11 Jan 2022

A COVID forced business pivot

Business strategy
 A COVID forced business pivot

During the pandemic, many companies have been pushed to operate in new ways and have responded with innovative pivots. The Project Bureau is one of these companies, and Managing Director Andrew Fox describes its journey.

At the outbreak of the pandemic last year, The Project Bureau was facing a crisis point where planned projects had vanished and we found that we needed to ‘pivot’ to provide a service to our customers that would not only support the customers in these trying times, but also allow The Project Bureau to survive and as Managing Director, the team was looking to me for guidance. To help, I used SUCEDE, which is a decision support model developed by Dr Richard Barber from RiskIQ. Our companies have worked together in the past and I was able to utilise the concepts in this model to help in make decisions, in what could only be classed as very uncertain times.
 

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The virtual PMO

For many years, I had the notion of developing a virtual PMO (vPMO) to help organisations save headaches, time, and money, by moving the PMO from in-house, to a subscription model of a virtual project team, freeing up several hundreds of thousands of dollars and removing a rather large workload of managing the PMO internally.
 

We had been too focused on high quality project delivery to get the time to work on designing this new service in the past. As they say, every cloud has a silver lining, and I used this period as an opportunity to focus my team on designing and launching the vPMO.


Through my doctoral research I had discovered significant research theories have been developed to explain perceived benefits contributed by PMOs. Indications were found that moderate improvements could be achieved in various aspects of organisational project delivery and strategic alignment, which leads to further research on revised implementation models aiming to peak project performance by utilising the PMO as a tool. Not surprisingly, PMOs in practice are implemented in a more complex way than those theories. Our team focused the solution on the current weak connection between practice and theory to restructure the PMO service into a virtual offering.


Leadership

This was quite a cultural shift that required leadership not only from me, but every single member of the team. To motivate us, we had some initial interest in the new service from our customers and while the temptation was to get to market quickly, we collectively made the decision that it would be best to hold off and design the vPMO properly so that it could make a real difference to our customers lives from day one.

As it turns out, this decision provided some amazing opportunities for The Project Bureau that we couldn’t have planned for because, in the search for a Project Portfolio Management (PPM) tool to support the vPMO service, we came across a UK based company called BestOutcome who not only had exactly the tool we were looking for, called PM3, but had similar ethics to The Project Bureau in that they are outcomes focussed for their customers and always looking to save customers’ money whilst delivering high quality.

PM3 is being used extensively in the NHS in the UK as well as other government departments and local councils, NFPs, as well as both small and large enterprises because of its simplicity of use, reporting automation, portfolio prioritisation and incredibly quick return on investment. BestOutcome had a challenge in that they had received enquiries from Australia, but were unable to respond to those enquiries because they had no one to service customers should they decide to buy. Their managing director, David Walton, then reached out to see if The Project Bureau would be interested in entering into a partnership with BestOutcome to respond to this challenge.


Cultural change

This is where the change in culture had to be very carefully nurtured as moving to a project portfolio management (PPM) platform and a vPMO service meant taking a back seat from actual delivery that we were used to doing, to supporting our customers delivering successfully themselves.


Insights and learnings

We had by this point uncovered the critical issues, checked our mental models, explored options, made decisions, engaged the right people and now we were sharing that purpose, not only internally, but with our customers and the broader project management community. Everybody in The Project Bureau was on board with the change in direction and were singularly focused. We had moved from apparent chaos to innovation.

The team were developing ideas at a very fast pace and putting them into practice. One of those was to further develop artificial intelligence in project management so we decided to make an investment in that, and employed an AI programmer who is currently developing some amazing concepts.


Current situation

We have formally released both the PM3 product and the vPMO service and whilst we have received quite a few enquiries, we are not stopping there. We are actively engaging with our customers to gather reviews and concerns that could improve our service offering as an innovative product in the market.


Reflecting on the pivot

The biggest lessons I have learnt from all of this are to be ready to change even if I think I’m being successful at leading the business, and to apply the same project management principles that I use when delivering projects to my own business, especially when we need to pivot quickly. We can never become complacent and assume that what works today, is going to work tomorrow.

The pandemic has changed me as a leader; previously, I would have protected my team from exposure, but I have realised that sometimes it is best to let the team feel the impending doom to let them shine, which they truly did. We have grown to become a tighter knit team than before, and I am glad we went through this experience together.


Author: Andrew Fox FAIPM CPPD is the Founder and Managing Director of The Project Bureau and has delivered major projects and programmes for many organisations for more than a decade. He holds a Masters Degree in Project Management, is a Chartered Project Professional, a Certified Practicing Project Director, a Praxis, MSP, Prince2 and PMBoK Certified Practitioner, as well a registered Project Manager. He is also an AIPM assessor and lectures in project management at the Australian National University on the Masters of Project Management (MPM) degree, whilst undertaking a Doctorate of project management with UniSA.


This article appeared in the Summer 2021 edition of Paradigm Shift magazine. Find out more about the AIPM digital magazine and take a look at the full edition.


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