PMO Maturity first steps

Make us better

I wonder how many times people in PMOs have heard something similar to this. You get pulled aside by one of the senior managers in the department and get asked to improve what you are doing. It’s simple they explain, if you are such an expert, then all you need to do is suggest a few things, get them implemented and the world will be a better place.

So where to start?

I received one of these challenges the other day, so I thought it would be easy to ‘just make the PMO more mature’. However that seems sometimes like saying to a kid to ‘grow up’. Does it mean that the kid should get a job, worry about the mortgage rate and pensions? Or does it mean something completely different?

So when looking at the maturity level of the PMO I started  by looking to see if I could find anything about PMO Maturity levels. I was very surprised to find only one thing that directly related to a PMO maturity level, something called a PMO Maturity cube, which did help to a certain extent, but I couldn’t see it tie up with other things I had read.

I then fell back on the good old P3O manual, and that advised when improving a P3o where you needed to start with was a P3M3 assessment, and there is one of those in the P3O manual, however I thought that it would be good to see if I could download one from the AXELOS website. At the time of writing this is no longe available as a free download from their store, but if I wanted to pay several hundreds of pounds I could have access to one.

Then where?

Having drawn a blank there I decided that perhaps I could make do with the information that was in the P3O manual. Having got my assessment, and bear in mind that the P3O manual suggests that at level 3 or above we would have a virtual model, and I was definitely not in one of those, then I had to be below level 3, what things could I get the PMO to do? If should therefore be quite simple. All I would need to do is have a look in the wonderful Appendix F and it would tell me that in orer to increase my maturity here are the simple things I need to do at a level 1, then I can add the following things in for level 2 etc, all nicely split down into categories such as risk, benefits i.e. nicely aligned to a P3M3 assessment model. After all they all come from AXELOS right, so everything should be nicely aligned.

Well I was sadly disappointed. In Appendix F of the P3O manual then there is nothing that mentions a P3M3 level, so that has drawn a blank.

Where next?

So if I can’t do something so simple then do I have to make it up each time. Is there nothing out there that suggests how we can improve from level to level. After all if the PMO aren’t helping the organisation improve, who is doing it. Yes the senior management can suggest and promote ‘betterness’, but they aren’t the people who actually get involved in the detail.

So I welcome sensible suggestions in the comments below for where I (and anyone else reading this) can go to to find out the steps to improve their maturity within their PMO


Training PMOs

Training for PMOs

Following on from my previous post one of the comments asked what training is available for PMOs?As far as I am aware there are only 2 accredited courses which are primarily aimed at the PMO person. These are the PPSO courses (Foundation and Advanced) and the P3O courses (Foundation and Practitioner). There may be other courses out there, which are aimed at PMOs, but are not examined upon. Although courses without accreditation can be useful for those attending them, it can be difficult for organisations to understand whether people who have attended these courses are now ‘better’ individuals who are able to do the job they were employed for. Hence the popularity of exam focussed courses. classroom training


The PPSO exams was produced to align to the PPSO manuals (Volumes 1 & 2). Where PPSO stands for Project and Programme Support Office. These were written by David Marsh back in 2000, and I believe they have had an update since, in about 2004 that still makes them over a decade old. Does that make them not worthwhile? I would say they still do have a place as they can explain some of the basics (at foundation level) for a PMO person. However as they are not aligned to current AXELOS/PMI/APM terminology then people who have been on other courses end up having to learn a new set of out dated terminology to pass.


The P3O exams align to the current P3O manual, which was updated in 2013, and therefore do align strongly to the rest of the AXELOS manuals. This makes them current for those individuals taking them. However at present due to the focus of the P3O manual being portfolio based (and yes the 2013 refresh is better than the 2008 original in giving programme and project offices a look in), this may not be of as much relevance to certain PMOs. As it focusses on setting up a PMO then it does have a good deal of relevance for the PMO leader/manager as it allows them to come away with an understanding of how a PMO needs to be structured in a large organisation.

What’s missing?

So if we have both of these courses what is missing that will enable our PMOs to improve and become the great individuals they strive to be?

Well in my view what is missing is the detail. So often I speak to PMOs, and see questions on linked in, that ask ‘How’ as in ‘How can I get risk management to work’; ‘Do you have a template for lessons learned’. I think what is required is a matrix of training modules that can be built up so you can either take them at a topic level e.g. risk, or they can be taken at a skill level e.g. reporting. What we then can do from an exam perspective is that we take this as a points system. So each one of the modules is worth a set of points, based on complexity, knoweldge imparted etc. You then require a minimum set of points in order to become a level 1 PMO person, a higher level of points to become a level 2 PMO person etc. By organising the training this way it would enable the people who don’t do a particular PMO topic to skip that topic, but still become qualified as a level 1 PMO. Like most qualifications that work this way (I am thinking Open University here) there would need to be a minimum set of compulsory modules at each level, but I am sure this can be incorporated.

Worked example

So this is how it see it working as a generic example

Theme Definitions (including templates)
  • What is this topic about?
  • What is in a typical template for this topic, and what are the definitions for the content of each field including any lookups used
Reporting & analysis
  • How can you provide roll up reporting?
  • What data is required in order to produce the relevant reporting?
  • What can you imply based on the report to turn the data into information
  • How to feedback to a person outside the PMO that they have misunderstood something (or it is wrong)
  • How to run workshops to help identify/update/close items related to this topic
  • How to identify when training is required, and at what level
  • Typical areas of conflict relating to this topic and suggestions as to how this may be resolved.
  • What is the process to create/update/close/delete an item for this topic
  • How and when the topic will be used in a project/programme/portfolio lifecycle

And to translate that for a couple of subject it may look something like this:

Risk Benefits
Theme Definitions (including templates)
  • What is a risk?
  • Impact, probability, response types
  • What does a risk register look like
  • What would a risk checklist look like
What is the difference between a cost & a benefit?
Different types of benefit – financial & non-financial
How can you turn a non-financial benefit into a financial one
What does a benefit register/tracker look like
Reporting & analysis
  • How can you provide roll up reporting?
  • What data is required in order to produce the relevant risk reporting?
  • How to read the progress report to identify new risks
  • Identifying risks which are now issues
  • How do you track potential benefits
  • Can you track actual benefits
  • How to construct a Key Performance Indicator
  • Double counting of benefits. How to identify.
  • How to assign a benefit to a particular project
  • How to run a risk workshop
  • How to chase down a risk action
  • How to handle someone who says they don’t have any risks on their initiative
  • How to run a benefits workshop
  • How to tell a senior manager that benefits have been double counted and their business case is no longer valid.
  • When would you discover a risk?
  • How and when are risks escalated?
  • When can a risk be closed?

What level of risk would be appropriate for a project/programme/portfolio?

  • When are benefits tracked?
  • How to track benefits within your organisation – linkage into other areas
  • What happens to tracking benefits after a project closes

Your thoughts?

Your views appreciated as to whether this may work. It would obviously require a group of people to write the manual, and then an examining body to put together the course material. I don’t think this will become a degree in PMO followed by a Masters in PMO, but something more flexible that our current PM and PMO training that exists.

P3O and Beyond

As a follow up from my last post on the future of the P3O I attended the PMO flashmob to hear what Eileen Roden had to say. You can find the full write-up here, but I thought I would give my perspective on the matter.

After a brief career history from Eileen on how she had become the author of the P3O manual, we separated into groups to look at what PMOs had stopped doing, were being asked to do more of and where staring to be asked to do. The full write-up is on the flashmob site.

What I took from the meeting was that some things had changed for the PMOs, and we were moving away from being secretaries and admin people, as shown in the balance of the individuals in the room, there was a fair split between males and females. When I first started in PMOs about 20 years ago there were many more females than males in the profession and those males that were there saw it as a pathway to doing something else.

The role was starting to form as there were many things in the PMOs can do category, with more being added all the time. However there was no real agreement in what a PMO can do in the future.

I was therefore disappointed in the flashmob as it didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear, which was where are PMOs going, what is the vision that we need to aspire to, who are the thought leaders in the field of PMOs. It was quite clear from the people I spoke to during the event, and afterwards in the more social surroundings of the local pub, that most PMOs are struggling to get on with the day job and can’t think about what is happening this afternoon let alone where will PMOs go in 20 months let alone 20 years.

I am not sure based on the output of the flashmob whether there is anything that can be used and taken forward as what a PMO should do, as it did seem to link into the maturity of the organisation, the competence of the individuals within the PMO and project management community. What was obvious though is that a lot activities nowadays are being managed as a project within organisations, so the need for Project Managers and PMOs to support them and the organisation is required.

PMOs are here to stay, we just need the individuals within them to become better in understanding the organisations they work within and therefore how the PMO can transform the organisation.

The future of P3O

Where does P3O go from here?

I am writing this in advance of the PMO flashmob talk on the future of p3o by Eileen Roden the lead author of the the p3o refresh. I wanted to get my thoughts on P3O and where the profession should go down before I heard and got influenced by others.

What has worked?

The P3O manual has been really good for putting portfolio management on the map. It has enabled organisations to understand how having a portfolio office can really benefit their organisation. It has moved the role from a support office to an integral part of the organisation. In fact it has removed the word support from the vocabulary entirely.
It has given organisations a structure to setup their portfolio office saying how they can be organised.
It provided the PMO world with appendix F, which has been invaluable for all those discussions with people as to whether some was or should be a part of the PMO role. If it was in appendix F, then it could be part of the PMO role. If it isn’t then this is something that could be done by a PMO person, it it wasn’t necessarily part of the role e.g. Being a fire warden.

What hasn’t worked?

Through the training I did on P3O I found that at least half, if not more of the people coming along were not in a portfolio office. In fact some organisations didn’t understand the word programme let alone portfolio. The P3O guide offered little for the people who weren’t going to manage the P3O it didn’t tell you how to do the job. It didn’t show you how to do configuration management, risk, issue, change management or setup the structures that would be needed to make those things happen. So for a large majority of the people in a PMO it didn’t help them do the day job.
It also didn’t clearly define what the word PMO means, after all the guide is portfolio office, programme office and project office guide. Hence the P3O. Well at least it could be trademarked!

Where do we go from here?
I suggest that we don’t have a P3O guide. This is not to say that we don’t have a guide on what the role does, but more that we need different guides for the different jobs within a P3O structure. Along with that we need different names for those roles. I accept that these can do with some refining, and I am hoping that others will contribute to this, but my suggestions are:

Programme Delivery Office – this needs to be a companion guide to MSP (Managing Successful Programmes). This needs to define the role of a programme management office. It needs to build on what is already included in the MSP guide, include most of what is in the PPSO books and where possible include the work from the pop up programme office book. This has to be a practical book for people doing a PMO analyst role. The appendices for this should include what the roles for the PMO, junior, senior and manager are in a programme office. They need to list what is included in a progress report, risk log, dependency log, change log. There needed to be practical examples of what a configuration management role does, how it is setup, and perhaps even as detailed as some advice on how to setup a version control system.
This office is the temporary office that will close when the programme it supports closes.

Strategic Delivery Office – this needs to be the companion guide to the MoP (Management of Portfolios) and Benefits Management manuals. Quite a lot of the existing P3O manual could be used here. This manual needed to be aimed at the Portfolio Office analyst role that is currently defined within the P3O manual. This can include the techniques around prioritisation, resource plans, force ranking, knowledge management etc. As this is a permanent office it needs to include the Centre of Excellence functions that are currently in the P3O manual.

Setting up successful PMOs. – this is the guide for all senior managers and PMO managers. This can be what is left of the P3O manual once you have taken out the doing part. There is still the need for a guide for the PMO manager role, and that the P3O guide does do very well. In fact I think this should go further and describe how to setup the portfolio, programme, project delivery structure as well and how they can be linked together, as well as the team to support them.

Why the need for different manuals?
You may think that by dividing the P3O manual up you are just splitting up the role of PMO into all smaller portions just to get revenue from the different qualifications that would spring up around this. However I see this fit together in the same way that the ITIL framework does. You have a basic knowledge, which is the junior role and then you expand on this by getting the manager qualification. You can either come to the manager qualification through the programme or portfolio route.
There is still no definition of PMO that is agreed on, so I suggest dividing that up into the 3 main roles that exist. Support of a temporary endeavour along with the manager of that temporary endeavour (I will leave if for other to argue whether it is a project or programme). Support of entire group of temporary endeavours to help drive the organisation forward (portfolio office). Management of both of these groups, which would apply to the medium to larger organisations.

Is there anything else?

The only thing I see out there speaking to individuals who do a PMO role is those who don’t support just one project, but multiple as a permanent office. For these people I suggest they would benefit from the Programme Delivery Office guide, although they would not disband at the end of a project or programme they are doing the things that would be mentioned in that guide. If they are then asked to look at portfolio management, then they need the Strategic Delivery Office guide.
The other thing that isn’t included above are the softer skills that are required in the role such as influencing, negotiation, coaching, training, leadership and teamwork. But then again they aren’t in the rest of the AXELOS guide either. Perhaps it is time for the PMOs to lead on this and start to include these in there as well.

Ever since the APM BoK 6 came out a couple of years ago I have thought that what was needed for the PMO space were guides saying how each of those items in the BoK that are split by project, programme and portfolio also needed a PMO section as well. If the above books get written then perhaps that will happen.

I wait with interest to see what Eileen has to suggest.

Trainer, Mentor, Coach or Counsellor?

I attended the PMO Flashmob the other week on coaching and the PMO. This talk was given by Suzanne Masden, who based on her qualification has had a bit of experience in being a coach to a variety of people, plus was once a project manager.

During the short talk one of the questions that came up was what exactly is a coach anyway? I am sure that you can go and look this up on the web, but the reason it came up was that it is an expression that we as PMO’s seem to use all the time. However we don’t have a correct understanding of what this really means. Most of the time when we say we are coaching the project managers, we aren’t actually doing this at all.

So I thought I would post something up which was my understanding of the difference we have between the 4 roles outlined in the title

Trainer Arrow
Assistance spectrum



Trainer – at this level a PMO would be teaching something to a project manager. e.g. This is how to fill in the progress report. Most likely to say: “Do it this way”

Mentor – normally a more experienced PMO person who is assisting the project manager with a topic, based on their own personal experience and giving the knowledge as though they were the individual in the job. e.g. This is how I would deal with stakeholders when going through the design stage of the project. Most likely to say: “This is how I would approach it”

Coach – an individual who is qualified as a coach (yes there are qualifications) who will assist the project manager by asking them questions about how they are likely to achieve their goals. e.g. How can you get the best out of your project team? Most likely to say: “What can you do to improve?” or “Is that working for you?”

Counsellor – an individual who is qualified as a counsellor who can help and individual reflect on what is happening to them and consider alternative ways of doing things. As such this individual will not be dealing with items specifically linked into the world of project management, but will be looking at an individual’s life problems and how they can be overcome.

There was an interesting part of the discussion where we talked about the difference between the mentor and coach roles. Based on the experiences of the individuals within the room it is most likely that when a PMO individual is saying that they are coaching project manager, what in fact they are doing is either training them or at best mentoring them.

I came away feeling that a coach would be very useful in all sorts of circumstances, and it shouldn’t be limited to just PMOs coaching project managers, but should be PMOs coaching other PMOs, or at least PMOs seeking coaching for themselves. This was where the difference was made between a coach and a counsellor. In order to be coached the person being coached must want to make some changes to the way that they are doing things. If changes are required, but the individual is unwilling to want to make any changes then that will go into counselling, and is above and beyond what a coach would want to do.

I thought the session at the PMO Flashmob was informative, and I have gone away with a fresh understanding of not only what I do, but also what I could do to develop myself. After all isn’t that why we go to such events?