For the leader of a Project Management Office, much of the working day is taken up with operational issues and ensuring that projects, programs and portfolios are operating as they should. From time to time you’ll have to face difficult conversations to ensure that you can still deliver those projects, programs and portfolios as a team.
Here are 5 difficult conversations that PMO leaders will face in their career, along with some tips on how to deal with them.
1. The ‘Securing More People’ Conversation
As your company grows in project management maturity you will want to expand the reach of your PMO to do more. Doing more normally includes having more people. That could be:
- Project managers
- Business analysts
- Software experts
- Managers and team leaders
- Support staff
Or anyone else that would give the team a boost. If senior managers are not convinced that more resources are required, going and asking for additional heads can be very difficult.
Arm yourself with information about what extra capability the PMO could deliver if you had additional people. It’s easier to do this if you tie it to an initiative – rather than, “We’ll do more of the same,” link it to, “We’re launching XYZ program and this person would actively support that.”
Be prepared to answer the question of what will happen to that resource when XYZ program is finished.
Sometimes you do just want to deliver more of the same. You can use statistics to back up your request in that case: you’ve seen an increase in projects of 10% in the last 6 months and the current team is stretched, resulting in something happening or providing less to the project management community. An additional resource (or two, or five) would allow you to maintain service levels. The more you can tie back your request to being able to deliver business objectives, the easier it will be to talk about increasing headcount.
2. The ‘Securing More Funding’ Conversation
It’s always awkward to ask for more money. However, you can’t run a successful PMO on an ever-reducing budget.
If you want to ask for more funding for your PMO, you better be sure what you are going to use it for. A business case for the investment is going to be much better received than an unspecific request for an additional amount.
Spell out exactly what you need and what you would be spending it on. Also, make sure that it ties back to business results. For example, if you want to fund additional training, talk about what improvement in capacity or capability you would get as a result. Do the same for software investments: if you can use case studies or vendor examples of the types of benefits firms similar to you have seen from introducing new professional software like Primavera, all the better.
We wouldn’t advocate padding your request so that if it is knocked down you still get the money you wanted. Instead, present two or three different options with different levels of funding and benefit to the organization. You may not secure the top level but you might be able to walk away with a promise for more funds for one of your other options, and that will feel like a win on both sides.
3. The ‘Seat At The Table’ Conversation
Sometimes we see highly effective PMOs that are serving their business to the best of their ability but which do not have a seat at the table. With that seat, they would be able to add even more value.
Talking to your boss or CEO about why the PMO should be involved in strategic level conversations, and have that seat at the table can be difficult. You’re asking for more involvement and to be part of conversations that previously have been held behind closed doors. Go in with the evidence that you could better serve the needs of the organization if you were part of the discussion. If you have examples of projects where being out of the loop was detrimental to the company, even better.
4. The ‘We’re Not Your PA’ Conversation
PMOs operate at various levels but they rarely exist just to provide secretarial and admin support to project managers (we’ve never seen this). And yet we’ve met plenty of project managers who feel that the PMO is there to come to meetings and take minutes for them, to type up their reports and to generally do admin work that they don’t want to do.
Talking to those project managers is important if you want to set expectations for what your PMO will deliver, and expectations of what the project manager’s role is. Of course you can provide project support, and define what that looks like for your department or for each project. But project support is a specific, value-add role that goes beyond acting as a project manager’s PA.
Have conversations with project managers who are taking liberties with your support resources. They may not know what their ‘official’ role is. However, they could also be pushing their luck and that’s something you should stop as soon as you can.
5. The ‘You Need Training’ Conversation
For those of us who deal with projects day in, day out, thinking in ‘project’ terms comes naturally after a while. But that isn’t the case for everyone.
One of the hardest conversations for a PMO leader to have is with stakeholders, executives or others who don’t understand how projects work or what their role in them should be. It’s the first-time project sponsor who wants to manage the project. It’s the senior manager who doesn’t understand how her delayed decision costs the company money while the project team put other work on hold.
Talking to someone in a position of authority about the fact that they don’t have the skills or awareness to do their job is not a comfortable thing to have to do. It’s easier to manage these situations if your PMO offers sponsor or executive training and this is mandated for everyone taking on a leadership role on a new company. It could be incorporated into project initiation or the kick-off tasks.
In smaller organizations, however, it might not be feasible to mandate training for senior level team members. You’ll end up offering on-the-job support and this needs to be done in a way that doesn’t undermine their authority on the project or make them feel bad.
You’ll have to adapt your strategies to the individual, their experience and position but the risk of not having this conversation is that their project will suffer.
How many of these conversations have you already had?