that could impart lasting change on the organisations that it touched, and leave individuals with the knowledge
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