It’s not the CEO, and it’s not our indispensable Office Manager – though both are very important for different reasons. The most important role at our company is the Project Owner (PO for short). We coined that term about 4 years ago, and over time it has never faded, only solidified.
Who is a Project Owner? Sounds like a project manager, doesn’t it? Actually, they’re a lot more than that.
The Project Owners really OWN the projects from the technical, budgetary and customer satisfaction perspectives. They are accountable for the entire project cycles: from opportunities through projects, to closures.
PO is the single go-to person (point of contact) for the client and is ultimately responsible for delivering business value. If you haven’t read Extreme Ownership, I strongly encourage you to – it’s a great read that shows perfectly what we mean by “project ownership.”
The etymology of the word is simple: combine “project manager” with “product owner,” and you get a Project Owner.
The product owner aspect is based on the customer-perspective role in SCRUM, which is exactly what we needed in our PO role. You need to sense the client’s needs and be able to see things from their perspective. Since at Predica we all work as consultants, it is second nature to us.
The second part of the PO picture is also very important. You need to manage the infamous PM triangle: scope, budget/resources and time.
If you fail in either of these roles, the client will not be satisfied.
People often ask me about the methodology we use for our project management. After years of experience, we find that methodologies can be overrated. The team’s mindset, commitment and open-mindedness are much more important.
We are educated and certified in project management methodologies such as SCRUM, PRINCE2, Dynamics Sure Step and Microsoft Agile with Visual Studio Team Services. We use the tools these frameworks provide every day, but the actual selection of the toolset and the approach itself belongs to none other than the PO.
Depending on the client and the project, we need to adjust the project delivery methodology. This is because applying full agile delivery, which we generally prefer, is not always possible.
Being a Project Owner is not for everyone. One of the most important traits of a successful PO is what we call “the buck stops here” attitude, coined by the US President Harry Truman. We take direct responsibility for everything that happens with the project.
This kind of approach elevates all team members to deliver to the best of their abilities. Of course, there are a few other skills you need to have to be a good PO. You need technical expertise in at least 1 domain, or leadership skills to convince a client or a team to your ideas.
What I love about this role (I’m still a PO on some of Predica’s projects) is the number of challenges it entails – it’s a constant learning experience. I have been a PO on projects in various locations like Morocco, Sweden, Kuwait or the US, and worked with people from over 20 different countries.
With every project I learn something new. It can be technical or industry knowledge, or something about people and culture. It never ends, no two projects are the same.
A PO typically has 3-8 projects running at the same time, so you need a good toolset and methodology to manage them all in an effective way. At Predica we have the complete know-how to make our job easier and more organized.
So, what does a typical work day look like for a PO? Let me give you a “virtual tour” of a Project Owner’s typical day. I get to the office, or work from home – we are a global company with employees from 3 different countries, operating from 8 different cities.
First, I check my calendar (Lean Timesheet on Office 365) and my tasks for the day (we use Todoist and GTD internally). I take a look at Visual Studio Team Services to see the progress on the ongoing projects and check how the team is doing. If there are any issues, impediments or tasks assigned to me (e.g. architecture design or QA), I set aside a 2-hour block of do-not-disturb DEEP WORK time to get these tasks done.
I will likely use one of our dev/test environments we have in Azure or other online Microsoft services to validate what has been built before showing it to the client. Often I might jump on a call with a client to discuss elements of the solution and ensure we are on the same page.
Once all my ongoing projects are addressed, I go out to lunch with my colleagues or with a client/associate if they happen to be in Warsaw. Afterwards, I move on to sales where in Dynamics 365 CRM I can see my pipeline and leads. I pick up the phone/Skype and work on my emails to get in touch with our current or potential clients, and see how we can help them achieve their own goals.
As a PO you always need to reserve min. 20% of the day for ad-hoc activity – such as a new lead to respond to or an emergency project issue. If these don’t happen, I am happy to do some learning in the area of soft skills. An example service is Sandler which we use for sales and technical training (e.g. we also use Pluralsight). Or, I can start drafting that case study of a recent successfully completed project I’ve been wanting to write about.
End of the day is for planning and less brain-intensive work. I will plan my client visits for the next 3 weeks. On occasion I might need to fly abroad to see one of them. If so, I check if I can also meet with others nearby. It is also important to review my task list and calendar for the week and make adjustments as needed.
Then, I need to ensure the administrative side of my projects is all OK. We have a PO-dedicated Power BI dashboard that shows any invoices to issue, or if any of them are unpaid and I should remind the client that we do not work for free 😉
Alternatively, I send a weekly status report to the project sponsors and managers on the client’s side. I like to do it especially on Fridays to give them a good feeling for the weekend, reassuring them that Predica is on top of things. If there are any issues, I never wait for a weekly status report. I act immediately to try to resolve them on the spot.
And finally, I check our internal social site Yammer to see what’s happening with others at Predica. Maybe there are some new interesting leads or some projects have started that I would like to engage with, or there is an after-work event I could join.
Although this article focuses on the PO and what it takes to be one, it would be good to point out what it means for YOU, OUR CLIENT. And the truth is, it means A LOT!
Companies often boast about providing you with a single point of contact – SPoC! Though without a “K”, unfortunately 😉 This person is often called an Account Manager, or Key Account Manager. Alternatively, if it’s a big project, just for its duration you will have a dedicated project manager.
First off, neither of them is very technical, so they will not be able to give you many responses on the spot, and will rely on a technical backend team.
Secondly, what the account (sales) person sells, has to be transferred to the PM for project delivery. There is often a dissonance between what the sales proposed and what is actually possible (from the PM or technical perspective).
Lastly, salespeople often get commissions when the contract is awarded / signed, but the PO will be with you till the very end. The PO bonus is always paid out once the project is signed-off and invoiced.
But going back to our future Project Owners…
Why become a Project Owner? It seems so hard – and yes, it is! But there are a few perks:
What is most important is that we share a GROWTH mindset. If you have an open mind, listen and learn from others, and are open to change – you can be on the path to our “Jedi” role 🙂
At Predica, we will support you on this journey. We have a mentoring program where each aspiring PO works alongside a seasoned PO for a few months. We also hold weekly meetings / calls to discuss the most difficult sales or project situations, and brainstorm for the best ideas to approach them.
You will also attend an obligatory training program (incl. Sandler, internal project tracking and management workshop) as you join the PO team, to further support you in this new challenge. To top it off, we have a yearly educational budget, allowing you to continually learn and develop.
Our Project Owner team at Predica is currently 18 people strong, which is about 25% of our company. They are some of the most interesting, driven and passionate people I have ever met in my professional career. If you’d like to join us and get on the PO fast-track, get in touch with us
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