PMO productivity tools for important information

tips for PMO productivityTime is a scarce commodity for project managers, PMO managers well just about most people. It can be very time consuming (and extremely frustrating) searching for information or files that you know you have got but just can’t remember where. This post covers 2 applications that can help with PMO productivity.

Add to this the pain when you are at work, traveling or on business when there is a sudden need for a template or presentation that you need but it is stored on your computer at home or in the office. You have to wait until you get back to that PC before you can access what you need – yet more wasted time.

This is where the advances in technology are truly helpful meaning that you can access the Internet almost anywhere – PC with wifi or 4G dongle, iPad, Kindle, smart phone. Even better there are some smart people out there who have developed some great web or app based software to help solve these problems.

This post shares details of a couple of solutions really can save time and, best of all, have free versions.


dropboxIf you work between multiple devices (PC, iPhone, iPad, etc), you will know it is a pain having to make sure you have the most up to date file, document, picture, etc on the device you are using.
Installing Dropbox on all devices will enable any file in the Dropbox folder to sync between all devices. This is a great time saver.

Even better, it is smart enough to work out the latest version. You can work on a document at home. Then, when you access the same file on your laptop, it will automatically work out and sync the latest version. A big help with version control.

You can also use Dropbox to share documents with colleagues. Great if you are working on a shared project that needs collaborative work.

A great tip is to use Dropbox to store project templates and resources. This means that if ever you need a particular template, it does not matter where you are in the world, as long as you have an internet connection, you can access the resources saving on lost time.

The application is free with 2gb of storage. Visit the Dropbox website for more details. Note: if you store a lot of files, be mindful of data charges if syncing using mobile data.


evernoteDo you write lots of notes on pieces of paper and then lose them. Evernote can be installed on computers and mobile devices and allows you quickly to make notes, capture pictures, articles, etc that are then stored and synced.

Evernote is very useful for keeping a record of the logins and passwords to different websites that you use. Again another great free resource. Visit the Evernote website for more details.
What saves you time?

If you have any great online or app based solutions that save you time, especially with project management and PMO activities, please send through the details so that they can be shared with the PM Majik community.

How a PMO can help get Red projects back to Green

project surgery to get projects back to greenOne of the main duties of a PMO is to provide transparency of the status (“health”) of each of the projects for which they have oversight. This is usually achieved by implementing a regular reporting process with a standard scale for reporting RAG. This provides a mechanism to capture projects where the status is deteriorating and raise this to the attention of senior management.
So far so good. However, after spending the time and effort to provide the transparency, it is important that action is taken to return get the projects back on track.

Instead of approaching this on an ad-hoc basis for each project, more mature organizations will have a defined approach to restore the “health” of “sick” projects. These processes are typically giving names such as “Go for Green”, “Path for Green” and many similar permutations! This post will share the approach called The Project Surgery.

Project Surgery Overview

The principle was very simple, where a project had moved to a Red or deep Amber status, this was a trigger that the project needed help to restore the health back to Green – hence the name project surgery.


A meeting would be arranged by the PMO and would include all of the relevant parties who could explain the issue and agree a plan of action. Note: the attendees were limited to only those people who absolutely needed to be there. The reason being to avoid a ‘cast of thousands’ that would probably result in no clear plan being agreed. The meeting had a set agenda and minutes (in the form of a clear action plan) and scheduled for 60 minutes.


The scope of the session was very tight.

  • Clear understanding of issue(s)
  • Agree action plan (with focus on the next 7 days)

Important: The meeting did not include the discussion of blame and / or budget refunds. Emotive items like these were discussed in a separate session once a plan had been agreed. The focus on the session was purely to understand and address the issue(s).


It was usually the project managers responsibility to ensure that the issue was clearly documented and then to explain the issue to the forum. Tip: the PMO added value by reviewing the document before the meeting and working with the project manager to ensure it was clear and concise.

Action Plan

The forum then agreed the overall action plan including a clear set of actions to be agreed over the next 7 days. The actions were clearly assigned and a follow up meeting scheduled for 7 days to monitor progress. Tip: the PMO added value by ensuring the actions were clearly captured, assigned an short document published to all attendees very soon after the meeting.


The approach of the “Project Surgery” worked very well as it allowed the right people to focus on clearly understood issues and agree an action plan without the emotion of blame. Repeating the surgery every 7 days until the health of the project is restored ensured the project manager and other stakeholders kept the correct level of focus. The PMO played a pivotal role in driving the process.

This approach, practiced correctly, will lead to a reduction in projects being Red and those that did report Red were quickly returned to Amber or Green.
The concept is very straight forward and would be easy to implement in most organisations:

  • Name the process i.e. Go for Green
  • Define process
  • Define tools for meeting (meeting agenda, issue template, action plan template)
  • Communicate approach

Hope that you can put the concept to good use.

How the PMO can leverage a post project review

lessons learned signThe last post covered the role of the PMO in the post project review. This post will expand on this and cover how the PMO can help leverage the value achieved from the post project review.

1. Consistency

By defining a standard approach (and templates) to the post project review, it will ensure that every review captures the key points from the project in a standard and consistent manner. This important as this ensures that the appropriate dimensions are explored and, the data collected in the same format. This enables consistent trend analysis.

2. Trend Analysis

The PMO will be involved and collecting / consolidating the reviews from all of the projects for which they have oversight responsibilities. This means that through the consolidation process, common themes can be identified.

For example, on analysis a number of projects may be found to have completed late and over budget. On closer examination of the reasons, it is discovered that they all used the same vendor and that in all cases the vendor had delivered late. If there is no other reason than poor management by the vendor, this would allow the PMO to co-ordinate senior management to hold meetings with the vendor to address the issues as a whole as there is probably fundamental changes the vendor needs to make to their operating model. Alternatively, the vendor can be removed from the preferred supplier list so that they are not used for future products.

However, you must not jump to conclusions. On closer examination you may find that the issue is in the way the projects have provided requirements to the vendor i.e. incomplete, unclear, late, etc. Then the PMO would be able to focus on ensuring that project teams are trained in requirements definition, importance of meeting dates, holding joint review sessions with the vendor, etc.
These examples indicate the enormous benefit on being able to analyze the data to identify trends and then make interventions to improve outcomes.

3. Knowledge Repository

Every project should deliver some form of beneficial or required (mandatory) change to an organization. However, each project also results in the acquisition of knowledge. In many cases this knowledge is lost at the end of each project as the project team is disbanded and each individual goes on to do other assignments. The cost to acquire this knowledge is usually expensive. Therefore, it should be used.

The PMO can leverage this information by ensuring that all project documentation (including the post project review) is stored in a central knowledge repository. This can aid value in so many ways:

  • Help similar projects to fast track planning by copying and adapting the approach of similar successful projects
  • Improve estimates as real examples can be used – resulting in improved budgets
  • Identify key resources to work on the project
  • Being aware of potential issues and risks from registers so they can be avoided
  • Reusing documentation by editing as opposed to starting from nothing

While building a knowledge repository costs money and takes time, it can deliver so much value to an organization.

4. Check List

The PMO can use the trends from project reviews to perform assurance on all live projects.
Taking the example above of the vendor issue. If there are current projects who are using or, intend to use, the vendor, action can be taken early to try to avoid similar problems.

In Summary

The post project review and associated output is very powerful information for an organization. A pro-active PMO can take this information and provide so much value to an organization both in time saved in completing a project and avoiding costly overruns. It also should mean that the same type of mistakes are not made (too many times).

Role of the PMO in the Post Project Review

PMO conducting post project reviewWhen a project has been completed, it is important to conduct a post project review. The reason is that is an opportunity to evaluate what was done well, what was not done well, the effect on results / outcomes and recommendations for improvement.

Areas Covered in a Post Project Review

A typical review will contain the following:

Project Summary / Objectives

A brief but succinct summary of what the project aimed to achieve and the desired outcomes. This is important so as to give a point of reference for the recommendations, especially anyone who uses the review as an input to estimating and setting up a similar project in the future.

Project Resources

This should include the roles and responsibilities of the sponsor and project team. Again this is useful for understanding recommendations and for quickly defining resourcing requirements for similar projects.


Description and outcomes of all of the key deliveries for the project. This will allow analysis as part of the review of why some deliverables went well (so the approach can be copied) and why some did not go well (so mistakes can be learnt from and not repeated).


Full details of the project costs and how well the project performed against budget. Any overruns should be explained so the cause is understood.


Full details of the benefits and if they were achieved. Explanations where they were not.

Schedule / Plan

Full details of performance against plan, highlighting where the planning was weak (and why) and where key milestones were not achieved due to scope creep, etc.

Application of Methodology

Review should assess how well the project followed defined methodology. Weaknesses in the application, where the methodology can be improved, etc.

Findings & Recommendations

The most important section. Based on the review, there will be a number of findings and recommendations of varying importance. These must be clearly captured and agreed by all parties. Then <VERY IMPORTANT> the findings must be distilled so that key themes can be communicated to existing and new projects so the mistakes can be avoided. If you do not do this step, there is no value in spending the time completing the review!

The Challenge

Unfortunately, these reviews are not undertaken until the project has been completed. Therefore, it is not unusual for the sponsor to have shifted focus to other pressing matters and project team to have been disbanded and allocated to other projects or, in the case of contractors and consultants, exited from the organization.

So if the sponsor and resources have moved on and are focusing on new activity, it can be extremely difficult to conduct and complete the review.

Role of the PMO in the post project review

This is an area the PMO should take a very active role:

  • Defining the review process
  • Defining the review process – ensuring consistency across reviews
  • Scheduling the reviews
  • Making sure the reviews take place
  • Agreeing key themes and messages to be communicated
  • Keeping a record of all reviews


The post project review is a very powerful and insightful tool for an organization. The PMO can play a very important role in managing the process and delivering value by improving the maturity of project delivery by reducing repetition of similar problems.

The next post will spend more time exploring how the post project review process can be leveraged.

Running a Project Management Office

Running weekly PMO meetingIf you have not worked in a PMO, it can be daunting if you are asked to take on a role running a PMO. So this post will share some thoughts on what activities you can expect to undertake when managing a project management office.

Typical Weekly PMO Activities

Status updates

As the PMO manager you are expected to know what is going on within each of the projects / work streams and provide formal or informal updates to management. Therefore, a very important activity is creating a weekly status report for the projects under your oversight.

Caution: many projects report formally on a monthly basis so make sure you implement a light touch status report for the weekly updates. This avoids valuable time being taken away from delivery.

Informal Meetings

You should not wait for the weekly status reports to find out what is going on. Spend time speaking to the project managers and team members every day as you walk around the office. This way you can pick up on issues early and work with the project teams to address.

Stakeholder / Sponsor Updates

Stakeholders and sponsors can get very nervous when they are not receiving updates or messages are coming in through 3rd parties. The PMO manager should actively engage with the stakeholders to keep them up to date on important updates. This will result in them seeing that you are in control and have visibility of all of the projects. It will also stop them making numerous requests for updates resulting in time consuming fire drills.

Weekly Team Meeting

It is good practice to set up a regular weekly meeting with the project managers and PMO team members. This allows for important information to be shared and risks / issues to be discussed and managed. See post on PMO Meeting Agenda for more information.

Monthly PMO Activities

Steering Committees

The PMO will typically be looked at to organize and manage a monthly management meeting to allow senior management to review progress and make key decisions. This will involve agreeing agenda, coordinating the production of meeting material and logistics for room bookings, VC, lunch, etc. This can take a lot of time as the material needs to be very good and, attention is needed to ensure that all the logistics comes together.

Financial Review

This will probably be done as part of the steering committee. However, there will be an obligation to review all of the budgets and cost centres to ensure that there are no serious under / over spends. This includes reviewing the costs for the PMO.

Resource Review

If the PMO is managing demand and supply, you will need to assess the new projects, existing projects and balance against available resource / budget. This will allow you to provide recommendations to senior management on what projects can be supported.


As you realize, there are many other activities and in this article it has only been possible to touch on some of the core activities. However, it does give a flavor of what is expected.
When running a PMO, it is important to establish the weekly and monthly routines and, where possible, secure enough resource so they can be completed properly.

It is inevitable that you will also be hit with numerous ad-hoc requests. This is part of managing a PMO. However, if you have been able to get the routines in place and made the effort to ensure the quality of data submissions, you will be in a good starting position to respond to many of the requests.

PMO meeting agenda

A good PMO meeting agenda will help fill the empty seat at the regular PMO meeting!

PMO meeting agenda on tableIf you are managing a PMO with a number of work streams, it is highly likely that you will be holding a regular meeting with the project managers and members of the PMO (tip: if you are not, you probably should be)!

The reason for these type of meetings is usually based on a desire to be able to share information and address challenges behind ‘closed doors’ before they become visible to the sponsor or people outside of the project or PMO. Unfortunately, in many cases the meeting fails to meet these goal and can end up providing relatively little value or, even worse, the project managers thinking it is a waste of their valuable time.

It is worth taking a moment why this can happen. Usually the PMO sees the meeting as a platform to let the project managers know what they require of them and the status of projects. What this means is that the PMO will talk AT the project managers for 20 minutes and then spend the next 20 – 30 minutes getting each project manager to provide a status update. Then there is a rush to cover risks and issues before any other business (AOB).

Take a moment to think how this feels to the project manager. 20 minutes being told what they need to do by the PMO, 20 minutes playing with the Blackberry waiting to give their status update (reality most project managers don’t care about the other updates), 5 minutes providing an update and then hoping the next 15 minutes goes quickly so that they can get back to work. You will probably agree, not much fun (or value) to the project manager. This may then result in the project managers starting to dial into the meeting or not attending.

PMO Meeting Agenda

The key to ensuring engagement and providing value is to have a good structure to the meeting. Like with any meeting this is achieved through a meeting agenda.
The meeting agenda will need to cover a number of the hygiene factors for the meeting such as:

  • Actions (and minutes if appropriate)
  • Issues / risks
  • Status update
  • General update

However, it is important that the meeting acts as a key communication for the project managers and PMO to raise and discus points that need to be shared, resolved across the group. A very good way to achieve this is as you prepare the agenda is to ask the project managers what items they would like covered on the agenda. Give them 24 – 48 hours to respond then consolidate the responses into themes and publish the agenda.

  • Actions
  • Important communications
  • <topic 1>
  • <topic 2>
  • <topic 3>
  • <etc>
  • Status updates (exceptions)
  • Risks / issues
  • AOB

This approach will result in better engagement and for challenges to be discussed and solved as a team while still covering the mandatory items. Over time you may find some topics become standing agenda items, this is OK. The aim of the meeting is to keep the communication channels open.

Like with most things in the PMO there is no right or wrong answer. Experiment with the agenda to find what works best for you.  The framework can also be used for project meetings.

PMO tips – motivating your PMO team

Working in a PMO can be a very challenging role. On one side you have the stakeholders making demands for information and explanations, on the other you have the project teams responsible for providing the data inputs. The stakeholders usually expect their requests to be serviced immediately. The project teams can be very difficult, not providing the information and making it difficult for the PMO to engage with them.

For example, a stakeholder demands an explanation why a milestone has been missed. The PMO tries to engage with the project team but they consistently refuse to provide an explanation. The PMO will find them self in the unpleasant position of being seen as ‘not delivering’ by one and ‘being a pain and getting in the way’ by the other.

It is no wonder that as the weeks and months go by that the morale of team members can become very low. Nobody wants to spend all their time in this position!

PMO Team Morale

Motivating your PMO

“High morale = high performing team”

Like with any team, morale is very important. When morale is low, it is difficult to meet deadlines, quality drops and staff absence increases. It also can result in many people not wanting to continue and to look for another role. This is very dangerous for the PMO as it means valuable resources could leave, deliverables are missed and people not enjoying their work.



Fortunately there are a number of actions the PMO manager can take:

1. Support

Take time to get to know your PMO team members. Take an interest in them as individuals not just what they can deliver for the PMO. Let them know that they have your support and to come to you if they have questions or concerns. Getting to know the personalities of your team will mean you are more likely when they start behaving differently i.e. somebody who is normally outgoing soundly becomes withdrawn.

2. Regular Catch-up

Linked to Support, make sure that you spend time with your team, both in team meetings and on an individual basis. There are many times that a team member will not raise a concern in an open forum but will open up on a 1:1 basis. It is best to do this in a informal way such as over a coffee.

3. Team Events

Invest time and money in holding team events. Does not have to be extravagant, a night down the pub or a pizza / beers. This will allow the team to let off steam and to unload all the stresses. It is also good for creating bonds between the team members. It is a good idea for some of these events to take place when the PMO manager does not attend as the team will probably want to have a ‘moan’ about you from time to time.

4. Praise

Very powerful and so often overlooked. When team members do a good job let them know. Likewise when your boss or stakeholders compliment a certain deliverable, make sure that the stakeholders knows who is responsible and then let the PMO member know. There is nothing more encouraging than to get an e-mail telling you have done a good job or to be told in front of your peers.


Making time for your team to ensure they are OK, to know they are valued and that they have your full support will result in a happy, high performing team. It will also mean that they will be prepared to make the extra effort to achieve important deliverables.

A team will stand together through good times and bad making the journey far more enjoyable.

PMO Tip – make sure your numbers add up in your project management reports

Back up for checking your spreadsheetsThis may sound like a strange statement, “make sure your numbers add up in your management report”. However, the fastest way that a PMO can lose credibility, is by publishing reports with mathematical errors.

This is very frustrating as a small slip, taking your eye of the ball due to being busy and, a reputation built over many years can be lost, especially if your stakeholder is very unforgiving.
In Warren Buffet’s own words “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently”.

This is very sound advice, in the PMO there will be times when you will be up against extreme time pressures with senior management pushing for information. In these environments in can be very easy to cut corners and not perform the appropriate level of review to ensure the quality of the report.

However, given the consequence of publishing a sub standard report with errors, it is far better to delay the publication until you are confident of the level of quality. The worst that can happen is you get shouted at for delivering slightly late – far better than losing the confidence of management and your reputation.

Trusting Spreadsheets?

This is the quick tip I want to share in this post. It is all to easy to simply trust the calculations in spreadsheets. There is no reason you shouldn’t, performing calculations is what spreadsheets and the underlying computer were designed for.

But……the popular spreadsheet programmes have become too clever and try to help you with your data. This means you can get some strange results.
A big one to look out for is ’rounding’. It is very common to format numbers to go to 1 decimal place, especially when using large numbers representing millions. However, when you are summing the numbers across the row, there is a high chance that if you added the numbers printed on a page using a calculator, it will not equal the total.

Now you probably think, that is OK as it is only rounding. This is true. However, some people are very good with numbers and quickly will spot they don’t quite add up and then there trust level will start to drop and they will look for more.

You also will have those who are not supportive of the programme or playing political games who are looking for opportunities to undermine and derail your work (sad but true). They will drop in a comment during a senior meeting (making it out to be a joke) that the numbers don’t add up!

What to do?

  • Don’t rely on the calculations in Excel.  Cross check the printed numbers using a calculator to ensure they add up.
  • Get someone else to conduct and independent check.
  • Make notes on any rounding differences and then take the time to make sure that they add up visually on the printed page. It will avoid any potential problems (the notes mean you can change them back later).
  • Don’t give into pressure to publish a report of numbers until you have performed the check and you are happy.

PMO Tips: Consistent project naming convention

What is a project naming convention?In the post, PMO Planning of Next Year’s Projects, it covered the importance of thinking about the mobilization of projects and programmes early so as to improve the probability of successful outcome. Part of the mobilization process is building a list of projects that an organization wishes to execute. To assist it is important that time is not spent on unnecessary activity. A common problem can impact many organizations and leads to people wasting unnecessary time and effort, is naming conventions!

What are project naming conventions?

Quite simply it is the action of making sure that the same name, description or acronym is used to describe a project, process, etc. As opposed to using or interchanging names, etc.

Why is this a problem?

There are many occasions where people will insist on using different project names to describe their project. When the description is similar, this is not so much of an issue. However, it is quite common to have situations where the name is so different that the person reviewing the project list will assume it is a completely different project. This can be very embarrassing as a sponsor is asking for an update on a project and, because you do not recognize the name, you make statements like “that is not an active project”. This can make you look like you do not know what is going on, causes the sponsor to have reduced confidence in you and can make you look silly.

It is also very confusing where a project is listed with one name on one report and a different name on another. This will result in people having to investigate and ask questions about projects that they do not recognize on the list. It may lead to duplicate records to be set-up and, double counting of budget (this could cause real problems as it may look like the overall portfolio is over budget and may mean funds are not available for other projects).

Ensure common naming of projects

To overcome this problem is very simple, make sure that it is clear to everyone must use the same naming convention for projects and, if appropriate, project ID (i.e. when using an enterprise solution like Clarity).

When all projects are submitted, the PMO should review and query any project name that they cannot identify. If it is incorrect make sure that the submission is changed and educate the person who provided the submission to use the correct name. Keep driving the quality and reinforcing the message as it will result in making everyone’s life a bit easier.

It is helpful for the PMO to create and publish a simple set of guidelines. This will help ensure a common understanding and provide a useful reference guide.


This is a very simple tip, one that many would say does not need to be written down. However, like most things in life, keeping it simple can give a huge amount of benefit.

Have you planned for the end of the year?

Project plan for end of yearAt the time of writing this post, on this coming Friday there are only 53 days to Christmas. However, more importantly it means that there is only 40 business days to Christmas. Pause and take a moment; that means that there is only 40 business days to complete important project activities for the remainder of the year. All good PMO’s and project managers should plan and be prepared, so now is a good point to think about the end of year PMO / project check list.

Important Considerations

You don’t have 40 business days left in respect of many project activities. For example end of year processes, annual account close, holidays, etc. These will need to be completed earlier. So planning what you need to finish is important.

Change Freeze

Most organizations usually impose an end of year change freeze. The reason is that many organizations have to close their accounts by 31st December. The change freeze is to protect the organization from changes that may cause issues in finalizing the accounts.

Action: Ensure you know the date for the change freeze and duration. Assess any deliverables that a due close to the date and review to understand the confidence the date will be met. I there is a risk it will not meet the date but must be implemented, make sure you know what (if any) contingency there is to raise a “freeze buster” (where you get dispensation to implement during the freeze). Have conversations with the stakeholders, change freeze coordinator so that they are aware you may have an exception and why it needs to be implemented. This is important as the first response will be “No”. This is a good challenge to ensure that you really need to implement as opposed to waiting for January.


Many change professionals and senior management like to take an extended holiday over the Christmas period. The reason is that much of the project activity tends to stop due to so many people being on holiday. It also tends to be a quiet time due to many of an organizations customers being on holiday. I actually think this is good as it allows the project teams to take an extended break, spend valuable time with family and friends and recharge the batteries. Meaning that teams return in January fresh.

What this means is that many of the people you need to complete actions, provide sign-off, etc will not be in the office. This could mean that items cannot be completed. Think about the risk that a system needs to be implemented before the change freeze but the accountable executive in on holiday until January. You will not be able to get the sign-off to implement. Will the sponsor be happy?

Action: Map out the holidays of key resources, stakeholders, etc. Ensure you know what sign-off’s you will need and ensure that the resource will be in the office (if not get them to delegate authority). Make sure that your team knows what needs to be completed before they leave on holiday. If cover is needed, over the break, make sure there is an agreed schedule (and / or resources have provided contact details and agreed to be on standby).


There can be certain forms that must be completed and submitted before the end of the year. Make sure that you have completed all your required admin tasks. While some may be trivial compared to the delivery of the project, some organizations can take a hard line on not completing the appropriate paperwork. Don’t let your hard work become tarnished – make the time to complete all your paperwork.

Action: Make sure you are clear what items need to be completed. Start work early to complete the documents, online submissions, etc. The last thing you want is to find that you cannot access an online admin system and / or have the forms you need on December 24th and everyone has left for the break.


Many organizations are now delivering mandatory training online (i.e. intranet based courses). Given the increased regulatory focus in many industries, an organization must ensure that their staff have been trained. In order to ensure compliance, organizations can be very strict on non-completion of training by set. So again, don’t let your hard work go to waste by not completing all the assigned training.

Action: Check your training schedule to see what courses have been allocated and what is outstanding. Again complete early so as to avoid running into technical issues when everyone has left for the holidays.


Like with everything in the project world, planning is key. Take time to consider the above now so as to avoid running out of time at the end of the year. That way you will be able to deliver all that is expected, go into your holiday happy knowing all critical items have been addressed. Then you will be ready for the challenges next year.