Everything's Bigger in Texas

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…and 9 (even more) key learnings from the Gartner PPM Summit this week.

As I ran through the never-ending Gaylord Texan hotel lobby earlier this week, late to catch a cab to Dallas-Forth Worth airport for my flight back home, grasping a suitcase, suit bag, and a couple of bags with shoe boxes containing kid-sized, stitch-adorned boots that I’d hastily bought to make good on the promise to my twins to brings back “cowboy things” from Texas… I realized we had done it. We’d again had a hugely successful and insightful three days at arguably the most important event for our industry – Gartner’s annual PPM & IT Governance Summit.

I’d warned colleagues also attending the event with me of my intent to impart some of UMT’s learnings in a blog post this week. Yesterday, I received a slew of emails with their key takeaways from keynote sessions, conversations on the exhibit floor and musings inspired by the days’ proceedings. I’ve edited and collated them in the list below. Enjoy!

10. Everything really is bigger in Texas. Gartner tells me that about 20% more attendees came to this year’s conference compared to last year. That’s ~1500 PPM and PMO practitioners, decision-makers and service providers sharing war-stories and drinks in one location for three days. Impressive. Thankfully, this year’s chosen venue – sprawling and capacious as any Vegas resort hotel – was more than ample to handle the crowd. The ice cream cookie sandwiches at the exhibit break snack-bar could easily serve as spare tires for a tractor with a flat. (Even the numerous bourbon and tequila bottles on the hotel’s many bars’ top shelves seemed to be Costco-esque in proportion. Which is a good thing at the end of the typical 15-hour conference day.)

9. The meaning of the initial “P” in “PPM” is becoming increasingly open to interpretation. PMOs are around to manage the portfolio of work – but that work is often not packaged neatly as a project. Instead, it may come in irregular chunks of various sizes – not unlike the irregular viscosity of oil as it comes out of a West Texas oil well. The successful PMO must learn to manage that portfolio of work effectively.

8. The rise of the Digital Business is driving big change with the introduction of mobile, social, big data and cloud. This transformation is extending into financial choices with increasing consistency, but many companies are not quite ready to embrace Digital Business in order to enhance their PPM capabilities. As one IT Director said, “How do we as a company take advantage of digitization while our approach to program management is still in the Stone Age?”

7. The digital revolution is giving large technology companies a growing opportunity to “eat their own dog food”, or in the words of one of our clients speaking at the conference – PMO leader Baird Miller of the Cloud Operations group in charge of rolling out Microsoft’s new data centers at lightning speed – “drink its own champagne” by leveraging sophisticated PPM techniques and tools to manage some of its biggest capital investments.

6. Speaking of speakers – Frank LaRocca of ConEdison proved once again that he is one of the rock stars of our industry by commanding a room of what must have been over 200 attendees at his session, despite the fact that it took place at the tail end of Day #2 when most folks would normally be flocking to the bars or their hotel rooms. There’s nothing more inspiring than listening to him describe agile management of a $2B capital investment portfolio. He’s copyrighted terms like “The Sweep” and “Shift Happens.”

5. While PPM maturity has been led by IT organizations in many companies (as demonstrated in portfolio leader, Jonathan Walsh from Merck’s excellent presentation on IT Value and Economics) there is increasing interest to expand these capabilities beyond IT to other business functions with a focus on areas beyond project portfolios such as new product development (NPD) and asset portfolios management. That was strongly demonstrated in Mike Dickey’s case study on Devon Energy’s PPM journey for both IT and drilling operations.

4. That being said – the lines are also blurring and the proportion of business-function investments and projects in IT is shifting at a rapid pace. Over 1/3 of IT spending today happens outside companies’ formal IT budget and that’s expected to grow to 50% in the next two years (Marketing executives like myself are key “culprits”.) The implications of what’s now known as “shadow IT” for traditional IT functions’ roles is profound (as are the implications to Gartner as an IT research firm.) I had a fascinating conversation with a program leader whose company had actually established a formal shadow IT portfolio management function (outside IT) to help rationalize and lasso in this phenomenon.

3. One industry where this is very evident is Healthcare. We had lots of discussions with folks from the healthcare industry, who are looking for better ways to select and manage a portfolio and to break down the old distinctions between business and IT portfolios. We had similar discussions with folks from Oil & Gas, Insurance, Telecom, Education, Federal government and other industries.

2. In the words of the opening keynote speaker, “Coherent execution of strategy is at the core of PPM.”
Our favorite discussions during the three days circled around connecting the dots from strategy to execution and driving organizational change through capabilities enablement, whether it’s resource and capacity management, application life cycle management, or others. PMOs have a critical and ever-growing role in the rapid deployment of corporate strategy in this brave new world through dissemination of information and management of execution risk. However, the flip-side of speed is reaching the right decisions quickly. And that brings us to agility.

1. Without a doubt, the dominant keywords throughout the three day event were “Agility” and its potentially happy marriage with more traditional, waterfall-esque approaches – i.e. “Bi-modal.” Speed in adapting to opportunities and/or unexpected circumstances, the ability to react quickly while not being stuck in reactive-mode, to plan and strategize but not be afraid to ditch the plan if warranted, to experiment and leverage real-time data and feedback loops to drive decisions on investments and execution – these were the topics on everyone’s tongues. The part that advanced PPM techniques and enterprise PMOs have to play in making organizations more agile while remaining strategic is vast and fascinating. Traditional project execution (ala IT) used to focus on mitigating operational risk. CEOs today mostly care about mitigating competitive risk. According to what we heard, “83% of what a CEO wants is Agility.” It’s definitely high time for a Harvard Business Review piece on organizational agility and PPM’s role in building it out in the enterprise!

Were you at the Gartner PPM Summit? Share your thoughts. In any case – hope to see you there (again) next year!