The Art + Science Behind Project Leaders and Coordinators Working Together

Seth Norburg of Caterpillar spoke at a “lightning talk” during the PMO Symposium ’17 short-format breakout session. In his session, he discussed how they split project management duties, in all projects, between what they call a Project Leader, and a Project Coordinator. This is particularly interesting for teams that have both PM’s and PC’s, and are trying to figure out how to best utilize both. In Caterpillar, they intentionally split these roles on all projects. Their logic is that, if they don’t, the Leader too often gets tied up in the project details, and the project goes off track. By engaging a Coordinator to do the “head’s down” work, the Project Leader is free to keep a “head’s up” view, ensuring the project stays on track and realizes its expected benefits. Continue reading to learn the Art + Science behind this needed relationship…

The Art

The Art + Science Behind Project Leaders and Coordinators Working TogetherThe Project Leader / Manager is responsible for the overall success of the project, and manages the “art” side. Their responsibilities include:

  • Manage project to achieve its objectives
  • Acquire resources
  • Accountable for project execution
  • Monitor project performance KPI’s
  • Identify issues and take corrective actions
  • Provide technical expertise and direction, and coaching
  • Business partner relationship management
  • Communicate to stakeholders
  • Manage conflicts and crisis

The Science

The Project Coordinator takes direction from the Project Leader, and is responsible for execution, as directed by the Leader. The Art + Science Behind Project Leaders and Coordinators Working TogetherThey are the “scientist.”

This includes:

  • Following established PMO methodology and standards
  • Facilitate project planning, and manage execution to the plan
  • Project creation and validation
  • Project analysis, management and control (critical path, risk)
  • Project report generation and distribution
  • Project planning updates and maintenance
  • Project administrative functions, including financials

In this strategy, Coordinators are typically assigned on multiple projects.  With this approach, a clear definition of roles and responsibilities is key for success.

Let’s Unite!

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5 Components To Competitive Advantage

Dr. Rita McGrath kicked off the PMO Symposium ’17 with a talk on the 5 Components to Competitive Advantage. In her keynote, she noted that the goal of strategy used to be achieving a sustainable competitive advantage. But the pace of innovation today makes any such advantage transitory at best.

To illustrate this, she shared an interview with RIM CEO Jim Balsillie, from 2008 when RIM was on the top of its game. In that interview, Jim Balsillie said they planned to just keep doing what they are doing, because it was working well so far. To contrast this, she shared a quote from Jeff Bezos, 

“It’s day 1 forever, because day 2 is death”


Be On The Look Out

She noted that industry borders do not stay in place – the greatest competitors will come to you from 5 Keys To Competitive Advantageoutside your industry with a new approach, creating a strategic inflection point.

To illustrate this, she shared the example of how Arcades were completely supplanted by home gaming consoles.


The 5 Key Components To Competitive Advantage

In her strategic playbook, she outlined the following key components to staying on top of the transient advantage game:

  1. Continuous Reconfiguration – build in flexibility so you can respond and adapt to change
  2. Healthy Disengagement – have a safe way to exit a failing business or idea, and repurpose you resources. This is very important, because success is often preceded by failure.
  3. Separate Power from Resource Management.  This is because resources are too often put into a position where they are defending a current position, rather than developing strategies that should be driving toward the next advantage.
  4. Accelerate the organization – this starts with Innovation driving ideation, which goes through incubation, then accelerating the business
  5. Finally, create new requirements for leaders. They need to be able to take in new information and act on it, rather than shooting for the status quo. As she puts it, leaders today more often take “tour of duty” assignments, rather than fill static roles.

The Innovation Matrix

Dr. McGrath then took us through her innovation matrix, which depicted where and how to diversify your portfolio to help drive agility and advantage.

  • New Positioning Options should be explored, even if they are contrary to each other. Typically, one positioning strategy will remove the need for others. But, this is still important, as the right new positioning strategy can have a huge impact.
  • Stepping Stone exploration should be done in a small, niche market with a specific problem – the solution for which could make a huge opening in a big market.

She closed with words of wisdom:

  • Transient advantage makes fools of us all – because we expect those benefits to last. And they don’t.
  • There needs to be a balance between supporting current operations and innovation – too much on either side is not good.
  • There is no secret – well developed innovation practices work.

She also has a newsletter and a number of books you can find on her blog, here

Let’s Unite!

Contact Kolme Group to find out more about our Project and Change Management Services, please email us at

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Caterpillar Heavy Equipment’s Agile Journey

One of the most talked about sessions at the PMI Symposium ’17 was delivered by Seth Norburg, Program Management Supervisor at Caterpillar. In his session, Seth walked through the Caterpillar Equipment’s Agile Journey and what it was like introducing Agile methodologies to this 100 year old industrial giant.

Mr. Norburg’s team was a central PMO which provided something like consulting support to local teams as they structured and implemented projects.

Caterpillar Equipment’s Agile Journey

They initially had one software team that had Caterpillar Heavy Equipment's Agile Journey After 100 Yearsadopted agile, which was quite successful . When another team asked the central PMO to help them adopt agile as well, it did not go so well. In fact, the words they used were “total failure.” In reviewing the lessons learned, they determined that their failure to implement agile for the second team was because they had:

  1. Insufficient knowledge of Agile methodologies
  2. Didn’t know which “agile” methodology to use
  3. Needed to engage more teams

The next opportunity they had to implement agile was with a team that had rampant scope issues – uncontrolled scope, frequent requirements changes, and constant planning and re-planning cycles.

What they did this time before implementing was to start by reaching out to key stakeholders to identify the team’s current understanding of and attitudes toward agile, so they could plan appropriate training and response strategies. They found that the team thought that:

  • If we use agile, we no longer need to meet deadlines
  • our project is too big for agile
  • we are not executing an it project, so agile is not applicable
  • we cannot use agile unless we’re co-located
  • We don’t need a plan in agile!

Their early and Caterpillar Heavy Equipment's Agile Journey After 100 Yearsconsistent focus was on education and training, which included identifying key points of resistance and trying to address them.  Key to this was focusing on the things that are similar between Agile and Waterfall:

  1. BOTH use iteration and progressive elaboration
  2. Both have a project leader – both have a charter. The PM / lead facilitates collaboration between team and stakeholders. So, in the end, it’s all about working with people to achieve something.

And, ultimately, Caterpillar Heavy Equipment's Agile Journey After 100 Yearsbusiness sponsors don’t care what we do to deliver, they are just concerned with the results.

As they implemented, they focused on three areas:

  1. Education and training
  2. Change Management
  3. Providing flexible service offerings to support the right methodology

But… which methodology was right?

The Methodology

The Caterpillar team looked at Agile methodologies, and decided that the only methodology that could manage their work at a project, program and portfolio level, and address the needs of waterfall components in a program was SAFe Agile. This approach:

  • Is based on Lean/Agile principles
  • Supports  Scrum, Kansan and XP
  • Provides agile portfolio and program management
  • Best scalability and adaptability


Hybrid Programs

Of course, it did not make sense to take all teams agile, nor could they ensure that all teams on the same program were agile – so how to manage a hybrid program? Below is an illustration of how they combined Agile and Waterfall projects in the same project –

  • They aligned user stories to hit key milestones and dependencies.
  • Their general rule was that each sprint sprint had to have some kind of material deliverable, even if that didn’t go into full test
  • They then superimposed management milestones
  • Added GANTTs of Waterfall based work (legal, infrastructure, etc.)
  • Finally, to tie it together, they maintained a detailed Dependency Log, which outlined dependencies between the Agile teams and Waterfall teams – this is KEY to making it all work

Waterfall Remains

They are and plan to continue running in a “hybrid” environment, because Caterpillar Heavy Equipment's Agile Journey After 100 Yearssome projects are more fit for Agile, some for Waterfall. Generally, their approach was that if a project had a very hard scope, it was better for waterfall. If there was any chance or opportunity the scope would or could flex, they would drive it to agile. And they freely admitted that this choice wasn’t always easy, nor always Caterpillar Heavy Equipment's Agile Journey After 100 Yearsright the first time. They found on occasion that they needed to take a Waterfall project Agile, or an Agile project Waterfall.



As far as tools go, it sounds like this is a work in progress. For the Waterfall components, they use Primavera – this also seems to be where they do the bulk of their financial planning, representing each agile sprint as a 2 week task-bar. There is no automated integration today – it is all manually entered – each and every sprint.

On the Agile side, they use Microsoft  Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS). This tool allows teams to enter and manage epics, features, stories and tasks, and also supports Kanban. Though other tools can provide these features,  they already had in-house expertise, so decided to go with it.

The down side of these tools is that there is no integration, so there is a lot of post-processing manual number-crunching done to get monthly actuals. Though not stated, I imagine the dependency tracking must have all been manual, and probably a lot of work to maintain and keep up to date.


Lessons Learned

  • Education is absolutely key to success in implementing Agile, and it must be a top-down transformation
  • Target a successful pilot
  • Develop a robust model for education, addressing the needs of team members, scrum masters, product owners and agile coaches
  • Transformation is not easy, and requires a total mindset change.
  • Understand the benefits of when/where to use agile, waterfall or bot

Ready For Agile?

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What Is Organizational Agility?

Hello from Houston!

Another fascinating discussion at PMO Symposium 2017 with the theme: What Is Organizational Agility?

Mark A. Langley, CEO of PMI, opened up the morning session by talking through some of the key points of PMI’s Thought Leadership study on the topic, then Bruce Rogers, CIO of Forbes Insights discussed some of the more interesting findings around Organizational Agility and how we can apply them to our business today to start making a difference.

Organizational Agility Is Not…

First, Organizational Agility is not about project methodologies, but about an organization’s ability to react and respond to the market better than its competitors. What Is Organizational Agility?Their studies found that organizations which exhibited this kind of agility (perhaps obviously) performed much better overall than their competitors that exhibited lower agility. To sum this up nicely, they quoted Jack Walsh:

“When the rate of change outside your organization is faster than the rate of change inside, then the end is near”

-Jack Walsh

They also found that while 92% of executives think being agile is important, and 82% think it is very important for strategic initiatives, only 27% thought their organization was actually agile. So, room for improvement there.

This is where it got really interesting…

Then they started going deeper into the study. What they found is that companies that use Agile project methodologies are NOT, in fact, the most agile. Nor are those that are waterfall. What they found is that enterprises that had a balance of the two methodologies (a hybrid agile / waterfall PMO) were the most agile.

Perhaps even more interesting is that the most agile organizations had the What Is Organizational Agility?most mature processes. Far from holding an organization back, having good processes in place allowed the organization to respond and react more effectively.

Next, we’ll share some insights and lessons learned from Caterpillar’s move from staid old Waterfall delivery to Agile, as shared by Seth Norburg, Program Management Supervisor. Click here to read! 

Why Do We Care And How Can We Help?  

Kolme Group has helped our clients with free Change Management assessments and high-level planning so they can focus the value of Change management for their organization. Our experienced consultants see great value in using all the tools in our toolbox to make projects thrive! 

Contact Kolme Group to find out more about our Project and Change Management Services, please email us at 

Be sure to follow us on TwitterLinkedIn and YouTube  and use #KolmeGroup on shared posts!