Preparing to run a project planning workshop

The last post provided an overview of an approach that can be used to run successful project planning workshops.  This post will cover the preparation work that should be completed ahead of any workshop.  Good preparation is very important.  Just like studying for an exam, investing the time ahead of the event will ensure that it has the best chance of being professional and, achieving the required outcomes.

The following steps should be completed ahead of the workshop.

1. Review Available Information

I have deliberately used the word “information” as opposed to plans as, the plans may not exist.  Any available information such as business case, initiation document, plan (if available), etc should be reviewed before designing the logistics of the workshop.  This ensures that the workshop is based on the level of available data.  It is no good setting up a workshop to create the 30 day mobilisation plan when it already exists.  Likewise, if there is no business case, understanding of outcomes / deliverables, it will be illogical to hold a workshop to create a plan when there is no understanding what needs to be achieved.

2. Attendees

On the assumption information is available, work out who needs to attend the meeting.  Make sure that all the relevant functions that will form the plan are included.  Otherwise, you will have knowledge gaps in trying to create the plan meaning something may be missed, incorrect assumptions made, etc.

Try to minimise the number of people invited.  Having too many people, the “cast of 1000′s”, will hinder progress.  If one area does state they need to invite people with different skills firstly test this is true and, if so, look for opportunities where they can be invited to relevant segments in the day to reduce large numbers for the entire workshop.

3. Logistics

Project planning workshop roomReviewing the available information should allow you to define the objectives of the workshop.  Be specific so everyone has no doubt what needs to be achieved.

Book a room that will hold the required number of people and, has sufficient wall space for sticking the timelines on the wall, flip charts, etc.  You want a comfortable working environment, especially as the session will probably be half to a full working day.  If possible visit the room ahead of the session so you can check layout.

Send the workshop invite early so that attendees can re-arrange schedules where necessary.  The booking should include the objectives and agenda.

4. Planning Briefing Pack

To give the planning session the best chance of success, you must make sure that all attendees having a clear understanding of how the session will work and, what is expected from them.  This will ensure they prepare ahead of the meeting and you don’t end up with too many “I need to take that action away”.

Preparing a simple pack that outlines the:

  • Objectives / goals of the session
  • Agenda
  • Attendees
  • Background
  • Approach
  • Known assumptions
  • Key milestones <if this is available ahead of the session this really helps>

This serves to educate the attendees, allows them to ask questions, clarify items and consider what they need to deliver so they are ready to develop a plan.  This means that everyone should be ready to start the workshop without spending too much time explaining the approach.

5. Preparing Workshop Materials


parcel-paperAt the centre of the workshop is the timeline (created using parcel paper that is available in most stationers or Amazon) and milestones (captured using Post-it Notes).  These must be prepared ahead of the session.

At least the day before, find an area with suitable working room (meeting room with large desk, preferably rectangle).  From the information collected in step 1 and objectives defined in step 3, mark-out the timeline on the parcel paper.  This should be weeks, months, quarters, etc.  The shorter the period, the more chance of achieving the development of a plan.  If you do have dates past 1 year, I would suggest adding a heading at the end that covers future years to capture the milestones.

Going down the left hand side of the parcel paper, list the different projects / workstreams.  If you have a number of functions completing the same project.  You may find that they each have the same workstreams.  Therefore, to make the task easy to think about and not to confuse the plan timeline, have one timeline (one strip of parcel paper) per function with workstreams.

Do not try to squeeze too many workstreams onto a timeline.  You must have sufficient space to add the milestones.  It is far better to add additional sheets beneath each other.  Obviously you are limited by the height of the meeting room.


stickersIf you know the milestones, use the Post-It Notes and write one milestone on a single Post-It.  When developing over multiple projects / workstreams, make sure each Post-It contain a reference for project / workstream and ID of milestone.  For example, if the milestone related to the Finance function, you may choose to use FIN.  You can also look to use different coloured Post-Its to distinguish workstream / project.

The aim is to create a Post-It for each milestone ahead of the workshop.


Doing as much as you can to prepare will help the workshop to go well.  Make sure that the attendees have sufficient time to review the briefing pack so that they can gather additional information so they are ready.

The next post will cover running the workshop.

Running a project planning workshop

At the centre of every project there should be a plan.  This explains what activities need to be completed by when in order to meet the objectives / outcomes defined in the business case.  Having a credible plan is very important.  Knowing what needs to be completed and then tracking progress, allows the project manager to track progress and escalate where required.  If the plan is not credible, progress will very soon fall behind.  So investing the time to develop a good plan is important.

Unfortunately, many struggle to form a good plan due to a variety of reasons:

  • Plan developed by individual / in isolation with no engagement with other people who need to deliver key components
  • Not engaging the correct people so not all of the scope is captured within the plan
  • Estimates incorrect
  • External factors i.e. key holiday periods, projects using same resources, etc are not considered

There are many more.  All can lead to a sense of overwhelm in developing the plan.  The project manager is left staring at the screen wondering where to start.

A very good approach to developing the plan is by way of a planning workshop and breaking down the task so it is manageable and does not overwhelm.


A workshop is arranged with all the relevant participants with the objective to develop:

Short Term Plan

This could be the mobilisation phase, next 4 weeks, etc.  The intent is to focus on the activities that need to be completed in the near term as these should be known.

Longer Term Plan

This is post the Short Term Plan and can be for the remainder of the year, entire project, etc – whatever you feel comfortable trying to achieve.

During the workshop, the group agrees:

  • Key activities, deliverables and milestones
  • Associated risks, issues, assumptions and dependencies

The workshop needs to be held in a room with suitable wall space that can be seen by all participants as the workshop must be interactive as the information needs to be captured on the walls using the following resources that should cost less than $100.

Parcel Paper (the brown paper you use to wrap parcels that comes on a roll)

This is used to create a time line that can be stuck on the wall (this should be prepared before the workshop as you do not want to waste time creating during the workshop).  The paper is used to create strips across the wall.  On each strip a number of projects / workstreams are listed on the left going down the page.  The dates are listed evenly going across the page (note: make sure that there is sufficient room to add a number of items into each project / workstream under each date.  If you have a large number of project / workstreams, add additional strips underneath when you place on the wall.

Post-it Notes (ideally larger size and different colours)

These are used to record the different activities / milestones (where possible document known activities / milestones ahead of the workshop and have them to the side of the timeline ready to place). The Post-it Notes are then placed on the timeline in the appropriate place.  The action of placing some of the Post-it’s will prompt a discussion of what can / cannot be achieved and flush out dependencies.  Being Post-it Notes, they can be easily moved if and when a dependency is identified when planning subsequent projects / workstreams.

Where possible use different colour Post-it’s for different project / workstreams to make them easy to distinguish.

Marker Pens

Use these to write Post-It notes and capture risks, issues, assumptions and dependencies on flip charts (assumption is that most organisations will have flip charts so not in the $100).

Blue Tac

Used to stick the timelines to the wall.

Sellotape (stick tape)

Very important.  When the timelines are complete at the end of the session.  Use the tape to stick the Post-it Notes to the timeline so they do not fall-off when taking the timeline down (most meeting rooms will need to be used by other people so you cannot leave them on the wall).  This ensures that you then can document what was agreed during the session without missing Post-it Notes.


People will start to lose energy, especially in long sessions.  Make sure you have some sweets in the centre of the table to give them a boost of energy when needed.  Also consider having healthy options, the effect is the same.

This should result in 2 plans being developed.  These can then be documented and published for review and refinement.


The benefit of this approach is that a plan can be developed in a collaborative way with involvement from the appropriate stakeholders.  Seeing the plan visually will make it easier for people to understand what needs to be achieved by when and allow barriers to be identified.  Working this way is good for team spirit and helps ensure a feeling of common ownership – very important for success.


This is a very quick overview of a very powerful technique.  Used correctly, it really can fast track the creation of plans.

How to improve the quality of project status reports

Steps to improve project status reportingThe last post, 5 ways to check the project status is correct, provided 5 steps that could help validate that a project status report was accurate.  Following these should identify where there are areas of concern.  However, the real goal is to continually improve the quality of the reports.  This is much harder than it sounds for a number of reasons including:

  • Project managers do not know what is required
  • Project managers are not aware there is an issue – they have not been told
  • Project managers / sponsors do not see why there is an issue – the reports are good enough

Below are some steps that can be taken to address these points and result in improved reporting.

Project Report Template

Project reports should be structured and contain space for all of the appropriate / required information to be provided.

Many project managers will have reports that they have developed and used in the past and, naturally would like to use them for their current project.  If this is the case, ask if you can review the report structure and make recommendations to help ensure the correct information is provided.

A better solution is to develop a standard report template and issue to all projects.  When creating the design, create areas of input that will help drive the user to provide the correct information.  Take a look at the Project Templates page for the other benefits of using standard templates (including making the consolidation much easier).

Training and Guidance

It is a good first step to issue a good template.  However, do not assume that the project managers know how to complete the template, what information should be included, how the information should be written, etc.

Training is very important.  Make sure that guidance is issued and available for future use (i.e. on an Intranet site).  Conduct face to face or virtual training.


  • Context: The purpose, objectives of the reporting
  • Audience: who will be reading (different writing styles may be required)
  • Inputs: Explain each field on the report and examples of what is required
  • Frequency: How often the report is required and period it should cover
  • Sign-off: Who should review and sign-off before submission (i.e. sponsor?)

Allow questions to be asked.  Make sure the project manager knows how to ask questions going forward.

Regular Reviews

Set up regular review meetings with the project managers, ideally before the status report is submitted.  During the review session, you jointly review the report.  This will allow questions to be raised where something is not clear and other recommendations to be made.

Caution: make sure that the review is conducted in a constructive way.  If not there is a risk that it could leads to the project manager becoming defencive and not taking on board any of the recommendations.

Review and Feedback

Post the submission the reports will be reviewed by a wider audience.  Ensure that there is a mechanism for collecting any feedback and passing this back to the project manager.  If they are not aware of concerns, requests, etc, they can not change.

The feedback means that the project manager knows that the reports are being used and not just a “form filling exercise”.  They also will be mindful that the inputs need to be accurate.


Improving the quality of project status reports will not just happen on it’s own.  You need to take actions.  Simple steps being:

  • Define standard project report template
  • Train and educate the project managers
  • Hold regular reviews
  • Provide feedback

Implementing these simple steps should lead to an improvement in the quality of the project status reporting.

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.