February 15, 2021


6 Things your PM0 should do for you
By David Webb, Director

David Webb looks at how the pandemic has laid bare the key differences between a good PMO and one in need of urgent optimisation.

One day we were at work, the next we worked from home. The world had changed. And as catalysts for change go, they do not come much greater than a global pandemic.

David Webb, Practicus Director and PMO Specialist
David Webb, Director

It seems perverse to write about the impact of Covid-19 on organisations when the human consequences have been so dire.  But given those are well reported, perhaps you’ll forgive me for covering how one of the biggest changes in living memory impacted the world of business change and transformation.

When the enormity of what happened dawned on corporate Britain, whole portfolios of projects and programmes supporting myriad change agendas were called into question as Board sponsors grappled with the ramifications of what was unfolding.

Nowhere was the pressure felt greater to serve up justification for spend on those portfolios of change than in the Project Management Office (PMO). What united nearly every PMO, whether their response to the pandemic was contraction or expansion, was the opportunity to shine.


Under pressure, some PMOs are thriving whilst others are exposing flaws and weaknesses, leading PMO Heads and the senior executives they serve, to ask whether they are ‘match fit’ for all the projects of 2021 – a year in which businesses are aiming to either reverse or capitalise on their fortunes.

Leadership today quite rightly wants to know how their PMO is performing and the six things that really matter when measuring this are; good quality reporting, governance structures with the right information, an appropriate methodology, a merciless focus on timescales, effective management of scope and lastly credible financial information.


#1 Reporting

It is by no means the be-all or end-all but often the first sign that things are not right in your PMO is revealed in the reporting. A good question to ask, is whether those Powerpoint slides are giving you meaningful and digestible insights or just the latest updates. What is the report trying to achieve? Does that report really link to the outcomes the sponsors of change are investing in and provide them with material information?

Rupert Taylor of Kivue, the specialist technology business behind the PMO tool Perform, sums it up well, “I don’t think there’s ever been a better opportunity for PMOs to look in the mirror and ask themselves and challenge themselves about the value they are adding to their organisation and how they can optimise that value…how can we enable our organisation to fly by providing it with the right information in a format it can cope with and derive value from?”

He maintains, “If ever there was a time to strip out the noise and focus on the really important stuff that matters, it’s now,” and his advice to PMO leaders is straight forward, “Think of your customer, the leaders of the organisation and what they need to enable them to make better decisions. The more we can simplify and streamline our reports, processes, forms and procedures, the more valuable we’re likely to be.”

#2 Finance

A key question to ask of your PMO with respect to how it manages project or progamme finance is how integrated it is with the overall finance function of the organisation? If your project financing is happening on Excel spreadsheets with no central repository for information and it doesn’t link to your source finance system, then it begs the question, are the numbers you are being given in those reports credible?

There’s nothing more dispiriting than delivering to time, cost and quality, only to have questions about the validity of the numbers. In many cases if there’s an audit trail and link back to the source finance system the project numbers tend to be viewed as robust, especially by the CFO – if they come from a spreadsheet they aren’t.

#3 Governance

When you sit through your next portfolio review or programme steering group, ask yourself what that governance meeting is trying to achieve? Has that been a good use of your time? Did you get a good set of outcomes, or could you have got to the same point by reading a report?

A strong PMO will ensure steering boards are spent taking key decisions and mitigating risks on programmes and surfacing escalations where required. As Rupert Taylor comments, “Good governance meetings should have clear terms of reference and are all about making key decisions, they’re not about slide decks and text on screens. They should be judged by the quality of the discussion, otherwise you’re just tying up expensive leadership time unnecessarily.”    

#4 Scope

It’s well known and frankly obvious that programmes of work that are set up properly from the outset have a greater chance of success. Your PMO might have a defined scope from planning ahead of mobilisation, but is it absolutely clear about what is out of scope? Ambiguity can be a petri dish for scope creep.

Recent months have taught us that circumstances can change quickly and during the lifetime of a programme there can be numerous pivot points. How has your PMO coped recently? How did the switch to home working go? PMOs have to be able to change scope based on all sorts of factors requiring simple and manageable change control mechanisms, so that scope changes can be impact assessed and then either accepted or rejected?

#5 Timescales

These are simple questions, do you have delivery certainty? Do you know when those predicted benefits, those cost savings that you invested in are going to land or be realised?

A strong PMO will have mapped out the portfolio in a way that illustrates what is going through the funnel at different points of the programme and how it is managing the two key elements on any programme or portfolio, people and money. Is your PMO orchestrating the flow of activity in line with what your organisation can cope with, ensuring delivery is more predictable? Where is there congestion in the portfolio and what’s the PMOs plan to deal with it?    

#6 Methodology

Does the methodology you are deploying match the maturity, capability and culture of your organisation? Rupert Taylor hits the nail on the head when he says, “Don’t let the methodology become the main event and don’t get consumed by the textbook.”

As an organisation whose purpose is to help people navigate change, we at Practicus have been parachuted into numerous programme recoveries over the years. Some of those have involved inheriting an evangelical focus on methodology, for instance Agile. Frenzied efforts and industry go into ensuring rigid compliance to a set of structures, sometimes to the detriment of delivering outcomes. I think Rupert Taylor’s conclusion captures it well, “Methodology is a means to drive your delivery journey and achieve your objectives, nothing more than that.”

Benchmark your PMO

By benchmarking your PMO, you can be the catalyst for improved delivery within your 2021 portfolio.

Our PMO Accelerator diagnostic will enable you to demonstrate how your PMO is performing and provide a 60 day plan of advice and recommendations for optimisation – including on reporting for the Board and Sponsors.

Benchmark the value of your PMO and get your 60 Day Plan to start generating value

  • FREE 2-Day Initial Diagnostics
  • 7-Day Value Based Analysis
  • PMO Benchmarking Score
  • Recommendations and 60 Day Plan

Other reads…

Find out about: The Evolution of the PMO

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