The Five Stages of Grief

(aka Setting Up an Enterprise Project Portfolio Management Organization)


Amanda Arriaga and Jessica Iselt Ballew

Texas Department of Public Safety

Austin, TX, USA



If you or someone you love has experienced a loss or a tragedy, you might be familiar with the five stages of grief.  What no one may have told you is that professional organizations facing a major change also experience these phases.  In this paper, the authors will share with you their experience implementing the Enterprise Project Management Office (EPMO) at the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). This office was created in order to manage the strategic execution cycle at the department and ensure that priorities and the most valuable initiatives were accomplished.

The authors will explain what you really need to know and what to expect when establishing an enterprise level organization that is responsible for the strategic execution cycle.  They will provide valuable insight into the hurdles and roadblocks that might be encountered, along with strategies for overcoming them.  They will also discuss the critical need for buy-in and what to expect when that isn’t achieved at the right time, by the right people. The authors will focus on the integral role that people play in change and execution, and will provide valuable insight into techniques that might be used to minimize conflict and increase collaboration.


In 1969, Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler–Ross studied terminally ill patients and released a book, On Death and Dyingi, which outlined the five stages of grief. The five stages are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

Traditionally, the five stages of grief are discussed in context of a personal loss or tragedy. However, more recently, the concepts have been applied to organizations as they undergo major change.

In December of 2011, the director of the DPS established the EPMO to ensure that all of the department’s priority projects were completed efficiently and effectively, and to ensure he had visibility into the process along the way. While this directive was clear to the EPMO leadership, it was potentially less than clear to the stakeholders who would soon be impacted by this major change.


The EPMO was created and was charged with not only standing up the organization, but also communicating the need for the organization to their stakeholders. As part of this initial communication, EPMO leadership had to explain the director’s intent to seek a more effective means of planning and prioritization at the enterprise level. This reality resulted in some initial denial from stakeholders.

There were two groups of thought experiencing this denial. Some business areas “wanted it all” and didn’t see a need to identify dependencies or prioritize efforts. Some support areas believed they could “do it all” and wanted to provide service for every new innovative idea. However, this line of thought was the underlying cause of the problem with resource allocation that requires the need for prioritization.

Despite the communication efforts across the agency to highlight the purpose of this new organization, several areas continued to attempt to initiate projects on their own. It was clear that a strong communication campaign would be necessary to manage stakeholder expectations and to gain buy-in for the new organization by demonstrating how it would benefit both the agency and the individual business units. Along with creating a customized communication plan based upon each stakeholder group, EPMO leadership also developed a milestone diagram as the foundation for a communication tool to have conversations with leadership.


To read entire paper, click here


Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English. Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright. This paper was originally presented at the 3rd annual University of Maryland Project Management Symposium in College Park, Maryland, USA in May 2016. It is republished here with the permission of the authors and conference organizers.

About the Authors

pmwj40-Nov2015-Arriaga-PHOTO ARRIAGA
Amanda Arriaga

Austin, Texas, USA



Amanda Arriaga
is the Chief Administrative Officer at the Department of Public Safety, overseeing the functions of Human Resources, Facilities, Procurement & Contracts and Enterprise Projects.  She is also the co-chair of the Texas Association of State Systems for Computing and Communication (TASSCC) Special Interest Group in Project Management, and Past President of the Austin Young Lawyer’s Association.  Amanda earned her BBA in Management from Texas A&M University and a J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law.  She has served as Governor Rick Perry’s Special Assistant for Homeland Security and Border Affairs and DPS Chief of Government and Media Relations.  Amanda can be contacted at [email protected]


pmwj40-Nov2015-Arriaga-PHOTO BALLEW
Jessica Iselt Ballew

Austin, Texas, USA




Jessica Iselt Ballew is the Deputy Assistant Director for Policy and Planning at the Department of Public Safety.  She is co-chair of the Texas Association of State Systems for Computing and Communication (TASSCC) Special Interest Group in Project Management. Jessica has a B.S. in Communications through Arizona State University.  She has over 18 years of experience in information technology and development. The past few years of her career have been primarily focused on business architecture, processes, and solutions and management of enterprise projects and contracting. Jessica can be contacted at [email protected]