“An up-at-dawn, pride–swallowing siege.”

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In Microsoft’s Cloud Infrastructure and Operations presentation at the Gartner PPM Summit, we learned how to avoid making teams feel like “PPM is being done to them” rather than with them.

The title of this post is how one of my clients in the utilities business used to refer to his former role as the head of a PMO. It came to mind as I introduced to stage at the Gartner PPM Summit in Texas earlier this month another one of UMT’s clients – this time in the high tech industry – to talk about the tremendous challenges of introducing new approaches to structured program and portfolio management (see the video recording here.) The client was Baird Miller of Microsoft and the subject was how to double the number of data centers in the organization without doubling the number of people involved.

Building a data center is classic, complex program management, but with a modern twist: the challenges of bricks and mortar construction married with optimizing the very latest information technology designs, all at a pace that needs to keep up with the ballooning demand for cloud services across Microsoft’s businesses.

In the world of Microsoft cloud infrastructure, the technical sophistication and the expectations for expedited delivery have been accelerating at an almost impossible clip. This has created a huge demand for centralized, accessible and reliable planning data of the portfolio of data centers. It has also necessitated bringing many teams into a collaborative solution: a shared umbrella of roles, behaviors and tools that aims not just to standardize program management, but to help support performance improvements in how work is planned and executed.  It is this second point that is at the heart of the challenge in any high tech organization.

The culture of the high tech industry is to empower small teams to innovate and move rapidly without bureaucratic hindrance. But when the initiatives being run are complex, capital-intense, and requiring  timely coordination of many different teams, there needs to be some common ground, common language – and trust.  As Baird pointed out in his presentation, program and portfolio management is something that the various teams have to take part in designing, it can’t feel like “something being done to them”. Microsoft was able to figure how to accomplish this without compromising on speed of delivery – something definitely worth learning in the agile world of rapid business changes.