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.

Success! You're on the list.

PMO and Continuous Improvement

I had a boss once say the trick to continuous improvement is to make it seem easy to the outside world, even though it’s a lot of work within an inner circle. Every improvement is strategic and intentional. She was amazing at CI.

Now that the PMO is chugging along, it’s time for you, as the PMO leader, to look at continuous improvement. It’s not easy, and it is necessary. Here are some considerations as you look to improve your PMO’s processes.

Establish a Culture of Continuous Improvement (CI). Just because you have a PMO and it’s chugging along doesn’t mean it could be better. Before making any improvements, first create a culture of CI. This isn’t easy and requires continued reinforcement with the team and stakeholders. Make it easy for people to bring forth ideas, whether directly to you as the PMO leader or in a shared location (I like the shared location more myself so others can see what’s been logged). Value ideas and highlight that small tweaks are better than big shifts.

What’s on the Roadmap? When the PMO Business Case was created, there should have been a roadmap included. This gave the PMO direction as it matured and added more services to its toolbelt. Is the PMO and the organization ready for that next step? Are the staff and resources in place to support it? Does it even make sense if there was a change in the organization? Talk to your executive sponsor to ensure the next stage on the roadmap is a good one!

How Are Those KPI’s Looking? As a PMO leader, you and your executive sponsor agreed to report on and maintain some Key Performance Indicators. Continually monitor those. Are they consistently staying on track? Great! Are they falling short? If so, is it a short-term issue or a sign of a larger problem that mandates a change? Your KPI’s are key in maintaining a healthy PMO and a trigger when something isn’t working or a change may be necessary.

Gauge Management and Stakeholder Satisfaction. With the exception of sending out a survey, which 2/3 of the recipients probably won’t take anyway, gauging satisfaction can be a challenge. Engage management and key stakeholders in business value conversations. Ask open-ended questions about the PMO’s ability to deliver value and stay flexible in a continually shifting business environment. If they have feedback or suggestions, take them to heart and consider them in future enhancements. If they don’t perceive PMO value, the PMO could be gone.

What’s the PMO Staff Saying? Make sure you take feedback and process change ideas from your staff into consideration. They’re the ones working on it every day! Ask for their feedback in both 1:1 and team meetings. I like team meeting feedback because ideas start to build upon each other. Ensure you can filter out noise from the viable options being thrown out.

You’re in HR Too! One thing I learned on during my first PMO leadership position; I’m in HR! I have staff. As part of CI, you’ll need to evaluate your staff, train where necessary, mentor always, hire when ready, and terminate if you absolutely have to. Same can be said about vendors.

Implementing Change. You’ve gotten feedback. Ideas abound! The roadmap indicates it’s time to do XYZ. Now it’s time to implement change. How should it be done? Carefully! First, determine which changes will be implemented. Ensure these are the highest priority and greatest impact. Communicate in advance to everyone who could be impacted a change is coming. Implement the change, then allow the change to “Bed Down” over a specified amount of time (my rule of thumb is a minimum of 1 month; could take up to a quarter for some bigger changes). Be strategic about how often you make changes. I like an every quarter approach (if it’s necessary, otherwise longer). Some do more, some less.

WARNING: “Change Fatigue” is Real. Change Fatigue can be defined as “resistance or passive resignation to organizational or departmental changes on the part of an employee.” In short, employees get burned out and don’t give a shit about the changes any more. This is a great way to lose people.

Let me give you an example and a lesson I learned on what not to do. I was a project management consultant working with a PMO leader named Mike (name changed to protect the innocent, or guilty, depending on your definition). Mike was a successful program manager who was put in charge of a special-purpose PMO. Mike took the standard practices prescribed by the EPMO and brought them into this newly formed group. We noticed every time someone said “You know, we should do….” Mike took that as a directive and implemented a change to our processes.

Within a couple weeks, those of us working for Mike didn’t know what was part of our standard processes and what wasn’t. We had weekly changes being thrown at us. I got yelled at because a template I used was the wrong version, but no one could find the right version. Chaos, frustration, and eventually, people quitting. Mike was also frazzled. Eventually, the EPMO removed Mike and put in someone else. However, the damage was done and the team remaining was unmotivated and most had their resumes in recruiters hands. Change fatigue wore us down, and fast!

As a business unit, you’ll want to consistently monitor results, add services, and make adjustments to better deliver value. The PMO should have good Continuous Improvement processes in place as it grows and matures. And remember, don’t burn your people out with change fatigue!

Success! You're on the list.

Taking Flight with a PMO “Pilot” Project

The PMO Pilot Project. I LOVE pilot projects! It validates our intentions and strategies. We test out PMO best practices and gather lessons learned. The PMO matures more quickly. Totally worth it!

When it’s time to establish and implement your PMO, conducting a pilot project should be part of the process. Here are some things to consider when running a PMO pilot project.

Document Lessons Learned Throughout. From start to finish, the purpose of this pilot project is to learn. Continually gather feedback and document lessons learned so changes can be made and efficiencies gained.

Goals and Success Criteria for the Pilot Established. What are we trying to accomplish here? Is this a new PMO and testing out all new processes and templates? Or, revamping processes and want to validate assumptions? Ensure the pilot’s goals and success criteria are set because the next group will need to approve them.

Executive Sponsor/Governance Group On Board. These are the folks who approve the goals of the pilot and green-light it to happen. They ensure the key stakeholders are lined up and committed. Have them sign their names on the line that the pilot can take place and they’ll assist any way possible.

Resource Management/Assignment. Before the project starts, test out the methods which roles will be identified and how people get assigned. If there are other resources (i.e. equipment & licenses), look at how those get allocated, also.

The Kickoff. I believe the kickoff meeting is extremely important. It’s your opportunity to lay the foundation for the team of what the project will accomplish, its contribution to the organization, and each person’s role in its success. Ensure your kickoff meeting is done well and gather feedback to make it better.

Execute the Project. Conduct the project utilizing the artifacts and communications as planned. Watch for any inefficiencies or bureaucracy that creates overhead.

Gauge Stakeholder Sentiment Towards PMO Practices. This can be hard to gauge and requires the PMO leader to be a great listener and just as good at asking questions. How effective are the processes and templates? Is it easy to follow? Do they have legit feedback, or are they complaining? There’s usually a fine line.

A PMO leader is the team can learn a lot from a pilot project. I recommend doing one for both a new and revamped PMO. The lessons learned will be valuable for future success.

Success! You're on the list.

PMO Establishment & Implementation

You’ve done the PMO Assessment. Then you created the PMO Business Case. You’ve been to meetings and finally got approval to establish your PMO. Now the fun really starts!

Now, I’ve seen PMO Establishment and Implementation called out as two separate steps. For this article and from what I’ve done in the past, I combine them. The reason is, there will be overlap. Here are the key processes that happen during this phase of a PMO’s life.

Prioritization/Governance Processes. Companies will always have several “#1 urgent priority” projects. The PMO will help figure out what’s truly the top priority and focus on that. Implement prioritization and governance processes to ensure the right projects are done at the right time by the right people.

Staffing. Remember the roles and responsibilities identified in the Business Case? Now it’s time to fill in those names. Assign or hire people for those specific roles. If you’re starting your PMO, negotiate for internal candidates that fit the bill and train them up. If revamping, you may need to hire new staff and possibly release others. Ensure your PMO will properly staffed.

Methodology and Tools. Ensure the processes project staff will utilize is well defined and easy to understand. If it’s too complex or bureaucratic, adoption will be difficult. Same goes for any tools the PMO will use. An Excel spreadsheet may be just as, or even more effective than, MS Project or similar when starting out. Don’t overcomplicate the tools used.

In Flight Projects. Just because your PMO is being stood up or reorg’d doesn’t mean there are no projects in flight. You probably already have a list of in-progress projects. Take the opportunity to fine-tune them and the status of each. If they’re staying in a “status quo” mode through completion, you may not need to worry about them (ensure the exec sponsor and governance committee is aligned and approves this). Otherwise, assign a project manager from the PMO to take them across the finish line.

Status Goes Into Full Swing. You probably already started some status reports for the PMO to the exec sponsor and governance committee. Now it’s time to ramp that into full swing! Ensure you’re tracking the PMO’s progress and the status of each project. Make sure the right status, goes to the right audience, at the right time, with the relevant information.

Budgeting Control. You don’t need to be a CFO, but you should work very closely with one! The PMO isn’t free, so be sure to budget appropriately and report on it regularly. Show ROI. Define and implement any budget control procedures you, your exec sponsor, and possibly someone from the accounting department agree on.

Personnel and Resource Management. Projects cannot be completed without people and tools. But how can people work on projects if they’re working on other, higher priority projects? Implement those personnel and resource management plans.

Roll-Out Communication/Roadshows. This is where you need that exec sponsor and governance committee. Your PMO will touch many parts of the business, so those stakeholders should know what’s comin’! Communicate early and often. Conduct “PMO Road Shows” across the organization. You may need to hop on a couple planes to meet with people. Totally worth it!

PMO Pilot Project. I’m a HUGE fan of pilot projects to see if what we intend to do will actually do it. The Pilot Project will be an important aspect of the PMO Implementation (shameless plug – look for a PMO Pilot Project blog coming soon!). Make sure this is part of your establishment and implementation strategy.

Create a Continuous Feedback Loop. Feedback, especially early on, is a blessing. Your PMO is gaining traction during this time and if something doesn’t look or feel right, note that for possible future change. This is an input during the Continuous Improvement phase, which you’ll hear about in the next article.

Congratulations on implementing your PMO! It’s a huge step, but by no means the final step, in its journey.

Success! You're on the list.