Posts Tagged ‘program’

July 27, 2017

The following executive sponsorship development methodology has been designed and proven by Peter Taylor – find out more

Critical to any project’s success is having a good project manager. We all know that, but then it is also pretty important to have a good project sponsor: but like the saying goes ‘you can pick your friends but you can’t pick you relatives’. The same might be said of project sponsors.

It has been my experience that the skill profile of project managers continues to grow, and more and more organisations are investing in project managers in a disciplined and mature manner. But the same cannot always be said of project sponsors; many wrongly believe that project sponsor is just a figurehead – never called to actual duty – and for these reasons I concluded some time ago that we are in the age of the ‘accidental project sponsor’.

But how do you effectively go about developing project sponsors inside an organisation? In my book ‘Strategies for Project Sponsorship’ (Management Concepts 2013) I uncovered the reality – 85% of organisations had project sponsors in place, yet 83% of these organisations did nothing to help, train, support, guide, or develop these sponsors, and yet 100% of these same organisations recognised that having a good project sponsor was critical to project success! Go figure!

But the challenge is that these sponsors, these executive leaders, are ‘too cool for school’. And so, I have developed a process, or methodology, that recognises that a different approach is required to raise necessary standards in project sponsorship (see figure above).

Stage 1 Preparation work

Here it is important to collect some background into the current project success rates and issues, and taking comment on the ‘health’ of project sponsorship inside an organisation

Aligning terminology used (for the workshop)

Gathering any sponsorship templates or guidelines in place

Agreeing format/timing/delivery of the workshop

Stage 2 Workshop

Here the key is to take a collective of the executive leadership on a journey of understanding of the importance and value of project sponsorship in general – not to target individuals or to challenge specifics; but only to reach consensus that ‘investment in sponsorship is needed’, and that ‘there is real value in this investment’ for the business

Delivery of the workshop

Summarising output and recommendations

Stage 3 Project Manager Development

Here the key for project managers, whilst the ongoing project sponsorship is happening, is to empower them to work effectively with the sponsors they have right now. Development would include; what role a sponsor should play and what good sponsorship looks like, how to understand the sponsor they have right now and how to work more effectively with them, understanding the role that project managers should play in developing project sponsorship inside their own organisation, and recognising (at a personal level) what is needed to make the transition from project manager to project sponsor.

Stage 4 Sponsor Coaching

Here, once the awareness workshop is completed, then the most productive way I have found to work the existing project sponsors is through one-to-one coaching. Away from the glare of their peers and in privacy of their own offices, many are more open to change and also open to asking for help and guidance of becoming better project sponsors. This allows for a very personal, private, and focused engagement to bring the best possible outcome with regards to sponsorship capability; it also offers the opportunity to identify ‘good sponsors’ and ‘good sponsorship behaviour’ to use as a showcase for others.

Stage 5 Project Manager Surgery

Here there is the realisation that this is not a one-time solution and there will be questions and challenges. To follow up on the project management training regarding sponsorship, the open offer of a ‘surgery’ perhaps one month later, allows the project managers to come back with questions and requests for help with regards to the sponsors they are working with on a day to day basis. This, in turn, contributes to the effectivity of the one-to-one coaching of the same project sponsors with whom the project managers are working with.

Stage 6 – Health Check

Here it is good to take a step back and consider, objectively, the progress that has been made, and what needs further effort of focus and, of course, to celebrate success and progress amongst sponsors and project managers. If there are areas requiring further effort, then make the necessary plans at this stage. But if reasonable improvements are recognisable, now is perhaps a great time to bring the communities together in some way in a combined acknowledgement of joint achievement.

A final part – Future Project Sponsorship Development

The key to all of this is the need for organisations to acknowledge that the projects they sanction are the ones they believe will deliver the business’s strategic objectives. To succeed in these initiatives, then it is logical that they would want these projects to be as low-risk as possible and key, if not critical. Part of this low-risk management strategy is to invest in and support great project sponsors – now and in the future. Therefore, to formalise project sponsorship development can be considered the best possible investment for future change.

Peter Taylor is a PMO expert who has built and led four global PMOs across several industries, and has advised many other organisations in PMO and PM strategy.

He is also the author of the number 1 bestselling project management book ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, along with many other books on project leadership, PMO development, project marketing, project challenges and ‘Strategies for Project Sponsorship’.

In the last 5 years, he has delivered over 250 lectures around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

More information can be found at – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.


Project Sponsors are from Venus

June 14, 2017

The following is an extract from my new book ‘How to get Fired at the C-Level: Why mismanaging change is the biggest risk of all’ in association with my friends at Tailwind Project Solutions – the extracts follow a series of 5 Challenges that I think every organisation should consider, and consider very carefully:

Challenge 2 – invest in non-accidental project sponsors

‘We are unique individuals with unique experiences’ John Gray, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus

Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus is a book written by relationship counsellor John Gray. It has sold more than 50 million copies (a handful more than my own best-selling book The Lazy Project Manager) and spent 121 weeks on the US bestseller list.

The book and its central metaphor have become a part of popular culture and so I found myself, as I thought about my ongoing (since 2011) Campaign for Real Project Sponsors, that maybe we could think of project managers and project sponsors in similar terms.

The book states that most common relationship problems between men and women result from fundamental psychological differences between the sexes. The author exemplifies this through the book’s eponymous metaphor: that men and women are from distinct planets – Mars and Venus respectively – and that each sex is in tune with its own planet’s society and customs, but those of the other are alien to it.

Now it is possible that this comes into play if, say the project manager is a man and the project sponsor is a woman. (I explored this in the book Strategies for Project Sponsorship (Management Concepts Press) with my co-authors Vicki James and Ron Rosenhead, where – at Vicki’s suggestion – we agreed to separate the roles by gender.) But for now, let’s simplify the situation by assuming that gender plays no part in this.

For project success many sources of authority boldly declare good project sponsorship is critical but sadly the reality of the situation is less than perfect sponsoring. Often – very often – project sponsors will have received no training or support for their critical role. In Strategies for Project Sponsorship we confirmed that, with 85% of organisations surveyed declaring that they had ‘sponsorship in place’ but 83% confirming the worrying truth that they did nothing to support, train or guide these project sponsors.

Many speak of the ‘accidental project manager’ but the reality is that the current generation of project sponsors can also be considered the ‘accidental project sponsors’. Although they may not have any background in project management or project-based activity, having reached a senior level within their organisation based on other achievements, they have assumed or have been given that role. Remember that there is not currently any official body of knowledge for project sponsors to help them understand best project sponsorship practices.

And yet project sponsors don’t just need to support projects; good project sponsors also support the project manager and project team. It is said that a project is one small step for a project sponsor and a giant leap for the project manager. Wouldn’t we all feel so much better if we knew that the project sponsor’s one small step would ensure that the complementary giant leap would lead to a safe and secure final landing?

The project sponsor/project manager partnership is one that needs to be built on a relationship of trust and mutual objectives.

As John Gray says, ‘If I seek to fulfil my own needs at the expense of my partner, we are sure to experience unhappiness, resentment, and conflict. The secret of forming a successful relationship is for both partners to win.’

Project sponsorship is not about an either/or situation but a win/ win, with both the project sponsor and the project manager benefiting.

It is, after all, about the project and therefore about the business benefit.

In Strategies for Project Sponsorship we found that the best of project sponsors operated in a very balanced way, being involved in the project, being objective about the project, being supportive of the project and project manager, and being reactive to project needs.

The project manager clearly needs to be equally balanced.

We also found that the best project managers understood what a good project sponsor should do and how they, as project managers, needed to behave within the reality of the partnership, and with the project sponsor that they were ‘given’. As the saying goes, ‘you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your relatives,’ and it must be appreciated that the same is true of project sponsors.

Each project sponsor (and each project manager) will be different, will be imperfect, and will have strengths and weaknesses but if the two individuals understand each other’s responsibilities and capabilities then a balanced, effective and positive relationship can be achieved (and subsequent project success). To once again quote John Gray, ‘Relationships thrive when communication reflects a ready acceptance and respect of people’s innate differences.’

This needs to be taken seriously and if the relationship is not working changes need to happen, fast.

There is some fantastic work going on with and for project managers.

We have landed on Mars and we are setting up home and making it look damn good (in most cases) but the weight of effort is all on that side of the scale. Venus, on the other hand is comparatively undeveloped and in need of a real make-over.

In ‘Project Management Institute, Inc. Pulse of the Profession™ March 2013’ it was assessed that the value impact on poor project sponsorship from the executive level had real significance. The report suggested that with regard to meeting project goals there was a +29% variance with good sponsorship in place but when there wasn’t good project sponsorship in place there was a -13% variance of project failure, that is there was a 13% greater chance of the project not delivering what was expected.

Investment in project sponsorship is evidence that the executives are taking strategy investment seriously, whereas not doing so can be seen as an example of the C-suite failing its own business and if we think about this in terms of the portfolio we valued in the previous article (we started with £20m and ended up with £105.6m remember?) doing nothing to develop good project sponsorship would mean that 13% of the value of the portfolio (£13.7m) could practically be written off from day one. Even if you only take the portfolio starting value – £20m – you are losing £2.6m.

How would your CFO feel if you asked him to take £2.6m in banknotes and stuff it in the shredder right now? If anything, not investing proper C-level support in strategy is worse than this, since besides the huge financial loss you should consider time and effort: all those people wondering what they have been working on all this time only to see negative returns.

I hope that the point is now well made – investment in professional project sponsors who see this as an integral part of their role is critical to your organisation protecting and benefiting from your portfolio of investment.


Tailwind Project Solutions was formed in 2014 to provide a bespoke approach to project leadership development. Owned by Director & CEO Alex Marson, the organisation works with large FTSE 250 clients including some of the biggest companies in the world in the Asset Management, Professional Services, Software, Automotive, Finance and Pharmaceutical industry.  The company has a team of world-class experts who provide a bespoke approach to the challenges that our clients have, and the company was formed because of a gap in the market for expertise which truly gets to the heart of the issues clients are facing – providing a robust, expert solution to change the way that companies run their projects.

At the time, the market was becoming flooded with training companies, providing a ‘sheep dip’ approach to project management, and the consensus was that This didn’t solve the real challenges that businesses and individuals are experiencing in this ever-increasing complex world of project management. The vision was to hand-pick and work with the very best consultants, trainers and coaches worldwide so that Tailwind could make a difference to their clients, to sit down with them, understand their pain points, what makes them tick, and what is driving their need for support.

These challenges being raised time and time again are in the project leadership space, from communication issues, not understanding stakeholder requirements or having the confidence to “push back”, lack of sponsorship support, working across different cultures, languages, levels of capability and complexity. We expect more from our project managers – we expect them to inspire, lead teams and be more confident.

Tailwind’s experience is vast, from providing interim resources in the project and programme management space, supporting the recruitment process, experiential workshops, coaching – from project managers through to executives, providing keynote speakers, implementing PPM Academies, PM Healthchecks and Leadership development. The approach is created often uniquely – to solve the real challenges of each of their individual clients. 

Bangers and Mash

August 19, 2016

Now if you are from the UK you will 100% know what I am talking about, and if you are from Canada, Australia or New Zealand (I am reliably informed) you will also have a good chance of knowing what ‘bangers and mash’ are. But, if you are from elsewhere and haven’t had the personal pleasure of enjoying a mouthful of ‘bangers and mash’ (tasty) then you are probably completely confused.

For the record, ‘bangers and mash’, also known as sausages and mash, is a traditional British dish made up of mashed potatoes and (typically) fried sausages.


The sausage part (or ‘banger’) may consist of a variety of sausage flavours made of pork or beef or a perhaps even a Cumberland sausage (if you are being posh) and the dish is sometimes served with onion gravy, fried onions, baked beans, or peas, preferably – in my personal case with ‘mushy peas’. And so we are off again aren’t we? You have no idea what mushy peas are do you? Sorry, go look it up on the world-wide web of wonder.

Why ‘banger’ I hear you ask? Well, the term is attributed to the fact that sausages made during World War I, when there were meat shortages, were made with such a high water content that were very liable to pop under high heat when cooked, whereas modern day sausages don’t have this attribute, they just sizzle, delightfully so.

I wrote an article a while ago on ‘The Business of Meaningless Words’, about the growth in bland tired and need-to-be retired clichés LinkedIn Article but there is another aspect to such ‘code’ that isn’t meaningless but still needs to be known, or translated, in order to communicate efficiently.

‘Bangers and mash’ for example is not shorthand for ‘sausages and mash’ but rather an alternative term, colloquial, perhaps even slang, but still if you say started work in an English pub that both served good beer and ‘pub grub’ food then you would need to know what it was for sure. I’d be in there ordering it!

PMI’s White Paper on Communication states ‘Communication is what allows projects — and the organization — to function efficiently. Conversely, when key players at any level fail to deliver their end of the communication bargain, projects face unnecessary risks’

And one of the levels of failure can be in not explaining terms to people who do not know them and, here’s the balance, asking what terms mean if you don’t know them or understand their meaning.

See what I did there? Yes, it is a two-way responsibility. Explain, don’t assume understanding together with ask, don’t fake understanding.

Got it? Excellent.

Right I’m off for a quick bevvy, and fancying a nice plate of bubble and squeak for supper with perhaps a chip butty on the side[1]. How about you?




Peter Taylor

Peter Taylor is a PMO expert currently leading a Global PMO, with 200 project managers acting as custodians for nearly 5,000 projects around the world, for Kronos Inc. – a billion-dollar software organisation delivering Workforce Management Solutions.

Peter Taylor is also the author of the number 1 bestselling project management book ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, along with many other books on project leadership, PMO development, project marketing, project challenges and executive sponsorship.

In the last 4 years he has delivered over 200 lectures around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

More information can be found at  – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.

[1] You have no idea what they are either do you? Go look it up on the world-wide web of wonder.

Presentation Counts

August 5, 2016

I was recently in a restaurant in a foreign land (well foreign to me of course but less so to the locals).

Lazy Peter Taylor

The location was good, the décor and ambience very acceptable, the company most enjoyable, and the snow fell softly outside providing a winter wonderland visual delight through the large windows.

But sadly all of that positive build-up for a great evening’s dining was almost outweighed by the food and service.

After an initial ordering experience the diners elected to eat the same main course but each agreed that the chef’s vegetable of choice for the evening was not to their personal liking. It was the humble Brussels sprout, a member of the brassica family that enjoys a somewhat tarnished image which, considering its status as a nutritional powerhouse, is perhaps a little unfair. Its reputation is perhaps mostly due to the great British Christmas Day cooking technique: take sprouts, cut, trim, boil until at least twice dead and then for five minutes more. Then, finally, pile into a large dish and leave – because nobody actually likes Brussels sprouts (at least not cooked this way).

Anyway the request was made to replace said evil vegetable with an alternative, and asparagus tips were requested. And so the meal continued through a mediocre appetizer and on until the main course finally arrived … without Brussels sprouts (the good news) but also without anything in their place as requested (the bad news).

The waiter was recalled and cajoled and encouraged to resolve this rapidly, at which the staff applied all of their skills and training, by ignoring us and disappearing. Eventually after a long period, during which most of the meal was consumed, the waiter did reappear and proceeded to almost, but not quite, save the entire situation.

With a silver platter and a silver fork of delicate proportions the waiter proceeded to ceremoniously, and with great flourish, place two small asparagus tips across the centre of each diner’s remaining half-eaten meal.

It was theatrical and exaggerated and, had it not been for the sheer humour of the whole thing, he may just have got away with it. Presentation can win the day.

There is an old story about a crisis in a company when it was discovered that one of their products was actually killing customers. This was a major issue and one that delivered headlines that were very bad news for the company. However a savvy and spirited marketing executive quickly went to work to resolve the situation. After a few days of bad publicity and press, with the death toll mounting, the marketeer launched a major fight back.

The first press release read ‘Company X extremely concerned for its customers…’

Sadly the problems continued and more customers met their maker as a result of the killer products. The bad publicity continued and the situation looked desperate.

The marketing executive did not walk away from the challenge nor did he give up the battle. He worked late into the night thinking blue sky thoughts about a solution to this issue and finally came up with a plan.

The next day a press release was delivered to the world at large that simply read ‘Company X sees a massive reduction in dissatisfied customers…’

It is all in the presentation and in turning negatives in to positives.

Our waiter tried but just failed; he couldn’t carry it off completely and is probably from Barcelona anyway (yes that is a Fawlty Towers[1] reference and not an insult to wonderful Barcelona, one of my favorite cities).

As a project manager you have to be calm, confident, assured and in control at all times. There will be times when you need to recover from sticky situations and on those occasions you need to have the skill to find the positive and the will to present it convincingly.

Presentation counts!



[1] Fawlty Towers is a British sitcom produced by BBC Television and first broadcast on BBC2 in 1975 and 1979. Twelve episodes were made (two series, each of six episodes). The show was written by John Cleese and his then wife Connie Booth, both of whom also starred in the show.

The series is set in Fawlty Towers, a fictional hotel in the seaside town of Torquay, on the “English Riviera”. The plots centre around rude and deranged manager Basil Fawlty (Cleese), his bossy wife Sybil (Prunella Scales), a comparatively normal chambermaid Polly (Booth), and hapless Spanish waiter (from Barcelona) Manuel (Andrew Sachs) and their attempts to run the hotel amidst farcical situations and an array of demanding and eccentric guests.

In a list drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted by industry professionals, Fawlty Towers was named the best television series of all time.


Peter Taylor is a PMO expert currently leading a Global PMO, with 200 project managers acting as custodians for nearly 5,000 projects around the world, for Kronos Inc. – a billion-dollar software organisation delivering Workforce Management Solutions.

Peter Taylor is also the author of the number 1 bestselling project management book ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, along with many other books on project leadership, PMO development, project marketing, project challenges and executive sponsorship.

In the last 4 years he has delivered over 200 lectures around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

More information can be found at – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.

The meaningless blog

March 31, 2016

Can I borrow you for a sec because I’m stacked? It will be a win-win situation. I have been blue sky thinking and want to keep you in the loop on my thinking outside of the box, as well as picking your brains, I’m just playing devils’ advocate on this teamwork/dreamwork idea. Will it work? Well how long is a piece of string?

Have I lost you? I suspect I have as the above paragraph includes all ten of the most annoying things people say in the office according to a survey of 2,000 people by recruitment website



Rubbish aren’t they – time for a paradigm shift, we can’t boil the ocean with limited bandwidth but there is low hanging fruit out there so let’s tee it up, circle back, take it offline and do more with less. We need to break the silos to move the needle because it is what it is. What we must do at the end of the day is run it up the flagpole, bite the bullet, peel back the layers of the onion and take it, if push comes to shove, to the bleeding edge. Making sure we are not out of pocket, which is par for the course, let’s get one throat to choke whilst opening the kimono, and synergize as we all drink the Kool Aid. Awesome!

Clearer? I think not, you have no idea what I am on about do you and no surprise. That paragraph included twenty five of the most overused phrases from Business Insider UK. The thing is that they were all once a neat and creative way of expressing a thought or an idea but overuse has made them into first clichés and then just bloody annoying things that some of our work colleagues roll out regularly on calls and at meetings, presumably because they can’t think of anything intelligent to say instead. Clichés appear to make you connected to what is going on without actually having to have any real understanding or anything of value to contribute. It is like a code that just gets you out of a tricky moment.

Question: ‘What do think of this new approach?’

Answer: ‘You have my buy-in on this particular swim lane, I like the core competency and feel empowered as a result’

Yes, I am back at it again, this time looking at the Forbes most annoying business jargon list.

There are lots of moving parts when you put your best practice ducks in a row and leverage the scalable solution from the burning platform. It is imperative that we drill down and smell the coffee in this one-stop shop because today is the day and tomorrow is our future.

Oh my, it is addictive isn’t it?

So please, be a rock star … and stop!

Think, say something meaningful, or at least rephrase that tired and needs-to-be retired cliché or you may hit the ground running with an elephant in the room and an 800 pound gorilla making you last to the party! You have been warned…


Sustain Your PMO: Nine Easy Lessons

January 27, 2016

The good news is that there is now plenty of great research emerging on the context and conditions for successful PMOs; some of the lessons learned are simple and intuitive, others less so, as evidenced in this extract from Peter Taylor and Ray Mead’s Delivering Successful PMOs.


Lesson One: Get Help

As has been already discussed the reality out there in ‘PMO land’ is that there is not a plethora of wise and experienced PMO managers, directors, leaders, heads, etc., and so it is sensible for anyone who is engaged to help an organisation set up a new PMO or advise on improvements to an existing PMO to reach out for some help.

The risk to not doing so is to, at the very least, slow the return on investment of the new PMO down. With a practical framework for guidance, such as this book, and a supporting experience coach then the organisation benefits that have led to the PMO investment will be secured in an optimum time frame and with reduced risk of failure.

This book is aimed as one source of aid, inspiration and guidance, so ‘well done’ for starting the process with the right attitude.

In addition this is what the authors, and others, do for a living so professional consultancy is another way to improve your chances of success with that PMO project.

And there are communities you can connect to – on LinkedIn, through the project management bodies such as PMI and APM, etc. Do your research before jumping on too deeply.

Lesson Two: Get the Right Leader

Having the right ‘head’ of the PMO is also critical, in Leading Successful PMOs the top five attributes for a great PMO leader were explored:

The good PMO leaders must champion project management and project managers across their organisation as well as believing in the business strategy. They must communicate with conviction and negotiate fairly but strongly for the PMO and the projects. They must be enthusiastic about leading change and critically must have the strength of belief in their own uniqueness and that of the PMO they lead.

It addition it is noted in the PM-Partners: PMO Trends 2012 report:

When a PMO is expected to work across the organisation at all levels, oversee significant investments and facilitate senior decisions – it is surprising that a high number of organisations either put the wrong person in the job or don’t support them when they are in place.

Getting the right leader of the PMO is linked to lesson number one – you, and your organisation, will want to minimise the risk to PMO failure and maximise the time to ROI. As such having the right person leading that PMO is critical to its success – it is unlike any other managerial role in many ways.

Lesson Three: Measure the PMO Value

A ‘balanced’ approach to a PMO was advocated in Leading Successful PMOs with one way to achieve such a balance was to consider structuring your efforts under the ‘5 Ps’:

  • P = People.
  • P = Process.
  • P = Promotion.
  • P = Performance.
  • P = Project Management Information System.

The point here being that it may be tempting just to think of the PMO as all about the process, the means to ensure that good project management is achieved through methodology and quality assurance etc. but that ignores the people side.

And it may be that your consideration is towards the project management community and your focus is drawn towards the people (projects are all about people after all) and so you direct your efforts as a PMO leader towards training and team building, etc., but this ignores the project mechanics.

You may also accept the need to build a good tracking and reporting system, supported by an investment in a project management information system, to deliver the visibility of project health and progress towards business goals.

But without the inclusion of a promotional programme it could well be the case that all of the good work you, and your team, achieve in the areas of process and people will go unnoticed and unappreciated by both your peers and the executive.

It is our belief that the best PMOs balance all of this to achieve the most effective development of capability, representation of capability and sharing of capability and achievement.

In the PWC Insights and Trends: Current Portfolio, Programme, and Project Management Practices report there are a series of Key Findings and one relates to measuring value:

Key Finding: A majority of organisations do not conduct regular evaluations of their PMO and also do not consistently measure benefits or returns from the PMO.

… using a PMO contributes to improved project performance; however, organisations currently do not consistently evaluate and measure the success or returns on investment (ROI) of the PMO … 29% of organisations never evaluate their PMO and 30% conduct evaluations on an annual basis. However, the 14% of organisations which evaluate their PMO on a monthly basis also measure their PMO for ROI (65% of the time). Those organisations that never evaluate their PMO measure their ROI only 9% of the time. Organisations can benefit from finding similar positive correlations between using a PMO and project performance, through conducting more regular evaluations of their PMO, as well as, business ROI.

Measuring the PMO value will ensure that you are ready to articulate the true value of your PMO to the business as needed, it will also allow you to continuously improve the PMO’s performance.

Lesson Four: Lock the Value In

The ESI report from 2015, The Global State of the PMO, identified that some 72 per cent of respondents reported that the value of their PMO was questioned by key stakeholders – usually senior management – over the last 12 months.

Despite one in three PMOs being managed at the level of the C-suite, it looked like PMOs were still struggling to prove that they add (or can add) value. Even after being in place for years, PMOs are still subject to scrutiny; one in three of the PMOs which were reported in the ESI survey to have closed this year were 5 years old, or older.

So maturity is not a safety net for PMOs.

The top reason cited in the survey for disbanding a PMO was that of corporate restructuring. On the positive side this restructuring could mean consolidating PMOs into a single enterprise model. On the negative side, though, an executive decision or change in management was cited as the reason why one in four PMOs were closed down, with an associated argument that PMOs did not deliver value.

The key here is that the value of the PMO should be ‘locked-in during the delivery period and should be regularly re-assessed and continually measured by a good PMO leader.

It is critical for a PMO to achieve a level of maturity, as the PM-Partners: PMO Trends 2012 report states:

There’s a direct link between the maturity of the PMO and the value it provides. Mature PMOs are far more likely to offer real competitive advantage to a business by increasing the speed and quality of business returns.

Lesson Five: Move with the Business

The PM-Partners: PMO Trends 2012 report summarises this well:

It is generally accepted that the Project Management Office (PMO) typically defines and maintains the metrics, standards and repeatable practice for project management within an organisation and is the first step towards:

  • Increasing project, programme and portfolio success
  • Strategy execution and business transformation
  • Increasing the speed of time-to-market
  • Visibility and cost control of execution on time and on budget

Our survey results suggest that merely implementing a PMO in itself is not enough. The PMO must evolve over time with a continuous plan to mature the practices that are of the greatest value to executives. As a PMO matures and implements high value services such as portfolio management and resource management, the organisational success metrics improve, and the value of the PMO increases.

Regularly ‘take the pulse’ of your PMO and the view of that PMO by the business. If something has changed you may need to return to the business case and re-validated and/or update accordingly.

As detailed in Leading Successful PMOs you need to ask yourself and the PMO:

  • Has anything significantly changed in the business that requires an adjustment by the PMO?
  • What is the view, within the business, of the value of the PMO?
  • Are there any key opponents to the PMO operation?
  • Are the methods you have established well adopted and adhered to, and have recommended improvements been acted upon?
  • Has the level of project maturity risen?
  • Are project managers reporting the same issues as before?
  • Has there been a change in the PMO sponsorship role(s); personnel or approach?
  • Has project ‘health’ improved or stagnated?
  • Is the PMO approach the right one?
  • Is the PMO model the right one?

You may need to survey the PMO stakeholders to understand in more detail what it is that needs extra effort and focus. Alternatively, it may be that you just need to get together with your PMO team and revisit the PMO purpose.

Whatever the situation you must ensure that the PMO is in step with the current business needs.

Lesson Six: Connect to Strategy

For a PMO to successful in the long term it needs to be connected to the strategic activity of the organisation that it supports.

In the 2012 KPMG report Business Unusual: Managing Projects as Usual the importance of strategic connection for a project was explored:

Strategic Alignment: The success of a project ultimately depends on whether the initiative aligns with the strategic and financial goals of the organisation. It is, therefore, as important to do the right projects, as doing the projects right. 94 per cent of our respondents indicated that they have some sort of strategic IT roadmap that acts as a major input to their selection of projects. This possibly explains why organisations scored the maximum for this dimension; still a significant gap is seen between identifying the right projects, setting clear expectations and tracking benefits of the project.

Pete Swan, Director PM-Partners group, declares:

A PMO is really adding value when it can adapt to the needs of the business and is viewed as a strategic asset during executive decision making.

A PMO can operate at three levels of ‘Strategic’ maturity within an organisation, the first being the custodian of strategic intentions through the ownership of the projects themselves, each of which should in some way relate directly or indirectly to a strategic intention of the organisation.

This can be considered as ‘Strategy Management’ whereby the PMO acts as the governing and advisory body to the executive by:

  • Validating that all projects that are initiated fit one or more strategic initiative;
  • Tracking the current and valid alignment between projects and strategies;
  • Making recommendations for ‘stalls’ and ‘kills’ for projects that no longer align with current business strategic thinking.

The second is ‘Strategy Delivery’ where the PMO translates the key strategic objectives into new projects to add to the existing portfolio (and perhaps to remove some from the portfolio if such objectives have changed). This ‘Strategy Delivery’ is supported by the ‘Strategy Management’ capability.

It may be that the PMO also takes some direct ownership for the execution of large and complex programmes (or projects) that are specifically critical to a key strategic initiative, such a relocation activity for example.

The final is ‘Strategy Creation’, this refers to having a role in helping organisations decide on which strategic options to pursue (and then to translate them in to projects – Strategy Delivery- and to manage their success – Strategy Management).

This is a rare situation that a PMO has reached this position of trust and influence inside an organisation but it is the potential future for the enterprise PMO that is successfully delivered and embedded with the right sponsorship within such an organisation.

In fact as observed in the PM-Partners: PMO Trends 2012 report most PMOs don’t even really ‘get off the ground’ when it comes to any of the three levels of strategic interaction or involvement:

The PMO trend is unmistakable, with over 90% of organisations surveyed having an active PMO. Over 96% have standard project management practices or methodologies, whilst only 47% have project portfolio management practices and methodologies. This is further reinforced by the fact that only 34% of PMOs are providing supply and demand planning, highlighting that there is significantly more focus on doing projects right than doing the right projects against a tough economic climate where the right investment decisions become more important than ever.

Lesson Seven: Size Matters

It was interesting attending a PMO symposium and lecturing at a local university that the same question was raised in the space of a week – and that question was ‘Is there a minimum size for a PMO?’

Thinking across the range of small-to-medium-sized companies then the answer has to be a resounding ‘yes’, partly because if you ‘do’ projects then a PMO is generally a good idea (what we mean by a PMO can mean many things to many organisations of course and we have to take that in to account). But also because if you only ‘do’ a few projects then when one comes along that demands significant investment from an organisation then the cost of failure is greater accordingly. A much larger organisation with a large project portfolio and equally large project community will be able to absorb and manage such a demanding project far more easily (and with reduced impact of failure).

So how small are we talking?

How about ‘one’?

Can the sole project manager also be the whole PMO? Well, not really in truth – a sole project manager can’t act like PMOs of many people since they can’t act objectively with regards to their own project performance, they can’t spend time investing in self-development and in method improvements and so on.

So not ‘one’ then.

Can a PMO be implemented in a small company that has limited resources, a small team of project managers only – perhaps two or three?

Well, perhaps not a ‘PMO’ as such but certainly a virtual equivalent with shared responsibility of some of the basic PMO functions that could be allocated to the remaining project resources – perhaps one person could focus on the training of project managers, another on method enhancements, and another on community aspects, etc. In this way a lot of PMO duties could be delivered to a reasonably high level.

Yes, I think a PMO can be applicable to all scales of project business but it might not be a permanent, dedicated unit of course, but more of a ‘part time PMO’.

The biggest risk to such a PMO is the ability to offer the objective insight and support to all project managers, and the business. The smaller the team then the harder it may be to do this in a constructive, non-emotional, positive way – not everyone has the skill to do this and with a close team of peers it isn’t always easy to do (or easy to receive at times).

Lesson Eight: You Do Not Have Infinite Capacity

The PMO is, if not here to stay, at least here for the foreseeable future, and more and more executives are supporting PMOs within their organisations.

The PM Solutions State of the PMO 2012 reported that:

Most companies have a PMO (87%). Of the few that don’t, 40% are looking to implement one within a year’ which is great news for all of us champions of the PMO.

The ESI Global State of the PMO 2012 report stated:

The Project or Programme Management Office (PMO) has moved up the ranks in most organisations as more than just a warehouse of methodology, tools, and process. In an effort to impact business performance through training, methodology and project guidance, many PMOs seek to support project, programme and portfolio management in a more focused, strategic manner. Regardless of its particular position in a given organisation, the PMO is prevalent in virtually every industry and many governmental organisations.

So this is all good news. The PM Solutions report also stated ‘The greater the capability of the PMO, the greater the value the PMO contributes to the firm’, which can also be considered good news.

Good news with a ‘but’. There is a strong argument for a ‘green’ PMO to try and get as involved as possible inside the organisation but there are dangers in taking on too much. The PMO is well respected these days for the most part but there is also the risk that it is seen as a solution for everything that is not ‘operational’ and that it can deal with anything even loosely associated to project work.

For example, there are other pressure points inside the same organisations that now advocate PMOs such as the weakness that many experience in the area of executive sponsorship. The PMO can have a role here to act as a temporary sponsor, as well as a role of developing sponsorship capability internally. But that is extra work.

As another example many projects and programmes suffer from a lack of focus and resource in the area of Organisational Change Management. One large PMO ran a number of Health Checks in the most significant projects and a common issue found was in the area of OCM, with recognition of the importance and value of good OCM but with an equal lack of investment in this key area. The question then was is this a potential role for the PMO, associated as it is with projects and project success, or was this just a distraction too far?

In some businesses there is a renewed focus on good ‘technical’ capability to support project-based activity and the bringing together of these technical consultants in to one community. Some even refer to this community as a Technical Project Office (TMO), so should this TMO be linked with the PMO or should it come under the management of the PMO and be another skillset resource? Should the PMO remain ‘pure’ project management or spread itself across a wider community?

These are big and potentially distracting challenges within organisations, ones that a good PMO leader will be aware of and will have a voice to contribute to, but who will also have a mind to concentrate on the key PMO work that still needs to be done.

When your PMO is well established then consider these other matters but for now be wary of making your PMO a bottomless resource for anything and everything that the business pushes in your direction.

Lesson Nine: Make Things Better

Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo, tasked with rescuing this once mighty company, has done many things in her first few months in charge including the creation of ‘PB&J’.

A play on the ‘peanut butter and jelly’, much loved in the US, she’s cut away ribbons of red tape and instituted an internal online service called ‘PB&J’ which actually stands for ‘Process, Bureaucracy, and Jams’. This service allows employees to complain about organisational blockages and excessive overheads that slow action and decision-making.

It is critical that a successful PMO should be a ‘balanced’ PMO and this includes getting the balance right between people and process. Both are critical to project success and both come under the remit of the PMO.

But it is the responsibility of the PMO to ‘make life better’ for the people -the project managers, so that they can effectively and efficiently do their jobs – and for the business, so that the projects are seen to be under control and delivering benefits.

As you will have seen one of the critical tasks in setting up, or improving, a PMO is to review the method or framework that the organisation uses to guide their project managers. And in many cases it is often a need to add in quality reviews and some control points or stages to improve this control. But it is always a concern that anything added should add proportional value – quality assurance should deliver quality (and not be a burdensome universally hated overhead that delivers no real benefit to anyone).

One way to do this is to think carefully when you design such a process. The other is to make sure that you have a ‘PB&J’ in place for the PMO team to let you know when you have got it wrong.

Extracted from Delivering Successful PMOs, Peter Taylor and Ray Mead, 2015, Gower Publishing, Farnham. Visit for the complete text of this book, the companion volume Leading Successful PMOs and to leave your advice on or questions about PMOs and their management.

Rage Against the Machine

March 31, 2014

‘Welcome my son, welcome to the machine. Where have you been? It’s alright we know where you’ve been’ Pink Floyd, Welcome to the Machine – Wish you were Here

The Machine

Some months ago I was considering a full time role once again, my concern was ‘how long could I act as an independent consultant and trainer without actually practising project management?’, which is still an interesting dilemma for me today – any thoughts or great opportunities feel free to let me know.

Anyway I was pretty selective in what I considered but one opportunity did seem to be interesting, it was for a Global Head of PMO (this is the sort of role that I would consider in case you wondered). Eventually, after meetings with the agency and a phone interview I went for a face to face interview with the organisation in question.

It didn’t go well.

In fact it went quite badly from my point of view.

After the interview I phoned the agency and said I wasn’t interested and the main reasons were that this organisation appeared to have absolutely no passion for the projects that they were undertaking (perhaps something I could have helped with) but more importantly they were entirely process focused, and not in a good way, this rang alarm bells for me immediately. Being part of that set-up would have killed my creativity and I couldn’t see a happy ending.

Was I right about them? Well I think the answer came some many weeks later after the organisation had finally selected a new Head of PMO (and good luck to them of course, maybe they can check out my website for some PMO success style inspiration).

Their HR representative phoned me to give me the reasons that they didn’t select me for the job!

I said that I withdrew weeks ago and they said yes that was noted and thank you for the valuable feedback but that they had to follow the process of giving feedback to all candidates….

Was I right about them or what!

‘So welcome to the machine. Welcome my son, welcome to the machine. What did you dream? It’s alright we told you what to dream’

And this story is true – honestly it is.

I was recently shopping in a large chain sports store with my family. Now the main purpose of the trip was to buy some new trainers for one of my sons, and after some considerable time he finally selected an acceptable (design and brand) from his point of view pair and an acceptable (cost and cost) pair from my point of view.

He spent so long deciding that I took the chance to look for a pair of trainers for myself and chose my pair on the criteria of design and brand (and of course cost).

When I went up to pay for the goods I experienced a service engagement that was pretty unique and most certainly unforgettable. Of course the sales girl had been trained in the basics of the job and presumably had been encouraged to make the transaction an enjoyable and personal one – there was, no doubt, a pre-designed workflow in place, a process that needed to be undertaken.

So handing over the two boxes of trainers she dutifully checked the shoes – perhaps that they were a correct pair but certainly that I had the correct size.

‘Size 7’ she declared and I nodded (these were my sons trainers).

Moving on to the next box she went through the same process and declared ‘Size 9’ to which I nodded a ‘yes’, these were my trainers.

Then came the stunning moment when she looked up at me and said ‘Well you really are treating yourself aren’t you …’

Of course yes, I bought a size 7 for the daytime and a size 9 for when my feet got larger towards the end of the day!

Well I understood what she was trying to do and I appreciated the attempt at some form of real human interaction during this pre-determined process but there has to be logic in what is said and in this case there wasn’t any and so the whole thing fell apart.

‘So welcome to the machine’

A process is a systematic series of actions directed to some end, and there is nothing wrong with that at all, don’t think that I am anti-process, I’m certainly not.

But (yes there is a ‘but’) any process has to be relevant, appropriate and reasonable.

I was asked to consult for one organisation about a year ago and their issue was that ‘nobody is following our project delivery methodology’ according to the head of the PMO that I was to work with.

This organisation had invested a fair amount of time and effort in creating a single unifying and consistent methodology based on practical experience and lessons learned, they gathered suggestions for content and structure from all of their project managers across the world, and constructed what they felt was the ‘best of the best’.

It certainly looked good, was easy to navigate and had many tools and templates available to project managers.

They had developed a training program to ensure that everyone knew all about the new methodology and could access it for all future projects.

They used their marketing department to develop a complimentary series of promotional materials (hats, mouse mats, posters etc) for internal use as well as a set of flyers and other marketing collateral for customer use.

They commenced a help/support desk to gather feedback and recommendations for improvements.

They got their senior management to promote the new business tool through videos and presentations.

They even had a competition where one person could win an iPad by suggesting a great name for the methodology.

They seemed to have thought of everything…

And yet here I was a year after the launch of this all singing all dancing process trying to help them work out why ‘nobody is following our project delivery methodology’.

In fact the answer was relatively easy to uncover and exposed perhaps the single flaw in their approach to this initiative.

Customers didn’t like it as it seemed just too complicated. Now this didn’t mean that it didn’t need to be so but the delivery challenge that this method seemed to portray was in stark contrast to the apparent simplicity of the products that the customers were being offered by this organisation.

Experienced project managers didn’t like it because it mandated each and every step that they had to take and a) they didn’t believe projects were like that and b) it undermined them and devalued their professional experience.

Inexperienced project managers didn’t like it because it was over-whelming to them and as they progressed its use step by step, phase by phase, it seemed as if the project itself was on a completely different path and timescale and events overtook the theory.

In my book ‘Leading Successful PMOs’ (Gower) and the follow up companion book ‘Delivering Successful PMOs’ (Gower Jan 2015) I explored this issue and concluded that, from a PMO perspective:

  • The best PMOs are the managers of a flexible framework method to assist project managers in the delivery of projects
  • The best PMOs ensured that this framework, and the associated tools and templates, were suitable for each project as not all projects are the same

And there is the key. Not all projects are the same and not all project managers are the same.

What is really needed is a scalable and flexible and appropriate means to deliver projects that can be aligned to the experience of the project manager and is relevant to the project complexity.

For the company I was advising they initiated two things with regards to their methodology:

  • Creating a small scale, low complexity ‘project light’ version of the method with simplified templates and reduced scope
  • Promoting the full scale method (in fact it now referred to as a ‘framework’) as a reference tool for project managers to use as they see fit, with only 3 key ‘point in time’ and mandated quality milestones

They also developed a new process, which is a good thing I feel.

This profiles the projects at the initiation stage in order to understand the perceived complexity (and therefore risk to the organisation) and therefore the most appropriate project manager to use, from an experience point of view.

Time will tell on the success of this revised approach but the initial feedback is very positive.

So you can see that process can be bad, and process can be good. Just remember that any process has to be relevant, appropriate and reasonable.

And so the next time you are working on a process ‘improvement’ why not tune in to Pink Floyd[1] and consider the ‘machine’ and its impact on people.



[1] And ‘yes’ I was listening to them whilst writing this piece. Shine on you Crazy Diamonds!