April 15, 2024
 min read

Brownfield, Greenfield, or Bluefield: How to Implement PMO Transformation?

Approaches to systematically implement PMO transformation: data structures, processes, and technology

Okay, so you've determined that it is in the best interest of your organization to modernize and transform how your PMO operates currently. 

For far too long, you watched projects and programs in your portfolio miss the delivery of promised outcomes for critical milestones — on time, on budget, and more importantly, at the quality and consistency expected of a world-class organization. 

You took the time to carefully research process gaps and technology needs. Then, you painstakingly crafted an elegant business case for the transformation of your PMO operations which won the approval of your leadership team.

You finally have the support and resources needed to move forward to execute your vision for creating a slick and smart PMO for your organization. Awesome. Congratulations!

You're ready to start assessing modern technology options, but you are concerned about the implementation challenges.

Rightly so. Implementing a transformation in an organization is not for the faint of the heart. Yet, you are not alone. Many of your peers are embarking on a similar journey right now!

Here are three tried and tested approaches for PMO leaders planning to implement a transformational technology for their Portfolio/Program/Project Management Organization.

BROWNFIELD Implementation: Switch System, Retain Data.

Brownfield is the ideal implementation approach when an organization has a significant history of valuable project data they wish to retain while transforming their technology systems. 

With Brownfield, the software systems supporting the project, program, and portfolio environment for the PMO get comprehensively upgraded. Yet, none of the historical project data is lost.

It does mean additional effort becomes necessary for data preparation, deduplication, parsing, etc. However, it is still essentially a 'lift and shift' implementation that doesn't rock the boat, and it's relatively straightforward to execute. 

Moreover, Brownfield implementations preserve the various breakdown structures you may already have in place for your projects. Such as:

  • WBS (Work Breakdown Structure)
  • PBS (Portfolio Breakdown Structure)
  • FBS (Financial Breakdown Structure)
  • RBS (Resource Breakdown Structures)
  • OBS (Organizational Breakdown Structure)

The simplicity of Brownfield is also its downside. Historical project data transformation can consume significant time and effort depending upon the number of projects, the quality & consistency of project data, and the completeness of project metadata.

Brownfield ensures everything you like about your current system gets carried over. But that means old business processes or unused data components that should be retired are also preserved. The fundamental problem with a Brownfield migration is that it must be completed all at once, a process known as a "big bang."

What could've been an opportunity to reassess -- examine data quality debt, eliminate the processes and systems that the organization no longer needs, and preserve only those it does -- gets traded for a straightforward, across-the-board migration. 

In some ways, it effectively leaves you stuck in place with the processes you have had, rather than taking advantage of the new capabilities and innovations to solve old problems.

Brownfield Positives:

  • Retain data history
  • Methodical implementation
  • Stepwise data migration approach
  • Minor business change impact/disruption

Brownfield Negatives:

  • High-cost, high-effort, longest implementation path
  • Dedicated resources are required to deliver outcomes
  • Fewer opportunities to capitalize on newer capabilities
  • Will not solve deep-rooted data and process problems

In our nine years of experience implementing Enlighten (now, Unipr) for customers with 25 FTEs to 150,000+ FTEs, only once did our customer choose the Brownfield approach, and it was mainly for regulatory purposes. They were a mid-sized company, and we had to cleanse and import all of their project data, about 200+ product development and commercialization projects which took about six months. So it was expensive, for them and us.

Most of our PMO transformation implementations have either been Greenfield or Bluefield.

GREENFIELD Implementation: Blank Slate, Fresh Start.

Contrary to Brownfield, a Greenfield implementation restarts your organization's PMO journey from scratch with a completely new systems approach with no battle scars of inefficient processes and no worries about convoluted data baggage of the past. 

The Greenfield implementation method denotes a clean slate, a fresh start with a transformation technology, and state-of-the-art processes. Through this implementation, your organization has the opportunity to refine and refresh all PMO processes and systems at once. It is a fundamental change in your PMO capabilities to help project and program teams drive the execution of deliverables and critical milestones throughout your portfolios.

Greenfield implementation creates an entirely new system with new data structures built for rapid optimization, new business processes (such as supporting agile, waterfall, and hybrid methodologies simultaneously), and ways of collaborative working with diverse internal and external stakeholders. 

Ideally, Greenfield is ideal for startups or emerging companies that have not yet invested significant time, effort, and capital to build and scale their PMOs.

With the slate clean, Greenfield provides such businesses a new opportunity to consolidate an array of disparate project, program, and portfolio management practices into a cohesive system, from the ground up, with brand new or significantly upgraded business processes for not only getting things done but getting them done well.

Yet if it is pertinent for you to use historical project data or business logic -- and more importantly, historical data that you must preserve, such as for regulatory reasons -- then Greenfield is not the way to go.

Additionally, your organization needs to be ready to accept a Greenfield implementation. If significant Change Management bothers you, reconsider the rapid transformational impact of a Greenfield implementation.

Greenfield Positives:

  • Clean slate start
  • Low-cost, fastest implementation
  • Addresses deep-rooted process issues
  • More automation, more innovation, and more predictable execution

Greenfield Negatives:

  • Significant Change Management impact
  • Needs openness to best practices adoption
  • Rapid transformation with a steep learning curve
  • Requires nontrivial expense of internal political capital

Emerging Organizations almost always opt for the Greenfield approach because they have very little vested in their existing data structure and are open to adopting best-in-class processes and new software capabilities. Their teams are also smaller and closer to senior management's supervision, which causes minimal Change Management impact.

For example, we implemented a 120 FTEs startup last month using the Greenfield approach, and it has been going well.

BLUEFIELD Implementation: Phased Migration, Continual Improvement.

Bluefield implementations for PMO transformation take the middle path and deliver the best of both approaches from Greenfield and Brownfield. As a result, Bluefield implementation is ideal for companies who want to retain their most productive processes and best-in-class project execution data selectively but are open to moving on from the rest.

Bluefield is the most effective alternative for massive organizations with incredibly sophisticated and diverse Project Management structures who want to gradually shift to new processes and systems for modern collaborative working -- without disrupting too many teams at once. 

Unlike Brownfield and Greenfield implementations, which handle project processes and data migration with a broad brush, either upgrading everything or scrapping everything to rebuild their PMO from scratch, Bluefield allows businesses to be more gradual and selective in their approach to transformation.

The phased transformation allows enterprises to choose which processes and data components to carry forward. Inherent in the flexibility is the opportunity for PMOs to reassess the quality of data, business processes, and the ways of working accumulated in the background for years. 

Consider Bluefield if you want to restructure and digitally transform your current tools to capitalize on the cutting-edge capabilities of a modern system, yet do so in a thoughtful, stepwise, and selective manner.

Bluefield approach gives you the time to evaluate old processes you have wanted to retire systematically and ways of working that are no longer efficient nor useful but have gotten mainly by being out of sight, out of mind. Bluefield's selective migration path helps you tackle these items one by one, build upon each incremental win and prioritize changing what matters most first.

The selectiveness of the Bluefield approach is a boon for businesses in industries that must comply with specific regulatory standards and historical data retention policies. The opportunity to methodically choose which data to migrate and which to abandon ensures that your project portfolio transformation does not inadvertently lose necessary data or put you at any risk of inadequate governance or noncompliance.

That said, the value of this selectiveness depends on your organization's willingness and interest in taking the time to pick and choose particular data sets or processes to migrate or leave behind. Otherwise, the all-or-nothing approach of a Greenfield or Brownfield migration may be a more appealing pathway.

Depending on your organization's needs, like the size and complexity of your PMO data, processes, and tools, and whether or not to preserve certain historical data sets versus the desire to start fresh, a Brownfield or Greenfield approach may end up serving you just fine. 

Essentially, the Bluefield approach is perfect for companies looking for total selective control over migrating their business-critical data and processes configurations while performing them within a single go-live project.

Bluefield Positives:

  • Selectively retain vital processes and data history 
  • Measuredly navigate Change Management challenges
  • Incrementally solve deep-rooted data and process problems
  • Segmented rollout with the opportunity to learn and fine-tune 

Bluefield Negatives:

  • Extended implementation pathway to transformation
  • Needs sustained organizational commitment and patience
  • Risk of implementation de-prioritization to favor other priorities
  • Sequencing of rollout segments can alienate teams with an urgent need

In some cases, where multiple types of teams need implementation, each with slightly different project processes, the rollout can be one or a few teams at a time. Although this approach prolongs the overall transformation initiative, the rollouts benefit from the focused approach to introduce the new system to specific functional teams, product teams, geography teams, etc.

We are in the midst of ongoing implementation of two Top 30 Global Companies which have partnered to develop and commercialize a global pipeline of products worth multibillions. We have been implementing their teams in the US and are now embarking on their EU implementation. The ROW rollouts could follow after that. It is a prime example of an active and ongoing Bluefield implementation.

We have to selectively import existing projects data and data for projects currently in progress for each rollout. The customer and our team learn from each rollout to improve our next one. There is no rush to finish the implementation; it is an enduring methodical process.

To reiterate, when embarking on implementing a PMO transformation initiative for your organization, consider:

  • To what extent do current project, program, and portfolio systems support your organization's long-term operational strategy?
  • What are the root causes of challenges with your data, processes, and systems? What can stay, and what you must upgrade?

And, finally, the pivotal question: 

  • Is your organization willing and ready to change enough to capitalize on your PMO transformation strategy and implementation choice TODAY?

Ultimately, the decision to select the right implementation approach for the transformation of your PMOs should reflect your organization's future strategy and operating model rather than get driven by technical and cost considerations.

Have feedback or thoughts? Please get in touch. I would love to learn from you.

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