Operationalize Your PMO

Once your PMO is up and running, operationalizing and doing continuous improvement (CI) go hand-in-hand. When people ask what’s the difference between the two, I say operationalizing are static functions you’ll always perform and CI is iterative. They’re done at the same time. Sometimes CI may lead to changes to the PMO’s operations, but you’re only making more efficient something you’re already doing. Here are some aspects of operationalizing your PMO.

Status Reporting. Reporting is a necessary evil. We all have to do it, but often we don’t like to. However, I tell people that reporting is an opportunity to highlight the awesome work the team is doing and to also bring forth issues you need help with. Don’t be afraid to change the color of a project if there’s trouble afoot.

Status reports aren’t a “one size fits all” approach. There needs to be different reports for the different levels being reported to. Here are three different levels using NFL football as a comparison:

  • Executive Status: This is an easy to read, informative one-page dashboard highlighting business value and achievement against organizational goals. Think of the readers as the team owners/general managers who want to know if you’re going to win the Super Bowl. They don’t care about the nitty gritty stats.
  • Upper Management: These folks will want to see the executive dashboard and maybe one to two levels below that. Still at a high level, but with some supporting information. Compare these stakeholders to the top line coaches who want to know how well the ball is being moved on offense and stopped on defense. Winning games is important. How you’re winning is just as important.
  • Functional Managers (and pretty much everyone else): The front line managers want more details on how the project is progressing and how their individual departments and personnel are contributing to success or hindering progress. Because I was a defensive linebacker, our linebacker coach wanted to know our tackling, sacks, yards after contact, etc. He could then make adjustments to better our odds of winning the game.

The only other thing I’ll say about reporting is don’t let them be Watermelon Status Reports where they’re green on the outside and red on the inside. Nothing will upset stakeholders more than seeing multiple green status reports and one day hearing NOPE, we’re not making the date! There were signs well in advance. Be OK to raise the flag when risks and issues pop their heads up.

PMO-Specific Reports. These reports are for the PMO leader and the PMO team. Here are the reports I like:

  • Capex per FTE – what dollar value are the project staff managing? This is one key metric I use to justify hiring. The more senior the person, the more capex they can handle, but there’s always a limit.
  • Utilization – how many hours are people putting in? Are they staying at 100% (40 hrs. a week) or higher. If someone’s putting in 50 hours a week, I’m going to have questions and see what support they need.
  • R/Y/G – these are the status reports that go out to a broader audience. I constantly monitor the colors to see which are green and on track, yellow that have some things going on, or red that are off the rails. I support the staff in whatever they need to get things back on track.
  • Budget – PMO ain’t free! Ensure you’re monitoring and any financial metrics the accountants want you to track. Fight for training dollars. Ensure travel is covered. Forecast hiring and other spend a project won’t cover.

Meeting Cadence Calendar. I didn’t see the importance of this when I first read about “Cadence Calendars.” Sure, I had meetings but how bad is it really? As I move up in my career, pretty bad turns out.

The PMO I was working in and eventually lead had a handful of project managers, each with around 5-6 projects under their leadership. One day, someone talked about not having time due to meetings. Then another. All agreed. So, we pulled up a calendar and everyone put all their recurring meetings on it for each day. Whoa! There was a lot.

Since that time I have a team recurring meeting calendar. I know when all the various project team meetings take place and also have our PMO team meetings on it as well. If I’m asked to join a recurring meeting, I can quickly figure out when it is or just “drop by” once in awhile. Other ad hoc meetings are not on the common calendar, but do tell folks it’s OK to decline a meeting if there is no agenda or stated goal by the organizer.

Formal and Informal Meetings with Stakeholders. Stakeholders are a big deal. Whether meeting with the Executive Sponsor, Steering Committee, or other key stakeholders, make time with these folks both formally and informally.

Defining a formal meeting is pretty easy. These are regularly scheduled updates that if I don’t facilitate, I can get dinged on my yearly review. It’s measurable.

Informal, however, is where I feel the most work gets done. For example, I had a key stakeholder who was a director. I needed his staff for more than 50% of the work being done on any project. His calendar was always blocked. So, I offered to meet him in the morning for coffee or after work for a beer. Beers won and we’d meet for a couple hours sorting things out. Sometimes he’d even call someone from the bar and talk about priorities. We always got a lot done in those sessions.

HR-Specific Tasks. As a PMO leader, you’ll have staff, and these staff are important! First, I ensure we have regularly scheduled 1:1’s. Sometimes they’re weekly, other times bi-weekly with a rule to never go longer than 4 weeks. I reschedule only when absolutely necessary; I want people to feel important because they are!

Most companies will want people to have goals that align with organizational strategy. Yeah, that makes sense but that shouldn’t be all PMO staff should strive for. I ask they each have their own development plans, even if that means at some point they’ll leave the PMO for other areas of the company (the goal of course is to keep them vs. seeing them leave). I want to support their training either as a group or individually, so that’s also part of our goals.

Hiring and firing is part of any business and department. Have indicators when it’s time to hire. For example, one FTE for every $2M in capex projects. If you unfortunately do have to terminate someone, make sure they leave with their dignity and preferably well compensated (unless of course there was an egregious act).

Every company and department have operations. The PMO is no different. These activities will be important and ongoing. Adjust and make more efficient as necessary. Add functions as the PMO grows and matures. But, ensure operations is a key part of your PMO’s journey.

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