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More of Peter Taylor’s Project Management Office Essentials

A Successful Project Management Office

In the previous article we started our investigation of the Project Management Office (PMO). In this second article by ‘Lazy Project Manager’, Peter Taylor, we see his remaining six lessons.

10 Lessons for a Successful Project Management Office

A Successful Project Management Office

A Successful Project Management Office

In Introduction to the PMO – The Absolute Essentials You Really MUST Know, we saw the first four of Peter Taylor’s lessons for a successful PMO:

  1. Get help
  2. Get the right leader
  3. Measure the PMO value
  4. Lock the value in

We also learned about the four styles of Project management Office, and the five levels of PMO maturity. If you did not read that article, it would be a good idea to do so before you read this one.

Let’s now look at Peter’s Project Management Office lessons 5 to 10.

Lesson 5 – Move with the business

The PM-Partners: PMO Trends 2012 report summarises this well:

‘It is generally accepted that the Project Management Office (PMO) typically defines and maintains the metrics, standards and repeatable practice for project management within an organisation and is the first step towards:

  • Increasing project, programme and portfolio success
  • Strategy execution and business transformation
  • Increasing the speed of time-to-market
  • Visibility and cost control of execution on time and on budget

Our survey results suggest that merely implementing a PMO in itself is not enough. The PMO must evolve over time with a continuous plan to mature the practices that are of the greatest value to executives. As a PMO matures and implements high value services such as portfolio management and resource management, the organisational success metrics improve, and the value of the PMO increases’.

Regularly ‘take the pulse’ of your Project Management Office and how the business sees it. If something has changed you may need to return to the business case and re-validate or update accordingly.

Questions to Ask

You need to ask yourself and the PMO:

  • Has anything significantly changed in the business, that requires an adjustment by the PMO?
  • What is the view, within the business, of the value of the PMO?
  • Are there any key opponents to the PMO operation?
  • Are the methods you have established well adopted and adhered to? And have recommendations for improvements been acted upon?
  • Has the level of project maturity risen?
  • Are project managers reporting the same issues as before?
  • Has there been a change in the PMO sponsorship role(s); personnel or approach?
  • Has project ‘health’ improved or stagnated?
  • Is the PMO approach the right one?
  • Is the PMO model the right one? (We saw four broad models in the previous article.)

You may need to survey the PMO’s stakeholders to understand in more detail what needs extra effort and focus. Alternatively, it may be that you just need to get together with your Project Management Office team and revisit its purpose.

Whatever the situation you must ensure that your Project Management Office is in step with the current business needs.

Lesson 6 – Connect to strategy

For a Project Management Office to be successful in the long term it needs to connect to the strategic activity of the organisation that it supports.

The 2012 KPMG report – Business Unusual: Managing projects as usual explored the importance of strategic connection for a project:

‘Strategic Alignment: The success of a project ultimately depends on whether the initiative aligns with the strategic and financial goals of the organization. It is, therefore, as important to do the right projects, as doing the projects right. 94 percent of our respondents indicated that they have some sort of strategic IT roadmap that acts as a major input to their selection of projects. This possibly explains why organizations scored the maximum for this dimension; still a significant gap is seen between identifying the right projects, setting clear expectations and tracking benefits of the project’.

Pete Swan, Director PM-Partners Group declares

‘A PMO is really adding value when it can adapt to the needs of the business and is viewed as a strategic asset during executive decision making’,

A PMO can operate at three levels of ‘Strategic’ maturity within an organisation.

The First Level

The first being the custodian of strategic intentions through the ownership of the projects themselves. Each of these should, in some way, relate directly or indirectly to a strategic intention of the organisation.

You can think of this as ‘Strategy Management’. Here, the Project Management Office acts as the governing and advisory body to the executive by:

  • Validating that all projects fit one or more strategic initiative
  • Tracking the current and valid alignment between projects and strategies
  • Making recommendations for ‘stalls’ and ‘kills’ for projects that no longer align with current business strategic thinking

The Second Level

The second is ‘Strategy Delivery’. Thus, the Project Management Office translates the key strategic objectives into new projects to add to the existing portfolio. And perhaps it will also remove some from the portfolio if such objectives have changed. This ‘Strategy Delivery’ is supported by the ‘Strategy Management’ capability.

It may be that the PMO also takes some direct ownership for the execution of large and complex programmes (or projects) that are specifically critical to a key strategic initiative, such a relocation activity for example.

The Third Level

The final level is ‘Strategy Creation’. This refers to having a role in helping organisations decide on which strategic options to pursue. It will then:

  • translate them into projects – Strategy Delivery, and
  • manage their success – Strategy Management.

It is rare that a Project Management Office has reached this position of trust and influence inside an organisation. But it is the potential future for the enterprise PMO. A future that sees Project Management Offices embedded within an organisation, with the right sponsorship .

In fact as observed in the PM-Partners: PMO Trends 2012 report, most PMOs don’t even really ‘get off the ground’. When it comes to any of the three levels of strategic interaction or involvement:

‘The PMO trend is unmistakable, with over 90% of organisations surveyed having an active PMO. Over 96% have standard project management practices or methodologies, whilst only 47% have project portfolio management practices and methodologies. This is further reinforced by the fact that only 34% of PMOs are providing supply and demand planning, highlighting that there is significantly more focus on doing projects right than doing the right projects… against a tough economic climate where the right investment decisions become more important than ever’.

Lesson 7 – Size Matters

It was interesting. Attending a PMO Symposium and lecturing at a local University the same question was raised in the space of a week. And that question was

‘Is there a minimum size for a Project Management Office?’

Thinking across the range of small to medium sized companies, the answer has to be a resounding ‘yes’.

Why is this? Well, partly because if you ‘do’ projects then a PMO is generally a good idea. What we mean by a PMO can be many things to many organisations of course, and we have to take that in to account. But also because if you only ‘do’ a few projects then when one comes along that demands significant investment from an organisation then the cost of failure is greater accordingly. A much larger organisation will have a large project portfolio and equally large project community. So it will be able to absorb and manage such a demanding project far more easily. And with reduced impact of failure too.

So how small are we talking?

How about ‘one’?

Can the sole project manager also be the whole Project Management Office?

Well not really, in truth. A sole project manager can’t act like a PMO of many people since they can’t act objectively with regards to their own project performance. And they can’t spend time investing in self-development and in method improvements and so on.

So not ‘one’ then.

Can a Project Management Office be implemented in a small company that has limited resources with a small team of project managers – perhaps two or three?

Well perhaps not a ‘PMO’ as such, but certainly a virtual equivalent with shared responsibility of some of the basic PMO functions. These could be allocated to the remaining project resources. For example, perhaps:

  • one person could focus on the training of project managers,
  • another on method enhancements, and
  • another on community aspects
  • and so on…

In this way a lot of PMO duties could be delivered to a reasonably high level.

Yes, I think a PMO can be applicable to all scales of project business but it might not be a permanent, dedicated unit of course, but more of a ‘part time PMO’.

The biggest risk to such a PMO is the ability to offer the objective insight and support to all project managers, and the business. The smaller the team then the harder it may be to do this in a constructive, non-emotional, positive way. Not everyone has the skill to do this and with a close team of peers it isn’t always easy to do (or easy to receive at times).

Lesson 8 – You do not have infinite capacity

The Project Management Office is, if not here to stay, at least here for the foreseeable future. And more and more executives are supporting PMOs within their organizations.

The PM Solutions State of the PMO 2012 reported that

‘Most companies have a PMO (87%). Of the few that don’t, 40% are looking to implement one within a year’ which is great news for all of us champions of the PMO’.

The ESI Global State of the PMO 2012 report stated

The Project or Programme Management Office (PMO) has moved up the ranks in most organisations as more than just a warehouse of methodology, tools, and process. In an effort to impact business performance through training, methodology and project guidance, many PMOs seek to support project, programme and portfolio management in a more focused, strategic manner. Regardless of its particular position in a given organisation, the PMO is prevalent in virtually every industry and many governmental organisations’.

So this is all good news.

The PM Solutions report also stated

‘The greater the capability of the PMO, the greater the value the PMO contributes to the firm’,

…which you can also consider to be good news.

Good news with a ‘but’.

There is a strong argument for a ‘green’ Project Management Office to try and involve itself as much as possible inside the organisation. But there are dangers in taking on too much. There is a lot of respect for the PMO these days. But there is also the risk of seeing this as a solution for everything that is not ‘operational’. In addition, it the organization may act as if it can deal with anything even loosely associated to project work.

For example, there are other pressure points inside the same organisations that now advocate PMOs. A good example is the weakness that many experience in the area of executive sponsorship. The PMO can have a role here to act as a temporary sponsor, as well as a role of developing sponsorship capability internally. But that is extra work.

Organisational Change Management (OCM)

As another example, many projects and programs suffer from a lack of focus and resource in the area of Organisational Change Management. One large PMO ran a number of ‘Health Checks’ in the most significant projects and a common issue was in the area of OCM. There was a recognition of the importance and value of good OCM, but an equal lack of investment in this key area. The question then was whether this a potential role for the PMO? Of course we associate the Project Management Office with projects and project success. But was this just a distraction too far?

Technical Project Office (TMO)

In some businesses there is a focus on good ‘technical’ capability to support project based activity, and the bringing together of these technical consultants in to one community. Some refer to this community as a Technical Project Office (TMO). So should we link this TMO with the PMO? Or should it come under the management of the PMO and be another skillset resource? Should the PMO remain ‘pure’ project management or spread itself across a wider community?

So…

These are big and potentially distracting challenges within organisations. They are ones that a good Project Management Office leader will be aware of, and will have a voice to contribute to. But a good PMO leader will also want to concentrate on the key PMO work that they need to do.

When your Project Management Office is secure, then consider these other matters. But for now, be wary of making your PMO a bottomless resource for anything and everything that the business pushes in your direction.

Lesson 9 – Make things better

Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo, tasked with rescuing this once mighty company, did many things in her first few months in charge. These included the creation of ‘PB&J’.

PB&J is play on the ‘peanut butter and jelly’ much loved in the US. Mayer cut away ribbons of red tape and instituted an internal online service called ‘PB&J’ which actually stands for ‘Process, Bureaucracy, and Jams’. This service allows employees to complain about organisational blockages and excessive overheads that slow action and decision making.

Balanced Project Management Office

It is critical that a successful Project Management Office should be a ‘balanced’ PMO and this includes getting the balance right between people and process. We saw this in the last article. Both are critical to project success, and both come under the remit of the PMO.

But it is the responsibility of the PMO to ‘make life better’ for people:

  • the project managers, so that they can effectively and efficiently do their jobs – and
  • the business, so that the projects are clearly under control and delivering benefits.

As you will have seen, one of the critical tasks in setting up, or improving, a PMO is to review the method or framework that the organisation uses to guide their project managers. And in many cases, it is often a need to add in quality reviews and some control points or stages to improve this control. But it is always a concern that anything added should add proportional value. Quality assurance should deliver quality (and not be a burdensome overhead that delivers no real benefit to anyone).

One way to do this is to think carefully when you design such a process.

The other is to make sure that you have a ‘PB&J’ in place for the PMO team to let you know when you have got it wrong.

Lesson 10 – Learn the Lessons

The question that we often ask in project management is:

‘why didn’t we learn from that experience?’

…and the same is true many times over when it comes to Project Management Offices.

Albert Einstein said ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ 

So why do we accept ‘insanity’ as the path of project management?

The next time you are in a meeting just try this out. Whether you are presenting or someone else is doesn’t matter. But what happens when the inevitable happens, you go to write something on the flipchart or the whiteboard and the pen is dry? Have you ever (and I freely admit I am guilty) put the pen down on the rack again, picked up another one and carried on with the point you were making. So now you have left the same dry pen for the next person. Or worse, for yourself to do the same thing again a little later in the meeting.

Did you expect the pen to magically refill itself? Of course not, madness!

Did you put the pen in the bin and ensure that a new one was put in its place? Or did you at least tell someone? Of course not, madness!

A simple lesson in lessons learned, or the process of not learning to be more precise.

So are we programmed to not learn lessons?

Clearly not. If that were the case, then we would have wiped ourselves out as a race a long, long time ago.

So why don’t we learn lessons when it comes to project experiences?

Well, we do learn and we do progress and grow as project managers and we are all the better for it. The challenge comes from sharing the knowledge of those lessons amongst others, and in learning from other people’s experience in return. It is a matter of scale and capability, along with time and priorities.

It is not the process of binning the empty pen and replacing the pen. But it is letting others know what you did, and why you did that. And how it can benefit them in the future, and why they should also pass on this piece of knowledge.

It is less ‘lessons learned’ than ‘lessons shared’.

It is a critical role of a Project Management Office to make sure the team both learns and shares these lessons in a practical way. And this means including the PMO members in that process as well.

So the next time you go to write something on the flipchart or the whiteboard and the pen is dry, stop. Turn to face your audience and say

‘Right, this pen is going in the bin and let me tell you why …’


If you want to know more,
take a look at Peter Taylor’s two books about PMOs

Project Management Office: Delivering Successful PMOs by Peter Taylor & Ray Mead

Delivering Successful PMOs by Peter Taylor & Ray Mead

Buy Delivering Successful PMOs from Amazon.com

Buy Delivering Successful PMOs from Amazon.co.uk

About the Author Peter Taylor

Peter Taylor is the author of two best-selling books on ‘Productive Laziness’ – ‘The Lazy Winner’ and ‘The Lazy Project Manager’. In the last 4 years he has focused on writing and lecturing with over 200 presentations around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’. His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

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