In our series, The Aha Moment, we chat with influencers in the PM & PPM space and get to know them better. We ask a bunch of questions, some biz related and some not so biz related, in order to understand what makes them tick and find their aha moment.
This month’s feature is PMO Pro, Gary Cohen. Read on to learn how his background in software paved the way for a career in agility and organizational change.
Q. What is your job title and in which industry are you working in?
A. I am a Principal Consultant at Practical Agility LLC. I work in whatever industries my clients happen to work in, but I have over twenty years of experience working for or with software product companies.
Q. What is something unique that most people do nt know about you?
A.I had the opportunity to work on the scheduling system the National Football League used in the 1990s to determine their game schedules. It was a dream assignment in only the second year of my professional career, so I got very lucky to have that opportunity.
Q. What led you to this career?
A. I started developing software in high school – it gave me an outlet to create things where you can try different things and if you make a mistake, you just fix your mistake and recompile! Then I had the fortune to work for Bob Schatz at Primavera Systems in the early 2000s where he introduced me to agile ways of working and the importance of culture and organizational design. That gave me tools i used in several leadership roles across engineering and product groups. Now I help others cultivate positive change in their organizations using those same skill sets and experiences.
Q. What is your biggest challenge in your profession? How do you overcome it?
A. Overcoming everyone’s desire for certainty, especially when we all work on complex problems in an ever-changing world. We are conditioned to create a plan at the outset and rigidly measure progress against that plan, including initial estimates of completion dates, until the work is completed. I think we should instead focus on what we have learned, what decisions we should be making based on our learning, and how can we most quickly deliver additional value to our customers. Sometimes, the right answer is to continue with our original plan, but often times we need to pivot and adjust. There are also times when we should stop working on a problem altogether and find a better problem to work on. I would rather find that out after two weeks worth of work than after six months worth of work.
Q. If you had a magic wand, what’s the one thing you would change about Gantt?
A. Only use Gantt charts when the projects we are working on have a high level of certainty as to the tasks that need to be completed and when we have a good sense of the risks and dependencies that we are likely to have to address.
Q. Why should every organization have a PMO?
A. PMOs, if used in a thoughtful manner, can provide value to most organizations. However, PMOs need to focus less on conformity, policing, and delivery and focus more on helping teams reduce uncertainty, ensure key assumptions are tested as early as possible, and cultivate an environment where teams are empowered to experiment with new ways of working.
Q. What’s the most difficult thing about managing stakeholder expectations?
A. See above about the need for certainty in an uncertain world. The key is helping stakeholders understand the true level of uncertainty their teams are dealing with and support them in fostering a culture that favors radical transparency, quick learning cycles, working in smaller chunks, and encouragement to adapt to as we gather new knowledge.
Q. What advice would you give to up-and-coming professionals like yourself?
A. Keep reading, keep doing, and keep your mind open to new ideas. Paradoxically, the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know. However, I think that realization leads to a healthy humility which better allows us to navigate the uncertain paths to our business outcomes.
Q. If you were the host of a late night talk show, who would invite as your first guest?
A. Probably someone like Jason Kelce from the Philadelphia Eagles. I’m a huge Eagles fan and Kelce is quite an interesting and entertaining person, as evidenced by the podcast, he does with his brother “New Heights with Jason and Travis Kelce”.
Q. If you had an unlimited supply of one thing what would it be?
If you want to connect with Gary and gain key insights from his expert ppm content, look him up on LinkedIn. Thank you Gary for hanging out with us and answering our questions!