PMO mandate

A common, even number one reason that so many project management offices fail is because they are not given the right mandate.  A decision may be made to form a PMO or, even worse, it is more of a suggestion that a PMO is formed.  Unfortunately, as one of the duties of a PMO is to provide transparency and visibility of the status and progress of projects, many project managers are very resistant.

This is understandable as why would you want to have an independent function shining the spotlight on your work, especially when it is not going well.  Many project managers and stakeholders would be far happier keeping close control on what is reported and when so as to control the message flow.  This of course is the very reason there are so many surprises near the end of a project as the project has not been honest about progress and status.

Make sure the PMO has a Mandate

For the reason above, it is very important that the PMO is publically given the mandate at the start.  The mandate should:

  • Be issued by senior management (not the PMO)
  • Clearly state the objective (goals) of the PMO
  • Empower the PMO manager
  • State what is expected
  • Explain why it is important to the organisation

Clear Communication

Time should be spent crafting this communication as it is very important to the success of the PMO.   It must convey the importance of the PMO in achieving the objectives.  It must not convey any sense of bureaucracy, this will be used to damage the PMO.

It is also very important that the communication is sent to all relevant stakeholders within the organisation.  It is no good approaching a project manager to complete regular reporting, etc if they are unaware of the mandate because it has not been sent to them.

The PMO manager should spend time ensuring that the distribution list includes all relevant parties.  This can then be given to senior management.

Example PMO Mandate e-mail Communication

The senior management team have identified and approved 4 projects that are critical to the strategic objectives of the organisation.

  • Project 1
  • Project 2
  • Project 3
  • Project 4

To provide focus and support to allow these projects to be successful, a project management office will be formed to:

  • Provide support to the project managers
  • Provide oversight and challenge on progress and status through standard reporting
  • Provide a platform for the identification and resolution of risks and issues threatening delivery
  • Provide a governance structure for rapid decision making
  • Ensure senior management are able to make informed decisions

The PMO is very important to the organisation.  Therefore, <PMO Manager> has been appointed as the PMO Manager reporting to <Senior Manager Name> and will be responsible for:

  • Building the PMO function
  • Defining tools and processes
  • Providing consistent and frequent updates to <Senior Management Forum>

Please can I ask that you provide your full support to <PMO Manager> and the PMO so as to support the successful delivery of the strategic projects.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact <PMO Manager> or myself.

In Summary

A PMO must have the support of senior management and a visible, widely communicated mandate.  Take time to ensure that this mandate is clear and communicated to all of the appropriate stakeholders, especially the project managers and sponsors.

More PMO template design tips

The recent blog post about pmo template design included guidance on designing templates.  However, there are some additional tips that are worth considering so as to avoid mistakes that could impede the benefits of the templates.

Use of Macro’s and complex formulas

Our good friends at Microsoft have done a fantastic job of delivering a great suite of programmes in MS Office.  Word, Excel and Powerpoint really are the cornerstone of most of the documents produced for business including for projects, programmes and the PMO.


It is usually for project and PMO templates to be developed using Word or Excel, especially as Excel allows for multiple calculations and data manipulation.  All ideas that can save time.
However, this does come at a cost.  When a PMO has an Excel wizard (usually fresh out of college or university), they can do great things with Excel.  They design wonderful templates that import data from multiple spreadsheets, flip it into pivot tables, format colours and plot graphs all at the touch of a button.  The first reaction is that this is great and a desire to create even more automation.  However, this is great until it goes wrong (usually long after the Excel guru has moved to another department or moved to another company.

Then the people in the PMO spend hours on end looking at long complex formulas that they do not understand trying to work out why it is not working or producing the incorrect results.  The same is true when additional data needs to be added because a senior manager has asked for additional items to appear on the graph.

In both cases the best course of action is to start again.  Positive is that you get control over your destiny, negative it takes a long time to develop the new template.

User input error

Sometimes there is nothing wrong with the formulas.  Project templates are completed by people, usually the project manager.  People have a tendency to enter data incorrectly either because they don’t understand what format should be entered or a genuine error.  Both can cause a formula to fail.

Then there is the very common occurrence of the project manager inserting extra rows and columns as they have additional information they want to include.  Even though the instructions clearly state not to insert rows or columns they still do.  This again leads to errors.

 Action Plan

  1. Only use complex formulas and macros where absolutely necessary, preferably not at all
  2. Design simple templates that are easy to understand and use
  3. Review the templates with friendly project managers to identify gaps so rows and columns can be added before wider distribution
  4. Use field or workbook protection where appropriate

Some simple ideas that are easy to implement and will save you time and ensure that you keep all of your stakeholders happy.

If you are looking to save time implementing your own set of project or pmo templates, you can achieve this by investing in readymade professional templates.

5 tips on PMO template design

PMO templates are the core tools used by most project management office’s. A number of processes need to be implemented to capture, analyse and monitor data and the mechanism for the standard capture is usually templates.

This post will share 5 tips that will help when it comes to designing templates so as to ensure that they are useable and achieve the required outcome.

1. Ease of use

When you design a template, think about the end user who will need to enter data. Make sure that the layout is clear with instructions. If it is not clear, the template will be filled in incorrectly and / or the user will get fed up and give up (plus probably tell everyone how bad the template is and that the PMO do not know what they are doing and wasting time).

2. Big enough to see

Just because you can set the font to point 6 or less to allow you to fit more data onto the template, it does not mean you should. The design will look very crowded, there may be an overwhelm of data and very difficult to read. Many stakeholders will get upset if they can not read the letters or, think you are using a small font to hide bad messages.  Remember the saying “less is more”.

If there is only limited space, educate the project teams to write clearly and only use the words that are needed to convey the information.  Senior management will appreciate this as they will quickly be able to understand the information.

3. What does it look like printed?

Most people will print the templates, especially if they need to go into a presentation pack. Try to make sure that the template will fit onto A4 landscape. Run a test print to make sure the design is clear.

example project dashboard

Designing for A4 will save a lot of time when you are copying and pasting into a presentation. If you do find you have templates that stretch across the page, try to design them so that the key data needed for a presentation is grouped together on the left, then you can select this region and paste into the presentation.

4. Only add data fields that have a purpose

In post PMO Dashboards, an important point was that a dashboard should only contain fields that need to be there. The same applies to templates. Be hard on yourself and only add data fields that have a purpose. Avoid the nice to haves or the desire to collect data “just in case” someone asks for it!

5. Professional design

Perception is important as well as first impressions.  A well laid out template, using the same font, colour scheme, etc will promote confidence.  Make sure that you do think about the aesthetics of the design and that it enhances the data not draws the readers eyes to some ‘clunky’ graphic.

Conclusion

The investment of time in designing good templates can make such a difference to the users entering the data and the recipients who review the content.  Make time to ensure that what is being produced in your PMO passes the grade!

If you are looking for ideas or would like to save time, consider purchasing ready made templates.

PMO performance – make sure you are measuring success

pmo building valueA common argument from project managers and senior management is that a PMO does not add value and creates bureaucracy.  This than can make it very difficult for the PMO to make progress, which results in limited value that can lead to the PMO being closed.  Obvious choice if you are a senior management, why would you continue to invest money that can be used elsewhere?

What can the PMO do?

To mitigate this risk, the PMO needs to be able to demonstrate the value they are providing. Unfortunately, while easy to say (write), not always easy to do!

Step 1

Spend some time thinking about the objectives of the PMO (why it was set up).  This could be a number of reasons such as

  • reduce the number of projects that deliver late
  • reduce the number of projects that over spend
  • improve the level of benefit realisation
  • provide transparency of the change projects
  • improve the quality of reporting / standardise reporting
  • implement a common project methodology
  • etc

Step 2

For each of the major objectives, work out what measure could be used to prove that the objective has been met.

Taking the example reduce the number of projects that deliver late.  A measure could be to take the previous years projects and calculate how many finished late i.e. 40 out of 100.  This equates to 40% of the previous years projects finished late.  You may even want to take the average for the last 3 years to give a more accurate view of a typical year.

The next step would be to perform the same calculation for the current year.  If the percentage finishing late is less than 40%, you can demonstrate that you have achieved the objective.

This is only a simple example and is what is termed a trailing indicator – you only know if you have achieved the objective after the year has finished!  It would be far better to have a monthly process to track forecast project end dates as this will allow a prediction of the trend.  The PMO can then manage the monthly trend.

As this demonstrates it is important to achieve high quality, meaningful objectives and then spend time creating appropriate measures.

Step 3

Create a process to capture and track these metrics on a regular basis.  For example, as part of the monthly reporting process, ensure that the data is captured, stored and analysed.  The analysis is very important, if you don’t analyse the trends, you will not know if the performance against the objective is improving of deteriorating meaning you will not know if you need to take corrective action.

Step 4

Report progress on a regular basis.  This is obvious, all the hard work has been put in place to define the measure and measure progress, taking action where required.  This is also the crucial part to solving the problem of demonstrating the value the PMO is adding.

Invest the time in building some good dashboards that show the output of the regular analysis.  This includes clearly showing how objectives are being met.  By reporting this data on a regular basis to senior management you will:

  • build credibility that you are in control
  • demonstrate you are being honest and transparent
  • show on a regular basis you are delivering value – “doing what you said you would”
  • removing the risk of the “big reveal” – where benefit is only demonstrated at the end

Conclusion

In many cases stakeholders and senior management like a regular news flow to show incremental benefit.  They can see progress is being made as opposed of having to wait (and hope) that benefits will be delivered at the end of the project, especially when if they are not the money and time has been spent and there is no refund!

Getting the right measures in place and reporting against them is something every PMO should strive to achieve and, if you can deliver against them, be very good for the career.

PMO RAG status for reporting

As mentioned many times before on this blog, reporting is one of the most important activities performed by a PMO.  The PMO usually provides:

  • Status reporting of projects
  • Status reporting of programmes
  • Status reporting of portfolios

Within these, there is then reporting of:

  • Milestones
  • Scope
  • Schedule / timeline
  • Costs
  • Benefits

The Issue

Given this diverse reporting requirements, often across many projects, it is very important that there is a common standard for reporting status using RAG.  For those that have not encountered RAG, it is simply an acronym for Red, Amber, Green like traffic lights.

  • Green – usually everything is on target
  • Amber – minor issues impacting delivery
  • Red – major issues delaying impact

PMO RAG status

The reason a common approach is needed this that you may get one project who is very hard on reporting status and reports their project Red, then another project (in a similar state), where the project manager is more lenient and reports Amber or even Green!  Obviously this is not fair on the project manager who conscientiously is reporting the correct status of red and opening themselves up for management attention and the other, being more conservative with the truth, reporting Green getting no attention.

This is also very unhelpful to the organisation as, senior management will believe that all the projects reporting Green are on track when they are not.  This can only lead to a nasty shock near the end of the project when the project manager has no option other than to report that the project will miss dates, over spend, etc.

Common Reporting of RAG

The PMO should take the lead in defining a common standard for the reporting of status.  This means defining the tolerance levels, interpretation, etc for each of the statuses and communicating this to all project managers.  It is important that there is a common approach for all of the use of RAG.  Fr example, don’t use different interpretations at project, programme and portfolio levels.  This will result in multiple processes, more work and confusion.  The aim is to have one common framework that can be understood and applied.

Document the RAG Reporting Framework

While obvious – very important.  The PMO should take charge of defining and documenting the RAG framework.  This should be reviewed by friendly project managers to make sure that it is clear, can be understood and does not result in multiple interpretations.

PMO Review

The PMO should work with the project managers and review the reporting of status.  This allows an independent review of status, bench marked against the RAG framework and the other projects.  This will allow for a better chance of normalised reporting.  Be mindful this will take a couple of reporting cycles to truly bed down.  However, the effort is worth it as it will result in a reporting framework in which, senior management will have full confidence.

Conclusion

The use of RAG status is a very powerful way of reporting status.  However, an investment in defining an appropriate framework and working with the project managers to review results is required.  Get this right and you will have good oversight of the projects and will gain the trust of senior management.

Simple PMO dashboard

The post PMO Dashboard, used the analogy of how a car dashboard to help think about the design of a PMO dashboard.  The key principle being, make sure that you have the dials and gauges that provides the information required.  The post also went on to provide an example of a heat-map to demonstrate how key data could be presented on a single page.

This post shares an example of a simple PMO dashboard that allows the status and key aspects of projects to be shared.  The data contained in the example, forms a good foundation for the design of more detailed reports.

Example simple PMO dashboard

PMO Dashboard – Key Data Items

  • Project Name – listed down the left hand side of the page.
  • Current RAG – allows the audience to quickly see current status.
  • Previous RAG – RAG reported in last reporting period.  This allows the audience to see if health of project is improving or deteriorating.
  • Sponsor – useful in steering committees as it makes sure the sponsor knows and feels accountable.  It also allows them to be asked to explain status and, when Amber or Red, what is being done to get the project back to Green.
  • Project Manager – similar principle to the reasons for Sponsor.
  • Budget – overall agreed budget.  Some organisations like to show budget for current year as opposed to total for multi year projects.
  • Actuals – how much of the budget has been spent.
  • ETC – estimate to complete or sometimes termed forecast.  This is where the Project Manager must realistically predict how much more budget is required to complete the project.
  • Variance – simple calculation of Budget less Actuals less ETC.  Positive means under spending, negative is overspending.
  • Benefits – total benefits that will be delivered.  Again may be only for current year.
  • Executive Summary – 2 to 3 bullets that very clearly articulate the status of the project and any action being taken.
  • Scope – RAG to indicate if scope is on track.
  • Schedule – RAG showing if the project is running to plan.
  • Costs – indicates if project is keeping to budget.
  • Benefits – RAG to indicate if the project is on track to deliver stated benefits.

Hopefully you can see from this simple PMO dashboard, the information is not complicated, nor is the design.  Using this data as the foundation, you can then spend time creating a very attractive dashboard and augment with other relevant data.

For example, you may choose to display the sum of the cost and benefit data as pie charts / dials.  You may want to display a summary of how many projects have improved, deteriorated or stayed the same.  Once you have the data, there are so many options.  Just remember to make sure that the data is of value and deserves to be on the dashboard.

Summary

Hopefully this post has dispelled any myths or concerns that building PMO dashboards is hard and complicated.  Once you have the data, you can create some really simple but powerfully dashboards.

PMO tips – importance of presentation and accuracy

This post will share a very important tip that, as you can tell from the title, many may be thinking “I already know this”.  That statement is true.  However, it never ceases to be a surprise the number of poor presentations, many with data errors that still are given and used with senior management.

Why is this a problem?

quality first imageVery simply, if you are presenting an update to senior management and the presentation is not very good, this will make it more difficult for senior management to understand.  This will lead to more and more questions from senior management and, if they are not answered effectively, doubts will come into their mind and this will normally result in more work to present even more data.

The other big issue is data errors.  I have seen so many presentations where the data in table does not add up or contradicts a number on the previous page of a report.  Some senior managers pick these items up very quickly and will start to drill down on the numbers.  The error will automatically raise concerns on the whole presentation and may result in senior management worrying if you have control.  Not a good place to be in.

I remember a particular instance where a project team had been working most of the night to prepare a presentation for a board member who was going to use it to update the rest of the board.  They sat down to review the pack and there were 2 data errors on the first page.  I still remember the very firm statement “I have already found 2 errors on the first page.  I am leaving for the meeting in 20 minutes and I expect a revised copy with no mistakes”.  Not a good place to be in.

How to avoid this?

Presentation Tips

Think about presentation.  Don’t think just because the content is good that you do not need to worry about presentation.  Take care to think about the design and layout of the report or presentation.  This includes making sure the formatting is consistent i.e. same font, size, colours, position on page, etc.  All minor but makes the difference of making a report look professional.

Make sure that the headings link back to the contents or agenda and use the same names and numbers.

Think about the design of graphics, tables, etc and take care where copying and pasting from different applications.  You even need to watch when copying and pasting from different presentations in Powerpoint as sometimes it does not paste correctly.

Make sure that text, images are not cut off, off page, overlapping other page elements such as page numbers.

Always make sure to print your report and presentation before e-mailing or publishing to make sure there is no formatting issues.  The same applies if your are converting a report or presentation to a PDF.  Always review before sending.

Learn what works for the audience.  Some people like picture, others tables of numbers / text or hearing.  If you tune to your audience it will help them to understand i.e. having a page to show benefits with a graph and a table of the numbers underneath.

If you do not have the time or design is not one of your skills, consider buying project templates to improve presentation.

Accuracy Tips

  • Always print a copy of the report and review each page for errors.
  • Check every table of numbers and ensure that they add up.
  • Check that the same numbers are being used throughout the presentation so as to avoid differences.
  • When reporting projects, programmes, etc, always check the status against the original submissions.  Having the wrong status will upset both senior management and the project manager.
  • Where possible get someone else to check the report.  It is very easy to miss an error when you have been working on a document.

Summary

Taking care on the accuracy and presentation of your work can make a big difference.  It is worth the effort.

PMO behaviours

  • Does your PMO define process for project managers to follow?
  • Does your PMO issue templates to be completed?
  • Does your PMO issue timetables of what should be done by when?

Hopefully, in some shape or form you can answer yes and that is good.  Now for a really important question for making sure that they are adopted and embedded:

pmo team connected with right behaviourDoes your PMO follow the processes that have been defined?  Take a little time to think about this.  Do you really embrace and daily demonstrate the behaviours of what the PMO is trying to achieve and lead from example or, do you suffer from the classic ‘cobblers children’s shoes’?  Just in case you have not heard that one, what it means is that the cobbler is so busy mending all of his (or her) customers shoes that there is no time to mend the shoes of the children.

Putting this into context of your PMO, are you (and the team) too busy worrying about what is being done by all of the projects that you are neglecting what and how you should be doing the work of the PMO?  Meaning you are not following good practice.

So why is this important?

A good question.  There are 2 reasons why this is important:

  1. How can you get tough with project managers for non-compliance when, you as the PMO does not practice what you preach?  Very difficult position and the project manager has every right not to take your requests seriously.
  2. The reason for putting processes and templates in place should be for a good reason, usually to improve quality, make sure tasks are not missed, early risk / issue identification, etc all with the objective to improve outcomes.

There are many other good reasons but the above, are the really important ones!

In summary

The PMO should lead by example, make sure that all of the PMO are following the defined processes and act in a way to be fully supportive (especially when engaging with project teams). It is very important as it can be extremely destructive when team members have discussions or make statements that show they are not supportive of the tools and processes.  This can lead to know one following them.  So make sure that all of the members of the PMO team demonstrate the right behaviours.

PMO team meetings

pmo team in meetingIf the PMO you have built (or are building) has more than just yourself, you will need to make sure that your are communicating effectively as a team.

With modern technology, we are lucky that there are multiple channels to communicate globally by telephone, text message (SMS), e-mail, instant messaging, intranet, social media, reports, video conference to name just a few. All of these methods can add benefit (when used correctly) and should be used. However, do not dismiss the need to have a regular PMO team meeting.

Purpose

Firstly the PMO meeting needs some ground rules. In fact every meeting needs ground rules. By this I mean a meeting needs to have a purposes as to why it exists. Over the years I have seen so many meetings held for the sake of holding a meeting because people think they should.

The problem with this is that the meetings tend not to achieve much, attendees see them as a waste of time, leading to non-attendance. Next time you are in a meeting, stop to think how many people are in the room, on the phone or VC and calculate the approx. cost to the organisation. Holding meetings that are not needed is wasting the organisations money!

So before you go ahead and set-up all of the PMO meetings, spend some time defining 4 – 6 clear objectives and responsibilities for the meeting.  Review these with other PMO members and perhaps the PMO Sponsor.  If they are clear and worthy, you should get a positive reaction.

Make sure that you document the objectives and responsibilities in a brief terms of reference.  By brief I mean in clear bullets that will go on a single slide.

Logistics

Spend some time considering the frequency and duration of the meeting.  Try, where possible to fix the same time and day of the week.  Helps people get into a routine.

Define the format of the meeting.  Will it be face to face, conference call, VC, etc.  The preference should be to hold the meeting face to face with the team members in the room.  This helps with building a team.  However, this is not always possible, especially with global programmes.  If possible, have VC details for the call.  This means that the team can see each other.

Attendees

It is important to make sure that you have the right attendees to make the meeting effective.  You need the people in the meeting who can make decisions and take on actions.

Make it clear if delegates are acceptable.  Consider the nature of the meeting content.  Is it sensitive, if so it may not be appropriate to accept delegates.

Avoid inviting people just for the sake of it.  Like the meeting having a purpose, everyone who attends needs to have a purpose for being at the meeting – no spectators.  Obviously, if you have a PMO of 10 people and 9 need to be there, you may want to invite the 10th person in the interest of team spirit.  Just take a sensible approach.

Meeting Terms of Reference

Make sure that for the first meeting that the first slide in the meeting material is the meeting terms of reference.  This should include:

  • Purpose / Objectives
  • Logistics
  • Attendees

It is possible to lay out a presentation slide with Purpose and Logistics on the left and Attendees on the right.

As part of the first meeting make sure that the terms of reference is reviewed, any amendments considered and then agreed.

Meeting Agenda

It is vital that there is a clear agenda for every meeting.  I would suggest that this should consist of a number of standing agenda items.  The agenda should be included in the meeting invite so all attendees are clear on what will be covered and, what they are expected to contribute.  People are not happy when they are asked to cover an agenda point when the first they know about it is in the meeting!

A typical PMO meeting agenda should cover:

  • Management update
  • Project / Workstream status
  • Key issues / risks/ challenges
  • Cross dependencies
  • Resources

The meeting should allow for cross communication of the subtle items that are not within the written status reports.  This is important so that all PMO members stay aligned and do not look like they don’t know what each other is doing.  Project Managers will use this to create confusion and divert attention from their own progress.

Keep a Record

Make sure that the key actions and decisions from the meeting are captured and that progress against them are tracked.  If not, what was the point of the meeting?

Summary

PMO meetings are vital for building a good PMO team and providing a great platform for communication.  However, they must be defined and run properly otherwise they become ineffective and a waste of an organisations time and money.  Don’t be afraid to change the meeting format if it is not working and / or the requirements change as the PMO develops.

When you have the PMO meeting set-up correctly, you can add even more value by helping to ensure that the project team meetings are set-up to be effective!

If you are after meeting agenda and minute templates, you may want to take a look at the Project Templates page.

PMO Contact list

It is often the simple ideas that can turn out to be the most useful, specifically a PMO and / or project contact list.

Communication - PMO contact listIt is a fact that it is the people that make a project successful (or not).  While skills and ability are very important, it is probably even more critical for success that they are able to quickly and efficiently communicate with each other.  Therefore, there is a lot to be gained by the PMO helping to make the communication as easy as possible.

The PMO should take the lead and make sure that each of the projects and PMO have up to date contact lists of the resources working on the projects and PMO.  A way of doing this is to use a simple table in a word processor or spreadsheet document.

The document should contain the following information:

  • Name (first and surname)
  • Role / Capacity
  • Project / Workstream (if applicable)
  • Telephone Number
  • Mobile Telephone Number
  • e-mail Address
  • Location

If at all possible try to fit all of the information on a single sheet of paper.  Obviously if there is a lot of names, use more than one page as opposed to using font size 4 that no one can read!

Make sure that the document is circulated to all team members and that it is stored in a central location such as a shared directory, intranet, Sharepoint site, etc.

It is important that the information is kept up to date.  The PMO should ensure they have a process to periodically review the contact list and update.

Another good tip is to request that all project and PMO team members add their role and contact details into their e-mail signature.  It is very frustrating when somebody wants to call on the back of an e-mail but finds the telephone number is not at the bottom of the e-mail.

While a couple of very simple and common sense tips, they will greatly help the productivity of the team.

For more details, take a look at the blog post on Project Communication.