Sustaining PMO performance – The Yin and Yang

Finally the PMO is up and running and you have begun to have some success. Let’s take a step back to understand what is needed to sustain PMO performance so that it continues to support delivery and add value to the project teams.

In our experience what is required is a balance between the hard, analytical left brain-type activities and the soft behavioural right brain-type activities, what we have called the Yin an the Yang.

The “Hard” aspects

The PMO exists to establish rigor and ensure reliable delivery. Typically PMO’s focus only on these hard deliverables which are important to the effort but more often than not only add burdensome activities to the already busy project teams rather than adding value by being proactive and supportive. These hard aspects are described in the diagram  below and most have been discussed in my previous blogs.

Many of the tasks a PMO performs are not complex but most never get it right: Keeping senior management informed of progress, ensuring projects or work streams are performing to plan, or providing a consistent view of the current status.  However while these things in themselves are not difficult, actually doing them – particularly in the early stages – requires plenty of straight forward hard work.  All the fancy automation and methodologies in the world won’t control the outcomes of these activities if the information collected and communicated is of poor quality. 

PMO staff need to think clearly about the implications of their feedback responses to the teams. Ensuring that every decision supports the overall thrust and objective rather than creating additional conflicts and demoralizing the teams struggling with the realities of their day to day tasks.

The Softer “value-added” aspects

Most experienced Program/Project managers like to do things their own way and are often resistant to change.  A new PMO deliberately upsetting the status quo with endlessly reworked templates, new demands for spurious reports and challenges to authority will have a tough time succeeding.  Equally the PMO that is brow beaten into acquiescing to those who report in to it is unlikely to provide the consistent, objective view needed to effectively assure success.

The secret to success is being proactive and consciously integrating the PMO with the business. It is important to carefully manage the interactions between functions and address the specific linkages that impede progress. This means getting your organization to work as an integrated system.

This approach requires a focus on outcomes and aligning every stage of the planning and delivery with these outcomes and doing the right things using the right people and building buy-in continuously by adding real value.

This list contains some of the softer things that need to be done in addition to the hard outputs to ensure the PMO continuously adds value rather than becoming a burednsome overhead.

A PMO can build buy-in for these new ways of working by:

  • Giving something back – PMO’s can often just suck in endless amounts of information and don’t give anything back.  Making it more two-way by sharing things like the outcomes of the Steering Committee. It helps the team feel more appreciated.
  • Pressing the flesh – As I have said, there is no substitute for face-to-face contact with the project/program team, particularly when they are remote.  Making the effort to visit and demonstrate you value their effort is time well spent.  Equally, if there are team meetings, don’t always have it at the same central point, but move it around to keep it fresh.
  • Avoiding the blame culture – Make the PMO a place where people willingly go for help and where problems go away rather than being a finger pointing group for work stream managers to hide issues .
  • Preaching for advocacy – Finding and nurturing a few key advocates within the team or out in the business can be an enormous  help to convert those not bought in – the message coming from “one of their own” usually carries a lot more credibility than the PMO.  The most powerful outcome is when you can convert a former nay-sayer to become an advocate.
  • Wheeling in the big guns – The Steering Committee is not just there for guidance and decisions, use them to provide inspiration and if needed as a stick.  Again, if the project teams understand that their boss has helped make the decision, it is more likely to be accepted.
  • Lightening up – Nobody particularly enjoys the mundane aspects of the PMO – meeting / reporting etc.  Keep this aspect to the absolute minimum and support where possible.
  • Avoiding being the PMO nerd – Many people working on projects are not very experienced in PM and can be intimidated and not understand complex PM techniques.  Keep the language simple and the tools easy to use and invest plenty of time in explaining how things work.

A well defined and managed PMO is critical to efficient and effective program delivery. A systematic approach is necessary to establish value-adding processes driven by dedicated and commited people and if done well will deliver benefits far in excess of its cost.

John Hall

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