How many times have you been in a meeting and felt you didn’t have the whole picture? Whether it’s a reference to a strategic decision, new plans for transformative change or something about the business landscape – it’s clear that they knew something that you didn’t.
This kind of situation doesn’t feel good, but more than that, being left out of the conversation puts you and your PMO team at a disadvantage.
Without insight into what is going on in the organization, you can’t staff appropriately, respond to risk and changes, or support the business needs. And isn’t that what the PMO is supposed to do?
This isn’t just about sitting in with the board as they plan the next 5 years for your company. PMOs function at lots of different levels in the organization and you might not even have an enterprise PMO. That shouldn’t matter: you can get your voice heard and offer more value at any level.
You can have a seat at the strategy table at any level in the organization. For example, if your PMO serves the IT team, the PMO leadership should be involved in the IT managers’ conversations about strategy and vision for that department. Then you can make sure your PMO plans align with and support the delivery of the IT strategy.
If you find yourself on the periphery of strategic discussions too often, you should start lobbying for a seat at the table.
In this article we’ll look at how to talk about the extra value your PMO can bring and what risks the organization might face if you continue to be excluded from the strategy debate. But first, let’s consider why the gap exists in the first place. Why don’t you have a seat at the table already?
Why Don’t You Have a Seat at the Table?
In our experience, the most common reason for not being invited to be part of the strategic debate is that the people who are in those meetings don’t know what you could bring.
They probably think you are doing a fine job as a PMO team. They know you are serving the business, leading projects and strategic change, and doing it very well. Many people don’t understand the extra value that a PMO can offer an organization, when it is fully integrated and operating at the most senior levels.
Hopefully the people who matter know that the PMO offers more than simply an admin and reporting function. If they don’t, that’s the first place to start. Build your internal ‘brand’ by showcasing what you currently do. Get your team noticed for being supportive and for shaping the conversation at lower levels in the organization.
Your place in the conversations may also be blocked by those who feel that strategy discussions should be held behind closed doors. It may be that to get in, you need to put forward the most senior person in the PMO hierarchy, whoever that might be. As a starting point, that at least gets the PMO present at the meetings, and you have a mechanism to get information fed back to the PMO team.
Having addressed concerns about why the PMO isn’t included in the first place, you can then move the discussion on to what you could bring if you were there.
Explain The Extra Value
What more could you do if you had more knowledge of what was happening in the organization? These are the kinds of thing that you should be explaining.
For example, strategic execution is high up the agenda for executives. It isn’t enough to design a strategy; you have to have the infrastructure and teams in place to implement it too. The PMO is instrumental in making this link. As people who understand how the business works, your team can explain how individual projects support strategic delivery. And, even more importantly, they can point out where projects are not aligned to strategy.
With that level of knowledge and awareness at the table, the executives should have the information they need to prioritize the right projects to deliver the right outcomes.
Explain The Risk
If you aren’t involved in those discussions, what would the risk be? There are a number of factors affecting the success of any change. Here are some suggestions to prompt your own thinking about risks relevant to your organization.
- Staffing: If you aren’t aware of the strategic direction of the department or business, you aren’t able to flex PMO staffing to ensure there are sufficient project resources to meet demand.
- Training: If you aren’t aware of the types of projects the business wants to do more of (e.g. “In five years’ time we will be totally digital”), you can’t equip the workforce to meet those needs (e.g. improving the teams’ skills in digital project management).
- Prioritization: Lack of awareness of strategic direction could lead to the PMO giving the wrong advice or focusing on the wrong measures for reporting. Better knowledge leads to better prioritization of the work.
It’s even better if you can use real examples from past projects, where you can show that lack of information had a negative effect on the project’s outcomes. Perhaps a critical project was delayed through lack of resource because no one knew it a strategic initiative was dependent on it? Perhaps a decision was taken to fund a project, and then a strategic project came along which meant that project had to be stopped? If you had known about that work, you would never have started the first project.
Try to think of some situations relevant to your own organization that illustrate the kinds of challenge facing the PMO and how they would be alleviated for the good of the business overall.
Use Your Influence
You’ll need to use all your influencing skills to get your seat at the table. Some managers will be open to extending their meetings to you and will quickly pick up on the extra support the PMO can offer. Others may be more resistant.
If you face resistance, keep trying. Keep adding more services to the PMO and keep talking about the value you have to offer the business. See if you can talk to and influence other managers who attend the right meetings, and catch up with them afterwards to see what was discussed so that you can better shape the PMOs responses. Let others know that you are doing that. One day, there will be a seat at the strategy table for you, and people will wonder how they ever managed without PMO representation.