5 ways to check the project status is correct!

Do you trust the status on your project reports?It is the duty of the project manager to provide regular and accurate status of their project.  This is typically achieved through project reporting.

It is very important that the reports are a true reflection of status so that sponsors and stakeholders can have confidence in the performance of the project (or take informed decisions where progress is not going to plan).

If the reports are not accurate, then this could result in the status being misrepresented and storing up issues for the future.  The sponsor will not be pleased if a project has been reporting Green for a year, only to find near the end that challenges had not been communicated and the project will be delayed by 6 months.  This is not helpful to anyone (especially the project manager).

To help mitigate this risk, the PMO can play an important role in the review and challenge of the reports.  However, simply reading the report may not be sufficient to identify areas of concern.

Below are 5 tests that can be applied to check if the report really does reflect the status of the project.

1. RAG versus Commentary

A good project status report should provide an overall status (typically RAG – Red, Amber, Green) and supporting commentary.  A simple check is that the commentary supports the RAG.

For example, the project may be reporting Green.  However, the commentary may state “there are significant challenges deploying computer hardware meaning that the deployment of software will be delayed 3 months”.

The commentary clearly indicates that there are challenges threatening dates.  So the project manager should be questioned as to why this issue is not driving an Amber or Red status.

2. Performance versus Budget

This is another simple, quick test.  The project manager should be reporting progress against budget.  If you can see that project is over budget, this could be a sign that there are challenges requiring more resources.  If this is the case this will mean that the project will go over budget and, there could be challenges that will cause delays.

In a similar way, being under budget is not good.  This implies that resources have not been added and that this could mean work is not being completed as expected.   Another sign the project is falling behind.

However, there is a word of warning using this measure.  The variances could be done to poor planning and changing prices.  While this has budget implications, it does not necessarily mean the timeline is under threat.  You should use this measure in line with other checks.

3. Performance versus Milestones

This is a good test if a project is on plan.  A plan is made up of a number of milestones in a period.  Therefore, checking if the milestones in a period have been completed is a good test.  For example if the status is Green but 5 out of 10 milestones have been missed in the reporting period, the project manager should be asked to explain why the missed milestones have not impacted the RAG status.

4. Alignment to Associated Projects

The first 3 tests are very much based on the status report for a single project.  A very good check is how the status of one project compares with an associated project.  For example, a project to deliver a new product may be reporting Green.  However, the associated project to deliver the underlying infrastructure may be Red.  If the business project is relying on the infrastructure to successfully launch, it is difficult to see how the business project can be Green.

Having an understanding of how the projects in your portfolio are linked will help you to better assess the true status of each project.

This situation can be emotive as the business project manager may feel that their project is Green and they should not be penalised due to the infrastructure project.  Remember, the purpose is to report an accurate status so as to manage expectations and allow informed decisions.  Therefore, it is OK to report Amber or Red with commentary advising that the status is being driven by the dependency on the infrastructure project.

5. Word of Mouth

This is one of the most important tests, speaking to members of project teams, sponsors and other stakeholders.  This will usually result in information that provides more insight to what is going on that is not (or cannot) be placed in the status report.  This information is an important measure to which evaluate if the report truly reflects what is going on.


In order to ensure clear and accurate project status reporting, the PMO must do more than accept each report at face value.  By combining the 5 simple test, the PMO will be able to quickly ascertain if the report is accurate or, needs to be challenged and changed.

What do you think?

Do you think that the status reports you receive provide a fair representation of the status of projects?  Use the poll below to provide your feedback.

Do you think your project status reports are accurate?

How to stop your PMO failing

PMO successThe last post, Indicators that a PMO is Failing, covered themes to watch out for that your PMO may be starting to fail.  This post will provide some thoughts on the actions you can take to stop your PMO failing.

Be Alert

The most important thing you can do is always be alert.  You need to know as soon early as possible if there are concerns about your PMO.  Knowing early will give you the best chance to take action to remediate.  Encourage your team to be alert to signs.

Treat every interaction as an opportunity to gauge the health of the PMO.  Listen carefully to both what is being said and the tone.  The non-verbal signs can also be revealing.

Ask Questions / For Feedback

Many leading organisations regularly ask for feedback from their customers.  They want to do this so that can understand what is working and, more importantly, what is not so that they can adjust.  This feedback loop is very important as if you know where your customers are not happy, you can make targeted changes.

The same applies to the service provided by a PMO.  Do not be afraid to seek feedback from your different stakeholders.  When reviewing MI reports with stakeholders, at the end ask if the report provides the correct information, if it is the right level, what enhancements would make it more useful.  Doing this will allow you to get direct feedback and adapt.  The feedback principle should be applied to how the team engages, responsiveness, service, etc.  The aim is to find out what is working, what is not and then take steps to improve.

Word of caution.  It is important not to completely rely on being told.  A pro-active PMO should also be looking to develop their own ideas on areas to improve.  Combining feedback with your own ideas is a powerful combination.


If you are running a PMO, you should have a clear understanding of what you need to achieve.  However, just because you have a clear plan of what PMO services will be implemented, do not assume that others outside of the PMO know.  This is where a “roadmap” for the PMO will help.  Take some time to map out the plan for rolling out the PMO services and capture into a simple one page plan.  The aim is to do this in a way that makes it easy for people to quickly understand.

When you have the your PMO roadmap, make sure that your team understand the plan.  This will help ensure that all members of the team are delivering a consistent message on the future plans.  Then take the time to communicate the roadmap with stakeholders and management.  This will demonstrate to them that there is a plan so, just because the PMO is not providing a certain service, the roadmap clearly demonstrates that it has been thought about and when it will be available.  Managing expectations is so important.

Take a look at the post about implementing a PMO to meet a sponsors requirements.

Team Meetings / 1:1′s

Use regular meetings as an opportunity to share insights across the team.  While individual interactions may appear to be innocent.  When the information is shared across the team, together trends can appear that are cause for concern.  This links very closely with the first point, “being alert”.

In summary

Being alert to signs of failure is no different to managing another risk or issue for a project or programme.  You must actively monitor for signs and then take corrective action early.  Do not be afraid to ask for feedback, especially if you know it will not be good.  Understanding concerns and addressing early can make the difference between PMO success or failure.

Indicators that your PMO is starting to fail

Why PMO’s can fail covered 5 reasons why PMO’s fail.  Unfortunately this can be a common occurrence, especially when an organisation is under cost pressures and needs to save money.

With this in mind, a smart PMO will be alert to the early warning signs of failure.  This in turn should allow for a quick action to avert the failure.  The next couple of posts will cover:

  • The warning signs
  • Action plan ideas for recovery

Warning Sign’s of Failure

PMO RADAR to spot when PMO starting to failThere are many reasons why a PMO may be failing in the eyes of stakeholders and senior management.  Sometimes this is based on fact, in many cases it is based on perception.  Before covering sign’s to watch for, I want to make an important point.  A PMO may be performing very well.  However, if there is a perception by those outside of the PMO that it is not providing a good service, the fact this is not true does not matter – perception becomes reality.  You may have heard the saying “perception can kill you”.  This is very true.  If you do not deal with perceptions they will become reality in the eyes of many and the PMO / you will be judged by them.  This is unfortunate as it will probably result in a lot of time and effort being expended to address the perceptions that could be better spent improving the service.

With this in mind, it is very important that the PMO is able to monitor perceptions, emerging concerns, etc by being connected with stakeholders at all levels.  Every member of the PMO will interact with project teams, business teams, vendors, management, etc.  During those interactions, it is highly likely that concerns being raised will be mentioned.  Making sure the PMO team has a way to bring these concerns back to the team i.e. through regular team meetings is important.

Below are some themes to be vigilant in case your PMO is on a downward spiral.

Lack of Engagement

If the PMO notices that stakeholders stop engaging with the PMO, especially where they have been keen to previously, could be a sign that the PMO is not seen to be helping.  The lack of engagement can come in many forms:

  • Not attending / agreeing to meetings
  • Not submitting reports

Be particularly alert where senior management who have previously relied on information provided by the PMO disengage.  Their time is valuable and typically will only allocate time to activities that help.  It is important that the lack of engagement is viewed on a case by case basis.  For example, disengagement among team members may be due to personal differences between staff as opposed to directed at the PMO.

If the project teams stop submitting information and / or complying with processes, this is because the teams do not find them helpful and probably are aware the PMO is losing support so there will be no consequence.

Reports / MI not Used

Reporting is a large part of the PMO service.  If the stakeholders stop requesting the reports, do not want to sit down to review, etc.  A variation is where the reports are heavily criticised, re-written by others, material removed, etc.  This is a sign that they are not valued.  It is also demoralising to the staff who spend time and effort to produce them.

Excluded from Meetings

If you find that the PMO members are being excluded from meetings that they would normally / should attend, this is another warning sign.  The meeting owner has made a decision the input / representation is not needed to move forward.

Questions on Team Size

When there is questions on team size, what people are doing, cost, etc is a sign that management are questioning the reason for the PMO.  This usually links to the issue of “perception” as management question what is the team doing, especially if the outputs, such as reports, are not being used.  Obviously there are genuine questions on costs.  However, this is one to watch out for.

In summary

When working or running a PMO, always be alert for warning signs based on these themes by having your “PMO radar” running.  This will give you the best chance of rectifying before it is too late.

Always remember it does not always have to be true as, “perception can kill you”.

PMO service offering

If you were asked “what does your PMO do?”, how would you answer?  Take a moment to think…..

  • Do you provide reporting?
  • Do you consolidate information?
  • Do you provide standard tools / templates?
  • Do you align projects to strategic goals?

You probably have come up with a number of good answers.  However, are they all activities / transactions and, importantly, do they really give a true understanding of the benefit?

After completing the recent series of articles covering the offshore PMO Model, it made me think that it is very easy to view the work being completed as an activity as opposed to a wider service offering.  Therefore, I wanted to quickly cover this concept as it adds important context.

When a decision is taken to set-up a PMO, one of the early steps is to define the objectives of the PMO.  This should be aligned to the strategic goals / vision of the organisation (see Capturing the PMO Vision and Mission).  This in turn will drive the work the PMO needs to complete.  The “work” equates to the “services”.

It is easy to think that it does not matter.  However, I have found that using the language of “services provided” usually means there is a higher chance that the true value is recognised.  It makes sure that it is presented as a professional service not just administrative activities.  Of course, the PMO must be able to deliver a good service to support the claims!

The good news is that, if you have aligned your PMO to the objectives, this should not be difficult.  An approach I have used in the past is to use a single slide (landscape) and then add boxes for each of the services offered.  Each box should contain a heading that clearly indicates the service i.e. Reporting, RAIDs, Finance, etc.  Then within each box explain the service offering and the key activities.  This should use words that detail the service not the activity.  You are looking to convey the importance of the service and how it helps achieve the overall objectives.

I want to stress how important having this list of services is in respect of an on / offshore model.  Trying to explain your offshore model can be difficult, especially when you are looking to offer the service to project teams and sponsors.  Having a professional looking slide that clearly details the services you can provide will convey that you have something real to offer.  It may be strange, people tend to believe something more if it is written on a piece of paper.

It also is very helpful when you are meeting with sponsors and project teams to offer services i.e. report production / consolidation.  Having the services detailed on a piece of paper that can be used to drive the conversation will help people understand what is available and how it can help.  This is important as, in order for the offshore model to be successful (and onshore PMO), the service needs to be used.  People need to feel confident that they will be provided with a good service.  If not they will build their own capability.

Having the services documented is only part of explaining the service offering.  It is very important that you and the team change the language they use to explain the services they provide.  Make sure the whole team (on and offshore) understand what services are and ARE NOT being offered.  Coach them to talk using the same terms so as not to confuse stakeholders.

You also need to ensure that everyone knows the appropriate process on how new work is taken into the service.  Do not just say “yes” to be helpful.  There needs to be a structured approach to take work into the PMO so that a quality service can be provided.  When you first announce the capability, you may be inundated with requests.  You probably will not be able to transfer them all in at the same time.  Create a list and prioritise, ensuring all stakeholders are aware where they are in the process (managing expectations is critical).


  • Documenting the PMO Services is valuable, it helps promote the available services
  • Ensure to describe service / benefits not activities
  • Coach your on and offshore team to understand and use the same language
  • Have a structured approach for on-boarding projects into the PMO
  • Prioritise and manage expectations

These simple steps can really help present your PMO as adding significant value in a professional manner.

Are your PMO processes embedded and BAU?

image with project processA PMO invests a considerable amount of time and effort designing and implementing standard processes.  However, in order for them to work it and be effective, the processes must be embedded.  Just publishing a process document with supporting templates is not enough.  Has the change been adopted and being actively used?

A PMO should not be re-active, it should run like a machine, executing a number of core repeatable processes supporting reporting, RAIDs management, change control, etc.  This can only be achieved if the processes have been developed to the minimum level and embedded.

Take a moment to think about your current PMO environment.

  • Are the processes robust and complete?
  • Have they been fully embedded with all parties executing to the same standard?
  • Is the standard and outcome the same regardless of who is executing the process?
  • Are the processes documented to sufficient level so that any team member can take the guide / checklist and execute the process without training?
  • Are the documented processes up to date and reflect the current process?

Given the typical pace within a PMO and competing priorities, I imagine that “No” will be the answer to one or more.  The reason being that maintaining process documents is seen as an overhead with other items being more important.  However, if the process documents are not up to date, it creates a very big risk and reduces the opportunities for efficiencies.

For example, if the PMO team members are focused on specific areas, there is a risk that when they go on holiday, are off due to sickness or, decide to leave the organisation, you will suddenly have a big gap in your PMO.  By ensuring that all of the PMO processes are documented with clear flows, ownership, timelines, etc, this will mean that the knowledge of the process can be shared and is not just in the mind of the team member.  So if the resource is out of the office for any reason, other team members should be able to pick-up the process document and execute.

The logical extension of this is to cross train team members.  This means that multiple team members can pick up the process without an issue providing natural cover.  This is a very good solution where a PMO is being run on an budget and does not allow for additional resources to be added.  Having well documented processes also forms a good base if you should ever want to move the process to an offshore location.

Part of the PMO’s role is to implement standard tools and processes.  The same should apply to their own process documents.

  • Create a standard template that can be used across the different PMO Functions.
  • Implement a review and sign-off process
  • Schedule regular review and update check points to ensure documents are up to date
  • Create a standard for how and where the documents are stored
  • Implement a resource rotation policy to ensure cross training on policies (very important for small teams)

In summary

The steps outlined above are not complicated.  In fact they are common sense.  However, by taking the time to build this into how the team operates will greatly improve performance, efficiency and reduce the risk.  This should mean that your team and yourself can take and enjoy much deserved holidays.

5 reasons why PMO’s fail

sign showing failureMany organisations now run an annual change budget.  This means that it is very common for the majority of change projects to mobilise in the first quarter (Q1) of the year.  This in turn means that this is the time that many PMO’s that are dedicated to support the change activities are formed.

So if your manager has just tapped you on the shoulder and asked you to mobilise a PMO, you will want to know the common reasons for failure so that you can take the right steps make sure that you are successful.

Common reasons for PMO failure

1. Value perceived as offering little or no value

It is still very common for many people within an organisation (especially project managers and senior management) to view a PMO as little more than a low value, bureaucratic administrative function that is staffed with junior resources.

Due to this the PMO function is not respected and any attempts to request project information or implement standards are either ignored or the inputs from the projects is very poor and do not follow standards.

The unfortunate impact of this is that the quality of the reporting provided by the PMO is very poor that provides more support to the project managers and senior management that there is no value being provided (even though they are responsible for the poor quality).

The problem is then further compounded by:

2. Lack of senior sponsorship for the PMO

Hopefully a PMO should have a senior sponsor (if not you have real problems and the chances of success even further diminished).  However, even if you have a sponsor, in many cases that do not understand the full benefits of a PMO and think that it is simply a means to achieve a consolidated report (a simple case of collecting all the inputs from the projects and placing them into a consolidated presentation).

This will typically result in a sponsor who sees little value in supporting the PMO to execute their duties.  This is especially critical when you have the inevitable situation where the project managers complain to their own sponsors that the PMO is taking up their valuable time to complete pointless reports instead of important delivery work.  Then, at the next senior management meeting, the sponsors will find  way to attribute any delays on their projects to the fact that the PMO is impacting the projects with pointless requests.

A disengaged or reluctant PMO sponsor will not support the actions of the PMO.  This will result in the position of the PMO being further weakened or even to be disbanded!

3. Lack of authority

This is very closely linked to point 2, lack of sponsorship.

If a PMO is not given the appropriate authority (mandate) by senior management, the project managers will interpret any request for information or to comply with standards as optional (at best).  This will result in the PMO not being able to collect the required project inputs meaning they will not be able to provide consolidated reporting for senior management.

4. The PMO resources are inexperienced

This links very closely with point 1, perceived lack of value.

If senior management believe that all the PMO does is collect and consolidate information, it is all too common for this to result in the PMO being staffed by junior or inexperienced resources – why do you need experienced (expensive) resources to collect, copy and paste information into a spreadsheet or PowerPoint?

This results in a PMO that does not know what tools and process should be implemented, are unable to review and challenge inputs resulting in poor quality output that is not valued by senior management.  This compounds the problem further why would you invest more funds for more experienced resources if the value provided is so low.

Inexperienced resources will also suffer at the hands of the project managers.  With little or no project delivery experience, how can an inexperienced PMO resource have any chance of challenging the reports of experienced project managers?

5. PMO operates as an audit function (project police)

Project managers do not like people outside of their project reviewing their reports.  This usually results in every problem being exposed resulting in extra attention from management.  While it is important to have open and transparent reporting to avoid nasty shocks, it needs to be done the right way.

Unfortunately some PMO’s get into a mode of operation where they are looking to expose weaknesses and problems so as to expose the project manager.  This behaviour makes the project manager reluctant to share any information other than the absolute minimum.

The net result is that the working relationship between the PMO and project managers breaks down resulting in only the minimum information being reported and the PMO not really understanding where the REAL problems are in the project.

It is worth remembering that the PMO is not an audit function, it should be working with and supporting the projects to help them deliver.  The objective of the project managers and the PMO is the same – the successful delivery of the projects.

In summary

The above are some of the common reasons why a PMO will fail and it is important to understand them so you are well placed to avoid them.

PMO KPI’s (key performance indicators)

A question often asked is “what value does the PMO add”?  While the answer is “lot’s of value” (if the PMO has been set-up correctly), in many cases you need to back this up with some PMO success metrics (aka PMO KPI’s).

What is a PMO KPI?

It is an agreed set of indicators that, if achieved, should demonstrate that the PMO has achieved what is was set-up for.  If the correct time and effort has been spent defining a good set of meaningful KPI’s, the PMO should have delivered value.  However, if the wrong KPI’s have been chosen, why they may have been achieved, it does not mean value has been delivered.

Example PMO KPI’s

There are many KPI’s that can be chosen to measure the success of a PMO.  It is important that they are chosen based on alignment to the objectives and the organisation.

A good place to start would be:

  • % of projects delivered
  • % of projects delivered inline with business case
  • % of projects at Red, Amber, Green status
  • % of projects remain at same status for x reporting periods
  • % of projects stopped
  • % of projects fail to deliver
  • Benefits realised against Benefit forecast for year
  • Simple Return on Investment (ROI) for all of the projects the PMO has oversight for
  • Resources added against Resource forecast for year

In order to make this type of KPI’s work is to be able to compare with previous years.  This will then allow you to show the positive impact the PMO is having against each of the indicators.

PMO KPI Action Plan

  1. Spend time to work out what would be the most meaningful indicators for your PMO and / or organisation
  2. Make sure that you agree the KPI’s with the appropriate stakeholders.  This includes agreeing what needs to be evidenced to demonstrate achievement (tip do this at the start when it will be less emotive).
  3. Work out how the KPI’s will be tracked and put processes in place to collect the data.  You may need to go back to capture historic data so as to be able to demonstrate year on year trends.
  4. Design a dashboard that clearly shows the performance against KPI’s.  This will become a very powerful slide in your PMO management report.  Take a look at the posts on PMO dashboard design for ideas on designing dashboards.
  5. Collect and validate the data on a regular basis.  Review what the data is telling you and, if performance is not looking as good as previous years, take action early to get back on track.

Example graph showing PMO KPI performance

If you have some ideas on good PMO KPI’s, please register and post a comment.

PMO RAG status levels

It is expected that every project will report progress and status on a regular basis.  The reason for this being that the sponsor and other stakeholders want the comfort of knowing they have visibility of progress.  This helps ensure that there are no nasty surprises and, if the project is having challenges, it ensures that the sponsor and stakeholders are aware and gives them the opportunity to take corrective action (or stop the project before more money is spent).

It is very common for a project status to be reported by RAG.  RAG being the acronym for Red, Amber, Green.  The basic principle is:

  • Green = project is on track
  • Amber = some issues, being managed, needs to be closely monitored
  • Red = serious issues, dates being missed, recovery plan required

This simple approach makes it very easy for the projects at risk or in trouble to be identified and action taken.

Consistent RAG Reporting

It is very important for an organisation to be able to understand the trust what status is being reported for a project.  Therefore, it is very important to have clearly defined criteria for selecting the correct RAG status.  Having a standard definition for each status will reduce reporting inconsistencies such as where one project manager is very hard on their reporting where as another is very relaxed.

The aim of the definitions is to ensure that all projects of a similar status are reported using the same RAG.

PMO Actions

1. RAG Definition

Define sensible definitions and criteria to be used to set RAGs for:

  • Scope
  • Schedule
  • Costs
  • Benefits
  • Overall Status

You can also include other dimensions such as Resources.

Make sure that the definition and criteria for each makes sense, is easy to understand and does not involve subjectivity.

2. Document and Publish RAG Definitions

The PMO must ensure that the RAG reporting definitions and criteria are clearly communicated, especially to the project managers.  Time should be spent checking with the project managers to ensure a common understanding.

Guide of PMO RAG levels for reporting

3. PMO Review of Project Reports

As part of the review process of all project report submissions, the PMO should check the RAG status on each project to:

  • Ensure the project is using a RAG that reflects status
  • Ensure that RAGs are being consistently applied across all projects

Other tips and ideas

It is very common for a project to start move to Amber and then remain at Amber for the duration of the project.  This is not very helpful for monitoring progress.  To overcome this you can look to define further granularity for each RAG setting:

  • Green 1
  • Amber 2
  • Amber 3
  • Red 4
  • Red 5

Then when a project moves to Amber 2, it is highly likely it will move between Amber 2 and Amber 3.  This gives a better indication if the project is improving or deteriorating.

Another similar approach is to combine Red, Amber, Green with an arrow:

  • Up Arrow = status improving
  • Down Arrow = status deteriorating
  • Side Arrow = status remains the same

Whatever approach is chosen, just make sure that there is a clear definition and criteria to ensure the consistent application.

In summary

  • RAG is one of the universal standards for reporting project status
  • It is important that the definition and criteria is clearly defined and communicated
  • Independent review (normally by PMO) is critical to ensure consistency
  • Further granularity is possible using numbers or arrows

PMO frustrations

Following on from the last blog that covered dealing with difficult project managers, it is topical to spend some time considering PMO frustrations.  Followed by some thoughts around the reason for the frustrations and proactive steps to address the,

Frustrations to the PMO

There are a number of common themes

  • Project report submissions late
  • Constantly having to chase responses
  • Being treated as an administration centre / bureaucratic
  • Being seen as adding low or no value
  • No support for trying to instil good practice and standards
  • Little understanding of the time and effort to complete tasks

Anyone who has worked in a PMO should be able to connect with some if not all of the themes above.

Reasons for the Frustrations

hand written good jobThe main driver behind the feeling of frustration for many of these is that the work is not valued.  Most people when they go to work want to do the best job they can and feel that what they do makes a contribution and is valued.

In the PMO it can feel like every day is a struggle, the work not valued and that it would not make a difference if the PMO packed up and stopped.  In case you are thinking this – IT IS NOT TRUE!

Recent Survey

The 2012 survey by Project Management Solutions found that PMO’s contribute to the following performance improvements:

  • 30% decrease in failed projects
  • 25% of projects delivered under budget
  • 31% increase in customer satisfaction
  • 19% of projects delivered ahead of schedule
  • 39% improvement in projects aligned to objectives
  • US$411k average cost savings per project

If you look at similar research by PMI, ESI, etc you will see similar trends.  It is for this reason that there has been a big increase in the number of large and small organisations investing in a PMO.

Action Plan

Understanding this trend is very important.  Before being able to convince others by acting with confidence, you need to be confident yourself.  Therefore, take time to digest these statistics so that you have no doubt of the the value of a PMO to an organisation.  Having self belief in the “product” will reflect in the way you act.  You will be more confident knowing that a PMO does add value.  Be confident in your abilities.

Build relationships.  Proactively engage the project managers and stakeholders as mention in post 67.  Make sure that they get to know you, that they understand your experience and why you are well placed for the role and how you can help.  Recent surveys show that PMO’s are a lot less thought of being administrative centres resulting on average in practitioners with 10 + years of change experience being recruited into the roles.  Doing this will improve getting the project submissions in on time.

Collect metrics that demonstrate the value being added.  In January, think ahead to how the end of year review looks like for you and your boss.  Identify what needs to be delivered to make those meetings go well and then build processes to collect and track the metrics so you can demonstrate process through the year.  Doing this will allow you to demonstrate the benefit of the PMO and why you are not a low value admin center.

Make sure you only ask for information that is absolutely necessary and that the process is well thought out and adds value.  This includes getting feedback from stakeholders to ensure the process is sensible and that the output is what is required.

In summary

PMO’s are here to stay.  The value is becoming better understood.  It is a satisfying career choice.  However, it is what you make it and you need to have the right positive attitude and desire to build and implement a PMO you are happy to work in!

Engaging with difficult project managers

dealing with difficult project managerOne of the hardest aspects of the role of the PMO manager is getting project and programme managers to act and respond to the requests from the PMO.  Requests for updates are issues, followed by gentle reminders, a phone call, a visit to their desk, a more direct e-mail, a more direct telephone conversation, etc.

Depending on the project or programme manager, the necessary information may be provided at any of the above steps.  However, it is all to common that even after all the chasing, the information is not provided.  Very frustrating, a waste of time and usually some upset stakeholders who get an incomplete update!

Possible Reasons

It is important to understand why the information was not provided:

  • The request was not explained clearly and / or not understood
  • The request did not explain why it was required
  • The project manager was genuinely too busy with delivery activity i.e. a go live
  • The request was delegated and then was forgotten
  • The request was not passed to the correct team member
  • Project manager does not want to provide the update
  • Project manager does not recognise the authority of the PMO
  • Project manager does not think the request is important

There are others, however the list covers the main themes.

The Impact

The consequence of the project manager not providing the update in a timely manner includes:

  • Wasted time and effort
  • Missed deadlines / production of important material
  • Unhappy stakeholders / senior management
  • Frustration and conflict between work colleagues

Action Plan

Unfortunately there is no single ‘silver bullet’ for the PMO to deal with difficult project managers.  What is required is a number of strategies and styles to address the situation.

1. Understand the Project Managers

Fortunately people are all different, which is just as well as life would be boring.  Unfortunately that means that an approach that will work with one project manager will not be successful with another.  Therefore, it is important to build an understanding of the project managers the PMO will work with.

  • Collaborative / Confrontational
  • Supportive / Resistant
  • Respectful / Discourteous

2. Engage the Project Managers

This is very important.  You will need to work with the project managers for months maybe years.  Therefore, you must make every effort to build solid and productive working relationships.  This should be both formal and informal.

When a new project manager joins the organisation / moves onto a project within the portfolio, introduce yourself and set-up a ‘meet and greet’ meeting – it works quite well over a coffee and make sure you pay!

Take time to find out about there background, where they have worked, what type of projects they have worked on and their interests.  Obviously don’t ask about personal / family details unless they offer.  It is good to look if there is a genuine connection, especially a common interest.

Provide a brief background about yourself, your experience, interests and what your role is in respect of the PMO.  This is a great opportunity to “credentialise” yourself – something most consultants do!  It provides an understanding why you are qualified to do the role you are doing and, importantly, why you are in the position to make the requests for information.  Warning: make sure you do not come over too much of “I have done this, I have done that, etc”.  You should also try to avoid consciously or sub consciously trying to score 1 up’s.

Close by offering to help them navigate the organisation and the requirements in respect of delivery.  This gives the opportunity to send them material about how the PMO operates and set-up a follow up session.

3. How to make requests

The way you ask for information from the project managers will influence the results.  For example, simply sending a communication:


Please provide your project status report by the close of business Friday.


PMO Manager

While some of the more compliant project managers may respond, many will not, especially if this is the first request they receive.

With all requests make sure that you follow some basic principles:

  1. Background / Context
  2. Purpose / Objective
  3. Request
  4. Format
  5. Deadline
  6. Thanks


The XYZ Programme Steering Committee is a monthly forum with representatives of the 5 global businesses to oversee and direct the delivery of the strategic projects.

To provide the members with the information to make informed decisions, it is important to provide an accurate and consistent status of all of the strategic projects.

Please can you submit a the standard project status report for your project by the close of business on Friday 30th November.  This will allow for the reports to be reviewed and consolidated for the steering committee on Tuesday 4th December.

If you have any questions or require assistance, do not hesitate to contact your PMO contact.

Many thanks for your cooperation


Helpful PMO Manager

A clearer and friendly request.

4. The Stubborn Project Manager

There will always be a small minority of project managers who will not respond (you will have identified them in step 1 and 2).  A more direct approach will be needed.  Follow up with a reminder e-mail and then a phone call.

Publish the steering committee pack to the project managers for review ahead of the meeting with gaps for those who have not submitted their report.  Peer pressure is a good persuader.  While good practice (even if all project managers have submitted reports), do not use this approach if the majority of project managers have not responded.

Be open to understand if there is a genuine reason for not responding.  If there is not, remind them the purpose for requesting the information and if no response is received, there will be a gap in the meeting material.

If they still do not respond, escalate to the PMO sponsor.  They may wish to have a discrete conversation with the project manager or the steering committee member responsible for the project.

Word of warning, only escalate when you absolutely need to.  You do not want to appear that you can not do you job.

In summary

Focus on building relationships, building your credentials, making sure there is a clear purpose and offering help.  Don’t request information if it adds no value and has no purpose, this is the number one reason project managers resist requests from PMO’s