Is Your PMO Counting the Right Things

When it comes to reporting and giving updates to management and senior leadership, there’s a story I think back to.

During World War II, many bombers were getting hit by anti-aircraft guns. The Center for Naval Analyses officers wanted to add some protective armor to shield the planes. The question was, “where”? The planes couldn’t support too much more weight. So, a group of mathematicians and engineers were called for a study.

Planes returning from missions were analyzed for bullet holes per square foot. They found 1.93 bullet holes per square foot near the tail of the planes whereas only 1.11 bullet holes per square foot close to the engine. Officers thought since the tail portion had the greatest density of bullets, that would be the logical location for installing armor shielding.

However, a mathematician named Abraham Wald said the opposite. Instead, more protection was needed where the bullet holes weren’t, that is, around the engines.

One Man Explains Why WWII Aircraft Were Protected The Wrong Way ...

He said they were counting the planes that returned from a mission. Planes with lots of bullet holes in the engine did not return at all.

So, you may be asking; what does a WWII project have to do with PMO’s? Well, how many PMO’s have you seen or heard of take off and all of the sudden, they’re gone! They’re shot down. Sometimes you know why, other times you don’t. But at the end of the day, they’re another statistic in the “Lost PMO” column.

In November of 2019, I was passed over for a PMO leadership job. Let’s be honest; I wanted that position! It was with a financial services software company and it would be leading release management and implementation. A great team, travel, working from home (pre-pandemic anyway) and the PMO was well-respected by the executive committee. This part of the PMO was new and had a close working relationship with the COO and her management team. Because this was also where software updates were released and new/existing clients were implemented, there was to be a relationship with the CFO and her team.

Ultimately, they picked someone who had more finance sector project management experience. At least they called and told me that instead of ghosting or an email. Though I had what they were looking for from an experience and fit standpoint, financial sector was the top criteria. So, I was #2 on the list, which meant I was #2 out of luck. In any event, I found another position that’s taught me a lot and I work with great people!

Well, I recently found out that only after 9 months, that new section of the PMO, the leadership role and seven project management staff, had all been eliminated! How did that happen? Why would this company invest money in expanding their PMO only to dissolve it?

Because I was referred to the position by a former co-worker who works at this company, he called over the weekend to explain more.

“No one knew what this group was doing. Because they had adopted the standard PMO reporting, operations found out about software releases either the day before or day of, so the support team wasn’t ready. Some clients are charged for updates, so accounting didn’t know who had been implemented and how many were yet to go. Requests for information took weeks. What surprised me is, the new manager never asked what information operations or accounting needed, so when they got the weekly PMO reports, it didn’t tell them anything. So, they reverted back to the way they used to do things and let that team go. It also gave the PMO a black eye.”

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The words “No one knew what this group was doing” rang in my head. Sure, you should adapt the standard the PMO’s status templates. But given the focus on release management and implementation, coupled with the close relationships with operations and accounting, meant there’s more than likely supplemental information required. But, how do you know what that is unless you ask? Sure, the other department heads could have said something or voiced frustration, but it’s the PMO leader’s responsibility to build relationships with and understand the needs of those stakeholders.

Because every PMO is different, and I have my opinion on what should be reported at a PMO level, I won’t get into specific reports. But, talk to your stakeholders, both at the executive and mid-management levels. What information do they want to see? How do they want to see it? Make the conversation something like this; “Here are the 7 areas I’ll report on weekly. This is what each area means. Is there anything you feel is missing or would be beneficial to you and your team?” Their recommendation may not be executive summary or dashboard-worthy, but could be added to the supplemental/supporting information! I’ve also been in PMO’s where there was one set of executive status reports (high level information and graphs) and another for functional leadership (same high level info and graphs, but a lot more supporting detail).

There are a lot of reports a PMO can provide, but are they really counting the right things? Ask, interview and understand the importance of information being requested. That way, you can armor plate your PMO so the incoming fire doesn’t take you down!

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