This post was originally written in 2019. But, out of respect for the PMO manager who asked not to be named or have this published until his retirement in March of 2021, I held off. Today, 3/11, was his last day. Thank you, good sir, for being a leader, mentor, and friend.
One of my first PMO managers had an Actuary background. His previous job had been to predict timing of certain events (in this case, a health plan calculating participant life expectancy), and then calculate the ROI and ability to pay for financial losses. He was amazing with data and fantastic at judging priority based on less than complete information. Not only that, he was an awesome leader for our team.
But where he was strong in the analysis area, he lacked in communication. You see, he was an introvert; a self-proclaimed big-time introvert at that. He used to joke that you could spot an extroverted actuary because they looked at your shoes when they talked instead of their own. In meetings, he rarely spoke. In senior leadership meetings, he was even more quiet.
The good news is, he recognized his lack of communication and knew he would not be able to stand on the rooftops and shout “Look at our awesome PMO” to the world. He needed to tell a story; what the PMO was doing to advance the company’s goals and the teams involved in making that happen. So, he created strategy; the PMO Marketing Plan.
The idea started because his predecessor was whisked out the door by the executive team. Project performance was no better than when the PMO started. The senior leadership team then hired someone who was smart, data driven and could prioritize well. But, our PMO leader didn’t know how to market our capabilities or talents. So instead of shrugging his shoulders and saying “Oh well”, he reached out to marketing for help.
I have to give credit to the marketing team because they jumped at the chance to help an internal department. This also put a shine on their own capabilities to the company. Through this process, everyone in the PMO, myself included, learned the value of having a PMO marketing plan.
The following are the key components of our PMO marketing plan. Not all these were day 1, but we learned to adapt over time and made our presence, and value, to the company known more and more.
Marketing Strategy. When we started on the marketing plan, we had to have a strategy, or our north star, to point to. The PMO’s marketing strategy was “To inform everyone in [company] of all critical projects.” These were labeled as 1,000 hours or more of estimated effort and/or $10,000 of total cost.
Value Proposition. Based on feedback, the PMO manager wanted to focus on:
- Business-driven prioritized list of projects
- Consistent, easy to understand processes
- Transparency with project status and escalation of issues
The value proposition told our stakeholders what value the PMO was going to deliver. Because each business unit had its own page on the company intranet, this was the first thing you saw when you landed on the PMO’s. And, we made sure to stick with it!
Target Market. Though we wanted everyone in the company to know what the PMO was working on, our target market were “those leaders who signed our checks.” This was not broadcast or printed, but we knew one of the most critical ways to keep our PMO alive was to ensure senior leadership knew what we were doing with the resources they entrusted us with.
Those KPI’s. Projects were broken into one of two categories; Operational Efficiencies or Market Growth. Projects had to fall into one or the other. Once the projects were in the right bucket, there were only three KPI’s the exec and governance teams wanted to see; Schedule, Budget, and Personnel Availability.
- Schedule: No matter what was undertaken, there was a required-by date and a reason for it.
- Budget: The PMO reported to the CFO, and accounting/finance wanted revenue recognition and be able to capitalize or expense projects.
- Personnel Availability: Functional managers committed their staff to projects and if Personnel turned red, they usually got a phone call from someone higher up.
Other KPI’s were piloted, but no one seemed to need them. Scope, for example, wasn’t huge because the exec team felt that if the needs of the business or customer changed, we should also adapt without calling it out. There were three views we presented the data in, which are below.
Communicating our Awesomeness!! How do we show progress and we’re doing the right thing? Marketing was showing us a couple options for our departmental site when our manager looked at the main company home screen, saw a small blank area, and asked if we could put a box there with the status of the top 3 projects and a link to our PMO page. The marketing team looked at each other, mumbled something, and said they couldn’t see why not.
So there it was, a small box on the right side of the screen. Would anyone click on it? Turns out, it was right below the link to the CEO’s bi-monthly update to the company! Yeah, we got a lot of clicks.
The top three projects in progress with red/yellow/green on the KPI’s with a link to the PMO page stayed consistent for some time. When you clicked onto the PMO page, you would first see our value proposition with a dashboard underneath. The dashboard focused on in-progress projects and offered three views:
- Executive View: this was portfolio level and was a graph; no individual projects highlighted. This probably went through 10 iterations before the exec team said “Yeah, looks good.” They were also OK with the whole company seeing the executive view.
- Functional View: each project of the portfolio was displayed with R/Y/G and a couple lines of project goals and status.
- Tactical View: click on the individual project and the detailed status for that project came up. We also had a list of team members and their role on the project.
Initially, all these status’ were manual as hell in SharePoint! We spent a couple hours a week updating our projects, but if we didn’t and got a call from a manager asking why their team was called out on something, you’d better be ready to answer.
Work In Progress & What’s to Come. We only displayed the “Big 3” on the company’s home page, but there were usually 12-14 in progress at any one time. All these could be seen in the functional view. Every employee knew the projects in progress and there was a note below the list stating these projects were deemed critical to the company and would not change without approval from the project governance group.
Then, there was a link called the “Project Parking Lot.” Within was a page that displayed the tentative list of prioritized projects. This is also the page governance used for prioritizing and approving projects to move up into the “active” category. If someone saw the list and disagreed with the priority (which at first happened a LOT but decreased over time), they could talk to their boss and a negotiation took place. The process was shaky at first, but became smoother over time.
I Gotta Great Idea!! Now What? We piloted the ability to submit a project idea or request after our first year. Any employee could fill out a form, submit, and if chosen to move to the next level, invited to promote and defend it at governance. We didn’t get a lot of submissions, but a couple resulted in operational efficiencies, including the creation of a data warehouse.
Give It Away For Free. Our PMO was four PM’s and a manager when we started. For that reason, any project <100 hours and being done specifically for one department (no cross-functional teams), the PMO wasn’t involved. To help these other areas, we gave them a couple things for free. First were templates. It was only a handful, but enough to help staff define done, create a schedule, and handle risk. Second, we offered consulting whenever the department needed help. This was tricky because at times, we had to balance between giving help and being sucked in to lead the effort for them.
One other thing about our PMO that wasn’t in our marketing plan was what we called the “Familiar Face.” Each PM focused on no more than two areas of the business. That way, they understood the people and learned the business lingo. The PM was a “familiar face” to the people within those departments. It was also on the PM’s to communicate our value to the departmental management teams.
PMO’s fail frequently. How many of them are doing awesome work, but don’t showcase that and leave execs wondering “What has the PMO done for me lately?” By having a PMO marketing plan, you can communicate your awesomeness out to the world!! Or at least, to your company.
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