I wish I had me when I was you...

This title expresses precisely how I feel each time a project manager or PMO leader tells me a story about their frustrations encountered while trying to create effective and sustainable change, build (or fix) a PMO or deliver projects successfully. I always think to myself…I wish I knew then what I know now. I’ve made it my mission to share with you everything that I have learned while creating change and building PMOs in both large and small organizations for the last 20 years. Change isn’t easy, but it CAN be done and done well without pulling your hair out! Projects can achieve their intended outcomes leading to satisfied stakeholders. PMOs can become an integral part of your organization's high-impact outcomes. The keys to my success and what I've seen in others is not necessarily what you think. You won't find the answers in the project implementation methodology. The answer is not in the templates you use. It's in how you engage with people and bring them through the process with you. Do change with them, not to them. I’m hoping these articles help you along your journey as you continue to evolve and develop skills and techniques to be the high-impact leader you are meant to be. Please let me know what you think and how I can support you along your journey. Found out more at ImpactbyLaura.com

About this Blog


Recent Posts

The One Hour Manager

My Interview With APM

4 Questions to ask when starting a PMO

Why do PMOs exist?

Don’t boil the ocean (when creating a PMO)

The One Hour Manager

We think and talk about spring cleaning and new year’s resolutions, but what do we do later in the year to get ourselves reset and refocused on what matters? 

We all get so busy in the day to day of doing our jobs and sometimes that means we forget to do the things we know will help us be our most productive selves.

The most important thing you can do for yourself everyday as you are setting up, running, or just trying to figure out what the heck is going on with your PMO (or project), is to take time for yourself. Take time to think!

I always saw those folks that came in super early in the morning, well before their first meeting. For many years, that wasn’t me. Between family, commuting, and a packed calendar, all I had time to do was get in and get settled before my first meetings (oftentimes more than one an hour and two places I was “supposed to be” at once). That meant that I was rushing into work, rushing into meetings and before I knew it, my day was gone. I would look back on the day as I was driving through traffic to get home, between conference calls I would even have while driving, and wonder what was actually accomplished that day. I know I was busy. I know I was in a lot of meetings. I know I was able to move a couple of projects further down the road. But was I really as productive as I could have been? No, definitely not.

Ever feel that way? 

So what do you do?

Take an hour for you. Take an hour to think and plan before you do. Aren’t we always telling our stakeholders (and even our PMs) plan, then do. “Plan, plan, plan. That’s how you make sure your project will be most successful,” you find yourself saying, again and again. OK, so then why are we caught in a vicious cycle of do, do, do, with no time to plan?

I know, there’s just no way you can squeeze in one more hour on your calendar this week, much less adding an hour per day. Trust me, if you do it, you will be forever grateful that you did. Those people that are calm all day, even under pressure, I bet they are doing the planning before the doing. You may not see it, but they probably have a process that allows them to think and prioritize before they act.

You can start today, but you don’t have to. Just figure out when you are going to start and write it down. If you just think there is no way you could block an hour on your calendar today to start, fine, don’t. Start tomorrow. Start next week. Heck, start next month. Just start. The way you ensure you will start is to write it down. Look at your calendar now and find the first place you can block an hour and do it. Then do it again at the next possible spot, even if that’s a few days or a week later. Then, keep doing it until you are far enough out on your calendar to start doing it daily and make it a recurring appointment with yourself.

Then, protect that time like your job (and sanity) depends on it, because it does.

How to use the hour:

  1. 15 minutes to reflect: Take some time to ask yourself questions about your day to help you best prepare for the next one.
    • How did it go yesterday?
    • What worked?
    • What didn’t work?
    • What roadblocks kept me from progress?
    • Did I accomplish my #1 important goal for the day? If not, why not? How do I learn from that and do better today?
    • How does that win from yesterday help me prioritize my day today?
  2. 15 minutes to plan: This should be obvious to us, but do we do it? Sometimes. Think about your most important goals, what must get accomplished in the day and how you are going to have the greatest impact possible. Ask yourself:
    • What is the most important task I can do today to have the greatest impact?
    • Where will I spend my energy today doing what matters?
    • How many meetings do I have on my calendar and which ones could I delegate or decline?
    • Who on my team could really use some help?
    • What do I need from my leadership team?
    • Where am I stuck and who can help me move beyond this obstacle?
    • How am I going to make time to accomplish my most important task for the day?
  3. 15 minutes to manage: One of the best mechanisms I’ve ever learned for keeping your team on track and headed in the right direction is the 15 minute stand up meeting. Spend just 15 minutes a day with the team you manage and ask them three questions. Just three questions. And don’t let them go on and on with a laundry list of everything they have on their to do list for the day. That’s not the purpose of the meeting.
    • What was your biggest win from yesterday? Did you accomplish your #1 priority objective for the day? If not, why not? What lessons are to be learned so we can shift and retry? If so, why? This is a chance to thank someone else that helped, shine light on goals that are moving forward, or just bring general awareness where your priorities are impacting others.
    • What is your most important priority for today? Your goal is to get them talking to each other and you about their most important priority for the day. Verbalizing that priority with others creates a sense of accountability for the person and also creates an opportunity for alignment (or avoiding misalignment with what others believe their most important priority should be). These should be sized such that they can be accomplished in one day (otherwise everyone will just report the same thing over and over again and you won’t know if any real progress is getting made) and they show how you are progressing toward greater goals.
    • Where are you stuck? This is a great place for them to tell the team what is standing in the way of their progress. Again, not a laundry list, just the big thing (or person) that is standing in the way of them accomplishing their priorities. Don’t be tempted to solve all of the “stucks” yourself. Sometimes, there are other members of the team that can help solve the problem they have, while you keep others moving. Encourage others to step in and help their teammates solve a problem or point them in the direction of the answer they seek. Sometimes, just clarifying something in a sentence or two in response can remove someone’s perceived stuck and get them going. Do not problem solve in this meeting! There isn’t time. Answer a question, if that can keep them moving (like, “I need a yes or no decision from you on x”), but then that’s it. Keep the meeting moving.
    • Then answer those questions, yourself, for your team. Many people feel like they don’t understand their boss or what they are thinking, working on, or doing. This is your chance to help them understand where you are headed and what matters most for you as you look out for the whole team.
    • Make sure to keep it short, simple, with no more than a minute or two for each team member. Don’t worry. That doesn’t seem like much, but the commitment to meeting every day will help alleviate concerns that they aren’t getting enough air time with you. Remember, sometimes, this might be the only time during the day that you talk to your team members.
  4. 15 minutes to make progress: Before your day gets out of control, and because I know you probably work in an environment where it’s not easy to just block off all day to work on your most important priority, make this 15 minutes sacred. 15 minutes to focus on your most important priority for the day. It may not seem like a lot, but sometimes it doesn’t take much to keep the momentum going for your project. Have a meeting later in the day where you are hoping to get some decisions made? Send out a quick note thanking the participants for making time for your meeting, tell them what to expect and what you want to accomplish in the meeting. Is someone waiting on you for an answer so they can proceed? Make the decision and send the email now. Is there something you can delegate so that progress is being made while you are in other meetings? Find someone that can do it for you and make it worth their while to do so. People often need a little motivating to make your #1 priority, their #1 priority. Find their WIIFM and get aligned.

Can’t make it happen in the morning? That’s OK. Do it at the end of your workday or even when you get home after your workday. Just make the time to do it.

If you do this, this will likely be the most important hour of your day. The one that tells you whether or not you are accomplishing your goals, keeps your team moving forward and even offers the chance to course correct if things aren’t going as planned.

Now, go have a great impact on the world!


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Posted on: September 18, 2017 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

My Interview With APM


Welcome to the Association for Project Management PMO SIG web interview. We have Laura Barnard, the CEO of PMO Strategies.

  1. Please tell us a bit about yourself.

Laura is the Founder and CEO of PMO Strategies, and has spent more than 20 years creating impactful and sustainable change for a broad range of organizations, from non-profits to global financial institutions. She combines experience in the PMO and Change Management space with her passion for helping people get things done to transform how organizations realize business strategy.

Laura believes that project managers are uniquely positioned to assist non-profit organizations in having a greater impact in the local community. She is the Founder and President of Project Management for Change, a non-profit organization whose mission is to raise the profile of the project management profession by showing the value of project management across the globe as the most effective enabling resource for delivering sustainable change in the non-profit sector. She is the Executive Director of the Project Management Day of Service (PMDoS)®, the record-setting signature event of Project Management for Change that brings together hundreds of project managers to scope and launch projects for non-profit organizations.

  1. How did you get into working in PMO’s; and what attracted you to it?

Interestingly, when I was in high school I knew I wanted to be in a field where I could help people solve problems and I was good at maths and sciences, so I decided to study Computer Science at Virginia Tech. I really enjoyed it as I loved the creative process and thrived on finding better ways to do things. When I graduated, I quickly started working on projects and enjoyed being the communication link between the technical and business teams, which allowed me facilitate meetings and progress. I discovered that project management and the PMO was an ideal fit for me and worked through to building my first PMO about 18 years ago.

3 years ago I started my own company, PMO Strategies, which provides training, coaching, advisory and consulting services to various organisations. I specialise in advising executives on how to leverage the PMO model to facilitate their change journey and enabling resources to help plan and execute enterprise strategy.

In addition, I also now run a non-profit organisation Project Management for Change, which has a PMO of up to 70 volunteers all helping to put together large events bringing together hundreds of non-profit organisations in the DC area to help them make a difference in our local communities.

  1. How long has your PMO been in place?

Project Management for Change is a non-profit organisation that started in 2014 as a PMO comprised of an enthusiastic band of volunteer project managers and PMO professionals around the DC area that wanted to make a positive impact in our local community using their project management skills.

  1. What kind of PMO are you currently working in, and what is the size and value of the portfolio managed by the team?

I’m a strong believer that project success should be measured from the impact of the outcomes. The difference we make in the community through our service is where the real value is added.

The Project Management for Change PMO delivers an annual event helping hundreds of local non-profit organisations. The value of the events is measured in the contribution back to these non-profits and the impact they have on the communities they serve. It takes about $200k in terms of project management effort on the day of the event to help these non-profits launch their projects. Then, once these non-profits deliver these projects, the impact to the community is an average of a 5 times multiplier of the pro bono services effort provided by our project managers. That’s at least a million dollar impact to our communities delivered in a single day. As we multiply these events across the states, this will continue to grow exponentially.

Imagine, that kind of impact to better your community, all using your project management skills.

We measure impact and outcomes in our work. My article called “EVM is not enough” discusses this. EVM is a measure of project performance, but EVM doesn’t address whether or not the value that you invested/intended to create was actually achieved as an end result. We need to teach our project managers the value of the outcome is most important and not just the triple constraint and EVM.

  1. It is widely accepted that PMO’s are created to respond to a particular issue/opportunity. What was the trigger for your PMO to be set up and what approach was used to establish it?

A former president of the DC chapter of the PMI, J. Kendall Lott, came up with the idea of setting up a non-profit voluntary organisation of project managers and PMO professionals to deliver a large-scale event to the non-profit community and to promote the project management profession. I was immediately drawn to it.

When we discussed the best approach to finding and leveraging the volunteers as a team to deliver on such an event, the PMO was the natural fit. We built a PMO organization based around volunteers to plan a 1-day annual event, and coined the phrase “The impossible PMO” as everyone kept saying it was impossible to pull off something like this with 100% volunteers and in our profession, but our aim was to make the impossible possible. We knew the Project Management community had more to offer.

  1. What is the size of the PMO team and what is the makeup of the team?

The first year it was very simple and focused on all of the operational areas such as event planning, marketing, fundraising, IT, and over time the model evolved to be more sophisticated as we are now gearing up to deliver several programmes each year. The PMO remains strategic in its approach and uses a group of portfolio managers using 1-page status reports to deliver each programme, including the big Project Management for Change PMDoS event in the DC area, a support team to help project management organizations around the world setup their own PMDoS events that uses our PMDoS Playbook, and coaching and mentoring non-profit organisations in PM methods.

  1. How do you manage the competency of your PMO team?

All Project Management for Change volunteers are given full access to training materials from PMO Strategies including several training programmes such as: How to Train Your Sponsor; The One Page Executive Dashboard (tell them what they need to know and stop); Change Management Simplified; Beyond the Business Driven PMO; and the Impact Engine (turning the PMO into a ROI generator to add value to your organisation). Volunteers can continue to grow and develop through CPD from these training programmes, which enables our volunteers to learn in a safe environment and grow new skills where they feel cared for and supported.

  1. What would you say makes your PMO interesting, different and/or successful?


What makes it different and interesting is that our volunteers are here by choice. Our volunteers are engaged because they want to be, not because they have to be. They want to use the power of project management to change the world, and help non-profit organisations using their project management skills to make a difference locally and globally. The concept for this event and the way we give back to the community allows project managers to use their unique and hard-earned skills to further the missions of non-profit organisations. They can’t do this anywhere else, not on this scale.

  1. Can you give us some examples of the range of services you provide?

Everything; from the typical PMO services such as standardised templates and process for running projects; to providing an entire playbook on how to set-up a PMDoS PMO from start to finish; providing training and coaching to project managers on how to engage this community in a meaningful way; providing training and coaching to the non-profit community; portfolio management; and providing pro bono consultancy services to the non-profit community.

  1. Does your PMO have the power to stop initiatives, or have the trusted ear of senior executives, to ensure failing initiatives are stopped?

A lot of PMOs fail because they do not have the trusted ear of executives. They have no power. It is critical that the most senior leadership of an organization is directly accessible for the PMO. I have emphasized the importance of this in every PMO I’ve created or helped others create and it’s certainly the way we work here. It’s crucial to have a high level executive such as the CEO or COO as the Sponsor of the PMO at the highest level.

The PMO reports to me as the CEO of the company and as its sponsor, and I report to the board. This means we all are connected to and understand the power of what we are trying to accomplish, and they understand what we are trying to achieve. We are all in it together.

  1. As value is in the eye of the beholder, what are the key ‘perceived’ benefits that your PMO brings to your organisation?

We make it happen! We are the team that gets things done. The PMO Strategies slogan is ‘Get. It. Done’. This is what PMOs are all about – taking strategy, helping to further clarify that strategy, and then delivering that strategy with high-impact results.

The Project Management for Change organisation delivers our strategy of raising the profile of the Project Management profession, and making a positive contribution and impact to non-profit organisations and the small business community.

  1. What would you say are the main challenges faced by your PMO?

The initial challenge was establishing credibility as a new voluntary organisation, however we had belief in what we were trying to do, and by setting reasonable expectations we were able to grow and succeed. Deliver and be successful, and you will overcome any resistance.

Our next and most pressing challenge is that Project Management for Change is a 100% volunteer run organisation. The main challenge is being able to maintain engagement for our volunteers as they all have busy day jobs, and lives. We combat this by having a constant recruiting effort going and making sure our human resources and leadership teams are engaging volunteers to make sure the work they are doing is meaningful.

  1. Given the repeating theme that PMO’s only last up to 4 years, why do you think PMO’s are still failing?

There’s a long list of reasons why PMOs don’t last, but I would say the biggest one is taking on too much and focusing too much on the wrong things. If you do this your PMO will be extinct before it has had the chance to make a real impact. It’s about understanding the needs and delivering what you say you are going to deliver. The PMO should deliver value, impact and ROI for your business, not just processes. PMOs should help organisations by truly understanding executive needs and delivering against them, helping them to make the right decisions by providing reliable information and to take on the right projects, and be brave enough to stop failing projects.

  1. What advice do you have for PMO’s of all kinds to remain current?

Pay attention to successful PMOs. There is a shift happening. PMOs that are successful are paying attention. I have a ton of free articles and ebooks on these topics available on the PMO Strategies website. What I find most interesting is the response from the executives outside of the PMO space. They are thanking me for writing these articles and sharing the leadership voice with the PMO community. They send these articles back to their PMO leaders as this is what they need. I strongly believe that the PMO is the answer, and so do many of these executive, but the PMO of the future needs to adapt, be agile and deliver against the needs of the business.

  1. In your view, what distinguishes high-performance PMO’s from those that fail to succeed?

High performing PMOs focus on outcomes and impact, and driving return on investment for the organisation. They are flexible, and focus on delivering, helping, and improving the lives of the teams and the stakeholders they support, before focusing too much on templates and rigorous process. They have the ability to stop a project when we see that a project is not going to be able to deliver what was intended.

As PMO leaders and project managers, we need to be flexible and agile in how we go about delivering the results for an organisation, so that we can start showing impact sooner. Doing this, we have a huge opportunity to change the brand of a PMO into something that people really want to be a part of and will be proud to call their home.

  1. What do you see to be the PMO of the future?

Sadly, what I have seen are executives who are so afraid to use the phrase PMO, that they say “don’t call it a PMO; call it something else.” I think that’s because so many executives don’t want that brand of the heavy process, administrative, overhead function, that doesn’t deliver the results. Changing the title can create the hope that it will operate differently, but without changing the behaviour and the focus, they don’t get very far. It’s not about what you call it. It’s about what it does. Deliver impact and build credibility as quickly as possible. Solve problems for the business leaders. Get things done.

PMOs need to become more agile and demonstrate value quicker, leading to changing the brand of the PMO to make it appealing and attract new talent.

PMOs of the future are high impact ROI driven organisations that get it done for the business.


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Posted on: September 11, 2017 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

4 Questions to ask when starting a PMO

There are many questions you need to ask when you start a PMO. We immediately want to go to defining the services, building templates, taking on an army of PMs, and starting projects. Before we come in like gangbusters, take a few moments to ask some very fundamental questions that you may want to answer before you start defining the services and the rest of the stuff we think of when starting a PMO.

What business problem are we trying to solve?

First things first. You need to know your purpose. Before you even get into the list of services you will provide, you need a mission, a greater purpose that you are fulfilling through the PMO construct. Your mission is not to manage projects. Your mission is not to create templates and tools. Your mission is to get to outcomes that positively impact the organization you serve. To do that, you need to be very clear on the business pain points, challenges, or new opportunities that your PMO will help solve. Get crystal clear on that before you do anything else.

Oh! And whatever you do, do not assume you know what’s best for the organization. Whether you’ve been there 1 month or 20 years, you still aren’t inside the heads of the business leaders that are creating the opportunity for the PMO. Ask them. Talk to them a lot! They will eventually tell you what you need to know.

But what if I do know what’s best for them? Who cares? Not them. Sometimes we won’t take the medicine we really need until we trust that it’s really going to make us feel better. So, make them feel better first. Solve some easier to reach pain points for them to build trust. Then you can get their engagement to consider the medicine that they really need. J

For more thoughts on why the PMO exists in the first place, check out this post: Why do PMOs exit?

How are we going to show value quickly?

Your leaders are going to invest time, money and resources in getting this PMO up and running. Even if it’s only part of a single person to start (as I know has been the case with many of you and also how I started with my first PMO in 1999), your time is still an investment that the leadership is making and they are expecting to see a result. That result has to equate to greater impact than the time/money/resources they have invested in the PMO. Therefore, your job is to figure out how you take the business problem you are trying to solve with question one and determine how you can ease the pain on your stakeholders quickly.

It may not be in the way you would have originally thought. For example, does the business area you serve have a project that is just hemorrhaging money? Get in there and help them rescue that project, and fast! Please don’t stop and say, “Wait! Let me build 15 templates first before I help this project get back on track!” Just go Get. It. Done. for them. You will build credibility and engagement – you have created advocates that will support you as you build out your PMO.

Who is my primary sponsor?

Every project should have a sponsor and the build out of your PMO is no different than any other project. The organization that sustains should have a sponsor/champion for the organization outside of the PMO leader themselves and the project to build the PMO should have a sponsor. They can be one in the same, but they need to be identified.

It’s awesome if you can have this person be the CEO or department leader for your organization. The higher up in the organization, the better. If you can’t gain interest or support from the higher ups in your organization then you probably shouldn’t be building the PMO. Go back to question one and figure out what business problem you are being asked to solve and how that impacts your stakeholders.

Oh, and if you need any help thinking about how to best get your sponsor to be involved and stay involved, check out this post: How to train your sponsor.

Who’s with me?

To keep things simple, I like to think of three types of stakeholders. The lovers, the haters and the just don’t cares.

The lovers, those are the folks that are with you. They support the PMO, they agree with what you are trying to do, and they will go out of their way to help you succeed. They are often inside the PMO, the sponsor, the PMO leader (I hope!) and those that think they can benefit from the PMO being in place and supporting their efforts.

The haters, those are the people in your organization that are very vocal about their lack of enthusiasm for the PMO. They are often the long career types that have been at the company for a long time and have seen the PMO construct come and go without ever really gaining any traction. Or, it’s been such a thorn in their side that they just can’t get behind it. If it’s the latter, you may want to go back to question one and understand how you can solve business problems for these folks to help them turn the corner. You can also work with the haters to engage them in the process. What? Why would I do that? They hate what the PMO is doing! They won’t help me.

Well, they might. The haters are at least talking to you. They are vocal and engaged in a conversation. It may not be a pleasant conversation, but it’s a conversation nonetheless. Talk to them about their concerns. Let them vent all they want about how the PMO doesn’t work. Then, hand them the white board marker and put them in front of the whiteboard and have them show you how they would fix it if they were you. Bam! Now you have them engaged in problem solving. Guess what happens when people feel like they have a stake in the outcome because they helped you “solve the problems” with the PMO?

The category of people you really need to worry about are the just don’t cares. They are the ones running around acting like your PMO doesn’t even exist. They are the ones that think they are better off without you or feel like what you are doing doesn’t impact them. And maybe it doesn’t…or maybe it should, but they are moving along nicely without you, further proving the lack of need for a PMO. Spend your energy here. Get these folks onboard or the fact that they are being “allowed” to ignore your existence will encourage others to follow suit, leading to the demise of your PMO.

How? Figure out their WIIFM (what’s in it for me) and figure it out quickly. What do they care about? What problems are they having that you could possibly solve? Don’t take on too much too fast regarding new services or making commitments, but see if you can find a way to ease the pain they are feeling. You will give them a reason to care.

More on dealing with difficult stakeholders.

Once those questions have been asked and thoroughly answered, the next set of questions you may want to consider…

  1. Where will we start? Define a small customer base that you will serve. Don’t start serving every business unit in the company all at once.
  2. What services will we offer (based on questions one and two above)?
  3. Where will our funding come from?
  4. How many phases do we want our PMO implementation to have? If you aren’t getting this one, go read Don’t Boil the Ocean. Please, do everyone a favor and do the build out of services in pieces. It would be awful to build out a bunch of templates and tools for services the business doesn’t actually find helpful. Start small and build credibility before building more services.


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Posted on: September 04, 2017 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Why do PMOs exist?

When I was a keynote speaker for one of the University of Maryland Project Management symposiums, I spoke about my proven process for creating high-impact PMOs. I took a moment to get to know the audience at the beginning and asked them about what they believed the purpose was for the PMO.

As I anticipated, many of the people that were brave enough to share only echoed my fear and concern for PMOs of the future. Many of them shared their thinking on the purpose of a PMO, saying that it was there to create standards, process, templates, tools, governance, oversight, etc.

OK, so, yes, but to what end?

Then, I asked them what they thought the stakeholders for the PMO thought about the PMO in their organization. Not at all surprising, was the outpouring of answers here: overhead, process heavy, “gotcha” organization, enforcer, box checkers, “not real work”, and on and on.

Wow. That stinks, doesn’t it?

It’s not at all surprising to see that when your focus is on process, tools and best practices, your stakeholders are going to think of you and your team as “not real work”.

Why is that?

Because without the outcomes to show that using those processes, tools and best practices will create gains for the organization that it would not achieve otherwise, you are just doing “busy work”.

Creating tools, templates and process is not the purpose of the PMO. What? Sure it is, you say. Nope. It’s not. Often when I ask why the PMO is there, the answer they give is quite frankly, wrong. Templates, tools, process, best practices, standards, etc. are a means to an end, not the end itself.


Projects are investments. The company is investing money and in return, they want to achieve a particular result. They don’t just want to break even, they want a return on that money invested. They want to achieve the business outcomes the project was undertaken to create, and in a way that it isn’t costing them more than those benefits. Think about it…why would you do a project if it was going to cost you as much as the benefit that you could possibly achieve?

If you spend all of your time, energy and resources creating tools and templates, shouting out from the mountaintops that there is a best practice here for everyone to flock to, you will quickly become an organization that is thought of as “not real work”. Why is that? Because the rest of the organization is responsible for getting to some kind of outcomes that benefit the company. And, so are you.

To be clear, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have standard methods for getting the work done, but DO get the work done!

The PMOs of the future, and those that have been successful, are usually integrating into the mindset of the business by focusing first and foremost on the outcomes they are trying to achieve for the organization as a whole, and are not necessarily as obsessed with how many templates they have in their library.

Keep your eye on the ball of what work needs to get accomplished and how your team is going about accomplishing that work. Are they spending 50% of their time filling out templates people aren’t ever looking at again? Then you may want to reconsider the direction you are giving them. It’s OK, no, it’s mandatory to spend time on the right level of documentation. How else are you going to effectively communicate (and have for reference later) what is agreed to, how you are progressing, etc.? What I’m talking about it making sure that the efforts are high impact – that every bit of time spent on defining process, leveraging tools, and filling out templates can be directly linked to the work of the project and is required to move the ball further down the field.

Also, it’s prudent and crucial to your sustainability of a PMO to make sure you are showing that value you are creating in some sort of metrics. While there are countless metrics out there (stay tuned to an upcoming article to read more about which metrics are good to start with in your PMO), I suggest keeping it very simple. How long did projects take before the PMO started providing support and how long do they take now? How have we increased project team member productivity? How have we helped increase project throughput across the portfolio? How much money have we saved the organization by making timely decisions or turning around issues more quickly or managing risks more effectively? You get the idea.

Notice what’s missing from that list of examples…I didn’t say how many tools we have created, the number of templates in our library, or the list of procedures we must follow to get a project started or request PMO support. No one wants to hear about those numbers unless you are streamlining, reducing, or optimizing any of those items above so people can get to the business of getting the work done.


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Posted on: August 28, 2017 07:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Don’t boil the ocean (when creating a PMO)

While some people may not have heard the term “boil the ocean,” most have heard of the KISS principle, most notably coined by the U.S. Navy in 1960 as “keep it simple, stupid.”  The idea was don’t over-complicate things unnecessarily. Keep your approach and your methods simple. Makes sense to me, I’m all about simple is better!

I say, “Don’t boil the ocean” or even sometimes if we really want to take on a big effort, “We don’t need to boil the ocean. Just put one pot on the stove at a time.”  Now, many people use the term boil the ocean to mean, trying to do something that is impossible. You can’t actually boil the ocean, silly!

OK, fine. But I don’t really mind taking on the impossible. In fact, if you know me, you may know about my nonprofit Project Management for Change, where we live in the world of making the impossible possible. We do it regularly through our service to the nonprofit community. As an aside, we run these big events with all volunteers to help further the high-impact and mission critical objectives of the nonprofits in our communities using our Project Management skills and have been doing it in ways that “everyone” said was impossible. To that, we said nonsense and have been going on to change the world, one project at a time, ever since. J I encourage you to check out our work if you are interested in being high impact through Project Management.

OK, back to the point of this article. I don’t mind taking on the impossible. I don’t really believe in the word can’t and think that there is always away to make something work. I don’t get scared with big projects or complicated initiatives. I think it’s all great as long as we believe the return on investment is there and the cause/mission/objective is a worthy one. In fact, many of the projects we are faced with running or PMOs we are trying to create feel like we are attempting the impossible, but we gotta do them. What I don’t like and feel is setting yourself up for failure is taking on too much, too fast. When we attempt to “boil the ocean,” we are allowing ourselves to get carried away in a really big effort that is doomed from the start.

Why is that?

Because big things are really, really hard to do well.

What do I mean?

Let’s say you are building a PMO (but you can insert any big and complex project here – building a PMO is a project). You decide you want to build out templates, tools, processes, standards for the organization to follow, portfolio management and governance, a staff of project/program managers, and maybe even a coaching and training group to further the awareness and knowledge of project/program management in your organization.

What’s wrong with that? Nothing. Unless you try to do it all at once. Trust me here. I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work.

Here’s why. When you start building a PMO, you can get “thanksgiving eyes” like I have in the past and try to serve all of the needs, of all of your stakeholders, all at once. Think about it. You’ve been given this new role and you have so many different business groups that you are trying to get to engage with your PMO, as you build credibility. On top of that, if you have been taught that the customer is always right, you have to say yes to all of their different needs, right? Wrong.

If you say yes to everything and try to start building it all at once, a few things will happen.

1) You will take too long to have impact and show value. The business leaders you serve are all watching you to see if you are going to get this right, if you are going to be successful. They are testing you. Even the ones that like you are still waiting to see how you do with this. Because people have what I think is an ever-decreasing attention span, PMOs (and their leaders) do not have the luxury of waiting 2 years to meet the intended objectives, which are presumably to further the business and have a positive impact. If you take too long to start showing impact and a return on their investment, you are likely to find business leaders that get what I refer to as “something shiny syndrome” and move on to the next idea they think will help them get their objectives accomplished. Your window is short here to show value. Don’t squander your time by building big things first.

2) You will likely take in too many conflicting sources of guidance. I have had the pleasure of working in organizations that truly valued relationships OVER productivity. (Yes, they actually told me that.) So, I HAD to get input and feedback from every major leader in the company so they could all “put their stamp” on the PMO I was building, giving it their blessing, telling me how it should be built and run, and what they needed from the PMO. Well, that lead to a ton of conflicting data and needs I had to try to address and, of course, everyone’s needs were all number one priority. Ugh. I felt like I had no choice but to say, “Yes, we can do that!” They called it collaboration, but I called it insanity. At least it was driving me to the brink of insanity. It’s a no win situation when everyone’s opinions count and count equally.

3) You will lose credibility. You begin by saying yes to some things and then a few more and on top of that, you have people making up their own ideas about what you should do, developing their own expectations, and even speaking on your behalf about what you will accomplish. You aren’t even aware of all of the expectations running around out there about what your PMO will do. Heck, for some, it’s here to save the world, for others it won’t ever work, and then others have that laundry list of things it will solve for them. Some of those things on their list might not even be on your list, but you won’t even know it! You are failing before you ever start!

4) Big is complicated and messy. Now, notice I didn’t say impossible, but complicated and messy, for sure. It’s just harder to do big complicated things. The harder and more complex something is, the more risks associated with the process, the bigger the issues you are likely to face, the more it costs to do, the more people you have to get involved and on and on. Why make it hard when it doesn’t have to be?

5) You could get it wrong. What if what you think the PMO should do is not actually what the organization needs? Yeah, I know, they told you they needed that, but it turns out they didn’t need that, but they needed this instead. You could spend months or years building something that it turns out isn’t really going to get the return on investment or help the organization have the impact it needs to have and all of that time is now gone.

There are many other reasons that boiling the ocean isn’t such a great idea, but I think you get the point.

So what do you do?

Just put one pot on the stove to boil at a time.

By starting with something simple, you may find out that you didn’t need the whole ocean to begin with OR at the very least, you can at least get some wins early.

1) Prioritize. It’s ok to get input from the entirety of your stakeholder group, but then you must prioritize the work and services that your team is going to take on. Start with the services that you think will yield the highest “happy factor” for your business leaders, whether that’s providing coaching services to PMs all over the organization, setting up some basic templates, or finally giving them a basic view into all of the projects in the company.

2) Set expectations. In order to avoid losing credibility before you ever have a chance to be successful, once you have prioritized, be clear about what services you are going to provide, when you will provide them, and then provide detailed “this is how it will work” explanations to your stakeholders. People will fill in the blanks with their own definitions and ideas of what your PMO will do, what the services should be, and how they should operate in the absence of information. Don’t allow that. Be clear about who, what, when, where, how and why you are doing what you are doing, so they know what to expect from you.

3) Build a WBS (and make it a project). Make the big not so big by breaking down the body of work into pieces that you can accomplish in a very short period of time. Then, put it in a schedule and manage it like you would any other project. In fact, you should be the sponsor, as the PMO leader and have a PM specifically assigned to the “building the PMO” project. That allows you to be the barrier remover and ultimately accountable for the outcomes and success. You can also use the ultimate business leader that championed the PMO as your sponsor if that makes the most sense politically in your organization to get the support you need (and encourage sustained engagement). Just make sure to take a look at our blog posts on sponsor management to get ideas for making that work!

5) Show wins early. The faster you can solve a problem for your business leaders, the faster your credibility rises as a solution to the company’s problems, not simply overhead. Wins give you more time and space to create more wins and then more.

5) Think Agile. Iterate. Start simple and develop pilot programs or services for your stakeholders. Call an initial roll out of a service a “pilot program” and let a group of stakeholders be a part of helping you design the best way to provide that service. People don’t expect to see perfection in a pilot and they know that they have to be a part of the solution improvement process. Perfect. Those that sign up to be the early adopters are your change agents you will use as champions later on to bring on other business leaders and groups. The fact that you included them in the pilot and incorporated their feedback means they will “own” the solution with you. The perfect champions and advocates for your PMO!

6) Repeat these steps for every service and deliverable you create. You don’t need to have a very complicated portfolio management process to start, just give them a list of their projects so they can see what the heck is going on. You don’t have to have 10 PMs on the team to start managing some of the initiatives, just get a few really good ones to build credibility. You don’t have to take on every business unit in the company day one, just pilot one or two business areas at a time to learn the ropes and build out your approach. You get the idea.

I hope this gives you a few ideas to maintain your sanity and make the daunting task of starting a PMO (or running any change effort) a little less overwhelming. Oh, and if you need more, write to us! We respond to all of our messages and make sure that none of you are left not knowing where to get help. We have to stick together out there! 


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Posted on: August 21, 2017 07:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

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