Leading up to our Colorado PMO Forum I had the opportunity to sit down with one of our panelists, Lynette Nunez, Vice President of the Technology Infrastructure PMO at First Data, to discuss her journey to PMO leadership.
Below are the highlights from our conversation. Lynette is an experienced and capable leader and I hope that you will enjoy learning from her as much as we enjoyed speaking with her!
What was your professional journey to becoming a senior-level PMO leader?
I started out of college working for Andersen Consulting as a Cobol programmer. This exposed me to project management which I thought would be a better fit for my background. After two years at Andersen I worked in a few different companies in project management and app dev management roles, and ultimately landed working for a small consulting firm, responsible for developing their PMO. Unfortunately, our main client was a company that was highly impacted by 9/11 in New York and they canceled nearly all of our projects overnight. I immediately started pursuing other opportunities and started working as a contract PM at First Data in 2001.
I have since worked in multiple PMOs, in various roles, across First Data. I have built project management methodologies and best practices, managed project management teams, as well as delivered very large programs for the company. Ultimately I was named the Vice President of the Technology Infrastructure PMO in 2014. This is the role I serve in today where I am responsible for all elements of our PMO including, portfolio management, demand management, prioritization, methodology, training and project/program delivery.
What was the biggest challenge you faced as a PMO leader in your career? How did you overcome that challenge?
My biggest challenge as a PMO leader was overcoming a downsizing that occurred in Denver where I lost 20% of my team of seasoned project delivery experts. The obvious concerns for your people and helping them find other positions was the first priority, but then we were faced with replacing these resources in other locations. My team historically had encountered very low attrition so all of the things that you took for granted that just happened on projects, now had to be documented and explained in detail. The reputation of our team took a big hit with our customers because we had so many new people that just were not able to deliver like our seasoned veterans could.
To overcome, we updated the methodology, launched a new PMCenter of Excellence methodology site, built a 40 hour training and on boarding program for any new members of our team, and rolled out a project health check and governance program to ensure the standards were being followed. In addition, we started doing damage control with our partners, especially the leadership of the technology infrastructure organization. We conducted a VOC survey, met with our leadership to hear their feedback (which was not easy), and ultimately delivered the items listed above. At the end of 2015, I requested a meeting with the leadership to let them know we heard their feedback, explained what we had put in place, and started working to change perceptions. We are just now completing another VOC survey where we will compare the results. In addition, we conducted a VOC survey of our existing staff to try to get ahead of future attrition concerns.
What key competencies and/or skills make a great PMO leader?
Communication…communication…communication – this is not only a key competency for a member of a PMO, it is also a key competency of the leader of a PMO. Being able to communicate with all levels of the organization is paramount to serving as escalation point for projects/programs, but also participating in senior level strategy sessions for the organization, and communicating with your team so they will support your vision and strategy. There are so many elements of this.
Listening is a critical component of communication. Being able to listen, and not get defensive, but really hearing what someone is saying and being honest about the fact that they may have a point and maybe I should look into this. I think that my deep project management experience helps me every day in this role. I understand the issues in front of me and I understand the challenges that my team faces every day. I hold quarterly Town Hall meetings with my entire organization and make it a point to meet with every person in my organization at least once every year to understand their concerns, aspirations, goals, etc. These meetings become input to my strategy and vision for the following year.
What organizational and/or cultural characteristics allow PMOs to succeed and thrive?
I think you need senior level support. My senior leadership in the infrastructure technology organization at First Data challenges me on the right things and provides me great air cover. I think it is also important to always show value, and not be viewed as the department administrators. Your PMO has to be doing more than scheduling and documenting meetings. You need to have seasoned professionals on your team that can assist with design, understand how to get work done in a timely manner, build relationships, streamline processes that are not working, etc.
How do you exhibit and measure the value the PMO brings to your organization?
As I mentioned above, last year we did a series of meetings and presentations with our senior leadership to understand the perceptions and build a plan around how to change the negative perceptions. I think it is critical to have a member of your team that can build a data repository of relevant data from multiple sources, and then pull that data in management reporting, metrics reporting, dashboards, etc. This gets the information to the decision makers in an easy to absorb format so that decisions can be made, and real value can be displayed. You have to rely on the numbers to tell your story, the rest is just gut feelings.