Where did it all begin?

How did you get into PMOs?

I was having a chat with a few friends the other day and we were discussing how we got into PMOs, and whether that made a difference to our view of what the job was/is.

Here is my ‘origin’ story for those that care to read this sort of thing.

BeginingI came into the world of PMOs before anyone had mentioned the words Project Office. My first role as a PMO was in a KPI and controls role. At the time I was a IT developer (PL/1 and DB2 if you want to know, although I did spend a month trying to learn Fortran) and I wanted a pay rise. More specifically I wanted an upgrading. I had worked with a few people who had all gone up to the next level in the pay grades and I wanted some of that for myself. I therefore asked could I get a rise? Having got the answer no, I then looked around (internally) for other jobs and found a job I thought I was qualified to do as a KPI analyst. I did have to go and look up what a KPI was, and I think it took me a month of doing the role before I really worked that out. I applied and thankfully I was successful, so I bid the world of programming a fond farewell (although I still find myself dabbling now and again) and joined a KPI office

A KPI what?

What does (or should that be did) a KPI analyst do? It turns out the job was essentially to create and maintain a KPI dashboard. Personally, at the time I was pleased as I got access to my first proper PC, with Windows 3.1. A lovely large off-white tower of a machine. It was certainly a step up from the green screen mainframe computers I had been using

Tetris

 

As these were the days before centralised PC management it did mean that you could install whatever you liked on the PC, if you didn’t steal the software or cause a virus outbreak. I therefore found my love of Tetris. I still think this has a place in the modern PMO. I do think that resource capacity management reports would look better if you could move the blocks around like in Tetris to make a solid line. Maybe one day

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Car parking

What I found out doing this role was that the KPI office was the place that picked up all of the crap that needed to be done that no one else wanted. The couple of tasks that stick in my mind are ‘car park pass distributor’ where I was responsible for working out who could have a car parking pass (there weren’t enough for one each) based on the size of the team and working out a rota for usage. Also known as how to upset everyone all of the time. Even if there were enough passes to go around I soon realised that there was only one car parking space anyone wanted which was the one nearest the door to the building (and not only when it was raining). I thought 300 people and 100 spaces was difficult enough but 300 people and 1 space is even worse.

Health and Safety

‘COSHH’ a lovely little acronym which means Control Of Substances Hazardous to Health. As I worked for an airline at the time it was important that they took health and safety seriously. However, they decided it should apply to everyone, regardless of where they worked. In our department located in office block away from the airport and planes we had to work out what that meant. I did refuse to put up the ‘don’t run with scissors’ signs, but we did have to keep the Tippex behind a locked cupboard door just in case.

Recruitment

HeadhostWe got involved with the graduate intern programme, where we advertised for a series of roles and got applicants in doing their 3rd year from university in a workplace. That was great to see how not to apply for a job. People who thought working at Dixons on a Saturday qualified them to be a mainframe programmer. The people who got told to write a accompanying letter, but have worse handwriting than me. If you are that bad then type it, after all you will be working with computers. I particularly liked the one which came from a particular university which was in A3 card folded to be A4 all with a picture of the candidate. Not sure I was set on the idea at the time. Particularly for the folks who seem to have taken the picture in the dark

A brave new world

But all good things must come to an end. After about 18 months of doing this, and meeting virtually everyone in the building I got head-hunted to work on the FISS programme just as it was starting up in a new role of Project Office, although I don’t think it was called that until a year after I joined.

Blogs R Us

When I first started this blog, a while ago I thought it would be easy. After all, all you need to do is throw out about 300 words. How difficult could that really be? All you need to do is to pick a topic, say what comes into your head and upload it onto the website. Easy-peasy.

Well before you embark on this there are certain things to think about.

What to write about

This is the first issue that comes, how do you choose your subjects to talk about? At first that is easy as there are lots of subjects that you want to give your opinion about. However after a while that seems to dry up. What happens then? Well if my blog is anything to go by you dry up and it becomes another digital desert with nothing happening. How many blogs are there out there which have lasted about a year and then nothing.

For the longevity you need a variety of subject matter, or alternatively you could be narrow focused and just be great at one topic.

In order to get the ideas flowing there are several sources (that I have found/seen). Firstly there can be items you encounter in your work life and you think would make a subject for the blog. Secondly you can get ideas submitted to you. Having people submit questions which you then answer is a good suggestion, but you probably need a reputation first. Thirdly you can respond to other people’s blogs. Linked In can be a good way of sourcing these topics. It then gives you somewhere to publish the response. Put a quick comment on the Linked In article and then a link to your blog for more detail

When to write

So you have found something to write about, step 1 completed. Now comes the challenge of when to write about this. I am fortunate and I have a long train journey, with access to a table to rest my electronic device on. I have used both a small portable laptop and an iPad to write my articles on. Nowadays I prefer the iPad option, because this both allows me to type out an article or watch a video, or play a game, depending on the mood I am in (or all 3 on a journey if I choose to). Having a physical keyboard on the iPad makes this option much easier. Also not using a laptop makes it feel like I am not working, and I don’t get into that mode of having to look (and think about) those emails until I get into the office.

I could do this at home, or in my lunch hour, but I find that there are other things to do in those times. If the first thing you do when you come home after 12 hours out is to write a blog for an hour you are either single, or have a very understanding partner/family

Getting to publish

One of the downsides to working on the train is the distinct lack of an internet connection (no wi-fi on the train and too many tunnels anyway). This means I can’t do what every app expects me to do nowadays and save my work to the cloud. That has to wait until I get home.

However this gives me an advantage in the fact I can copy the words that I have written into the actual blog. This is when I get to review what I have written. The advantage is that there is at least a few hours between the original piece being written and it being published. This give me some perspective and I can be a bit critical and look to reword the article. Although most of my articles are written in that stream of consciousness style, a chance to review and check the article is always welcome

Actually publishing

Having copied the text into the website then there is the matter of looking for a few pictures to highlight the article. This is normally a google search to find something that is free to use, I wish I was talented enough to design/produce my own pictures, but unfortunately that isn’t my skill. This is the time to think about any links I may want to put into the article. This can be important if you are commenting on someone else’s piece, or an event you attended (or hope to attend) or book you have read. The other thing is do you want to put a summary of the article as a headline to grab people’s attention – useful if you are cross posting on Linked In, Twitter etc. Having re-read the article it can be easy to work out what that may be

When to publish

I have read lots of articles about the best time to publish so it gets the most views. Are you hoping to catch people on their way to work, at lunchtime, on their way home. If that is important to you how do you catch the early people if you have only published at 9pm at night? Look in the settings for your blog app and there maybe some settings which allow you to defer publishing until a set time.

However I think the more important one, if you want to build up a following, is that you need to publish regularly. How often is that? It could be weekly (if you are that organised), but monthly is probably OK (well that’s my plan this time around)

And that’s it

So that is all you need to do. Easy-peasy really. Apart from having written your first article you then need to do it all again for next time. Time to start with that blank page and that lovely flashing cursor.

Can PMOs make more effective use of social networks and virtual communications to increase their influence and knock down barriers?

Another question from the PMO SIG conference.

One of the things that a PMO should be doing is linking up to others as that is how they can get involved with what the organisation is trying to achieve via the projects and programmes. Some of the better PMOs I know are effective because they know ‘stuff’.

It therefore makes sense for the PMO to get involved in social networks such as PMO Flashmob, APM PMO SIG, linked in discussions and Twitter (#PMOT) to see what the profession is doing and saying. There are a lots of good sources out there which have advice and studies that a PMO can pick up and try to apply in their own organisation. Not all of these can be applied, nor should they, but it is about sitting through the mass of material that exists and helping the organisation understand and process this that is where the PMO will add benefit

In order to increase the knowledge in the world of PMO I therefore encourage all PMOs to contribute to a virtual social network and challenge received wisdom. By questioning and having a willingness to learn, all individuals in a PMOs will improve and be able to add the mythical value that is the holy grail for PMOs

What are the implications for the roles, skills and competencies of the person who works in a PMO of the future

Another question from the PMO SIG conference. Or to reword this in another way, what skills will be needed in the next 5 or 10 years from the PMO and how will social be involved in this.

In order to look forward sometimes it is worth looking back on what we have already done and where the PMO has got to. Over the past 10 years we have seen a transformation in the worth of the PMO. The PMO started out as an administrator helping the project manager with the filing of documentation and updating of risk and issue logs, with dedicated Poole helping out with planning. Over the intervening years they have moved up to be first programme office and then portfolio office. Doing this has increased their visibility and worth within the organisations for which they work. I certainly see more people coming into the role and staying there rather than just passing through.

Having looked back where will the PMO go? The easiest answer to this is where the organisation wants it to. There will certainly still be a need for the project and programme office roles. Where the development should be is in the portfolio office and the centre of excellence roles.

For the portfolio office the PMO needs to aid their organisations to translate the strategy to the delivery, a role that is missing in most organisations I come across. This doesn’t mean that organisations don’t do projects or don’t have a strategy, it’s more that organisations are unable to see how to turn dreams into reality (or strategy to delivery if you want to be a bit less prosaic). In order to do this the PMO will need to understand the business they work for (this may require permanent roles to do the rather than contact roles). They will need to build up the connections within the business to enable the decisions to get made, which will mean the PMO becoming more social, engaging with all parts of the business and building up the contacts they have. This is an extension of what PMOs currently do, although they would need to speak to more CxO individuals.

For the Centre of Excellence role then the PMO will need to embrace new standards/concepts above and beyond the traditional PRINCE2, AXELOS standards such as lean, change management and agile enabling the organisation to operate these methods in a way that fit their business and enable the organisation to understand when projects are in control and when they are not. This will mean that PMOs may need to become more pragmatic in how the rules are applied.

With the rise of project management roles there will be a rise in PMO roles. We will finally start to be in a position that no project or programme will be started without the support of a PMO and that the strategy department will start to incorporate the portfolio office within its midst. At that point we won’t have the debate about why have a PMO, but more on how effective PMOs have been in transforming and streamlining the internal business model and processes.

Will the roles of the PMO analyst and reporter be redundant in an on-demand real time data-rich environment

Another question from the PMO SIG event.
One of the stops on the PMO maturity train is the desire to move to one central source of truth, so the organisation installs a centralised database where all of the data that a PMO used to spend time collecting is now stored in one place. This includes schedules, finances, risks, issues, changes, documentation, progress, benefits. The exact list depends on the technical solutions chosen and the licence that the organisation has paid for.
Having installed the tool with the desire that the senior management are able to get real-time on-demand information, what happens? In my experience the senior management don’t change the behaviours and ask for the information to be sent to them. Even in organisation’s which include time recording it is typically someone lower down the hierarchy who inputs the senior management time, or they are exe lets from having to use the tool. By the time the data is entered and available (in real-time of course) you then need the senior manager to reset their password (normally spelt Password) and the be explain how to view the data.
The other issue is that although the data can be presented in real-time, the data, especially time sheets or progress reports are entered on a timetabled basis, so looking at them more frequently that that becomes futile. Imaging getting the Sunday papers, reading them one Sunday and having a look at them on Wednesday and wonder why nothing has changed (expect someone has half filled the crossword in)
Another issue and is it where the PMO Is expected to perform their role, is that the data that goes into the tool is just that data. What the PMO provides, or should provide, is information. Having someone analyse the data and turn that into something that can be used to make decisions is important.
The PMO can verify the information entered into the system is actually correct (a report looks much better without the typos and abbreviations). They can validate that something entered into one part of the system matches up with another part of the system e.g. If the risks are all Red, then the progress report should not have the risks as Green. If the milestone says the document is signed off, is there a copy in the document storage?
The PMO can then collate and summarise the data so that the information presented to the senior management is consistent and has sufficient commentary that it is obvious what is going on and if any actions are required what needs to happen to, by when,  by whom. Then the information becomes information rather than a gathering of data on the page.
For me a sign of a good report is one that makes the recipient take an action, even if that is to ask (demand) all the information is accurate and up to date (something that normally comes back to the Project Managers rather than the PMO)
If you want an era where senior managers get data on demand, then I suspect you will move to an era where poor decisions will be made as each person will interpret the data differently, using it to back up their own point of view.
However in an era of big data the need for analysts to interpret this and make sense of the world are needed more than ever.