We talk a lot about processes that PMOs can bring to organisations to enable the successful delivery of change. And, if you read posts and blogs it seems to me that PMO people are always trying to avoid failure. This article will look to explore communities of practice within the project management industry.

Which is why when launching the ‘Wonder of Project Management Month’ for the Major Projects Association Knowledge Hub, I asked people to post the great things that this industry brings to the fore. There wasn’t much response, which is disappointing but that got me thinking about why that is.

It could be all about our human nature to focus on the negative – we all complain when we have bad service but rarely speak up when it was great. Or maybe it’s because our industry is hard work, and PMO is in the tricky position of trying to engage and control at the same time and we spend a large chunk of time feeling frustrated.

Over the years judging and being involved in the Association for Project Management ‘PMO of the Year’ Award (originally Sponsored by Wellingtone), I have been impressed with all the finalists. One of the key areas where they stand out for me is their passion and enthusiasm for what they do, what they have achieved, and how they do so often in unprecedented times and situations. Their passion is evident even as they charge up to receive their award, or share virtually their success. That has given me a small piece of what might be missing.

I hosted a webinar for the APM PMO SIG on Embedding a PMO Culture effectively into organisations and was surprised at the positive response it got from people across the industry. I tried to figure out why people felt positive about that hour and asking some people what value is added to them gave me a second crucial piece.

Ever been told you are too passionate? I have – I learned early on in my career when to channel that into productive ‘get stuff done’ energy and when it is OK to be a little bit zany.

And because of my interest in people, I always say you can’t half ‘do’ communicating. You either commit 100% or you don’t. Anything in the middle won’t work.

Communities of practice are the same. You can’t half ‘do’ community – you have to be 100% committed, passionate about bringing people together, and proactive with the knowledge that comes out of it.

According to Researchers Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner, communities of practice are made up of three things; an area of interest that is the domain of the community, joint activities that people can choose to attend, and real practitioners. Only when these three occur can you achieve collective learning and a true community of practice.

Maybe this is the missing link; we spend so much time dealing with processes and measures and methods that we let the one area that can truly mean the success or failure of organisational change go by the wayside as soon as things get busy – communities of passionate people.

Communities are built only with preparation and commitment. They don’t appear by magic.

Key to success for communities of practice

  • Is your organisation ready for the change that it is hosting? Depending on this answer will tell you how your community needs to be positioned. Is it going to bring people together to support the organisation through difficulties or is it to promote and develop project management maturity because everything is in a good place?
  • Where do you sit in the organisation? Are you as the champion of this initiative new to the organisation? If you are, are you being sensitive to the cultural reality of your surroundings? At Wellingtone, we believe that every organisation has its own Project Management DNA. So, if you are trying to put your ‘stamp’ on things, that’s good and the right thing to do but don’t forget to walk a mile in the shoes of those you are trying to engage with. A copy-paste approach from your previous organisation will rarely work.
  • What state is your PMO in? It is always a good idea to begin this kind of activity following a maturity review. This way you can understand where you are, what your challenges are, and what you do well; just like people management, understand strengths and weaknesses and work with those.
  • Building relationships is a time-consuming thing to do – one that sometimes we are too busy to commit to. Rather than picking up the phone or walking to the next office, we send an email. Instead of taking time with colleagues to find out what’s happening in their world, we eat lunch alone at our desks. Taking the time to build genuine relationships will make your community of practice become self-sufficient; which by definition means PMO is more successful.

A big part of securing your PMO future comes down to (in my view anyway) how you engage with your customers and audience. If you have people on your side, they see more of the value you bring head-on because they are part of your journey. After all, no one destroys what one helps to build.

The 2022 Perspective

Now more than ever, the community is key in transforming our project management practice in order that it works in the new work economy of virtual working and dispersed teams.

Project teams have seen two years of continuous change; change of projects, change of teams, change of technology, and the list goes on. However, the one thing that remains is the need for human connection.

Many project teams and PMOs haven’t spoken to those they don’t work directly with for a long time. Because we are all time poor we get to the end of the day and realise we didn’t connect with anyone that day.

PMO and project teams are still not great at communicating our successes. So, remember that change is a process, not an event, and as 2022 gets underway challenge yourself to some of the tips below to make your community thrive and be ‘sticky’ enough that engagement continues to grow.

How to make the communities stick

  • You can’t just start to build a community and hope for the best. Also, not many organisations will approve you to start doing so without a case for change.
  • So, my advice is to start off working on your own relationships and get enabled with technology.
  • Building new habits take approximately 13 weeks – so why not challenge yourself in the new year to do some relationship building. It doesn’t have to be a big change; a phone call, a virtual coffee, a LinkedIn connection.
  • But if you commit to three months of one small new thing a day, all the little changes will add up to your PMO and project success.