The PMO Conference in London, UK, is in its fourth year. It’s a large gathering of PMO people and focuses heavily on the issues, challenges, tools and process around PMO practices. We love it because it’s totally dedicated to the world of the project office, whereas many other project management conferences don’t include much in the way of PMO content.
We sent our roving reporter, Elizabeth Harrin, to the event to find out about the trends and challenges shaping the PMO industry today. Here’s her report.
The PMO Conference on June 13, 2018, covered a wide range of topics. With multiple strands scheduled throughout the day, there were plenty of sessions to choose from and lots of experts on hand to listen to.
After my day in London, there are some themes that stood out as trends, or at least hot discussion topics in the field at the moment. These topics were mentioned throughout the day, and by a number of different speakers. Here’s what I took away from the conversations.
Managing a 21st Century PMO
Jack Duggal, author of The DNA of Strategy Execution: Next Generation Project Management and PMO, spoke about how we need to take a hard look at the world outside our project environments in his keynote presentation. He said that we are still building PMOs based on old ideas. The world we work in is frequently dynamic, changing, ambiguous, uncertain, non-linear, complex and emergent. Many of the processes we follow are not.
For example, even a simple tweet can change the direction of travel for a project or business. The more we try to control events, the messier they get. He advocated for humility and an appreciation that there are some things that are unpredictable given the velocity of change.
Duggal compared the games of pool and pinball: pool has rules that you can learn and a structure you can follow to win. Pinball is more random. He said many PMO managers were struggling to play pinball while following the rules of pool. The tools and techniques that worked in the past aren’t fit for purpose in today’s disruptive economy. Very thought-provoking!
Building Maturity in the PMO
A number of speakers talked about maturity models and building capability in the PMO. A common thought was that businesses often over-estimate their maturity levels which can lead to difficult conversations when they engage an expert partner to help them develop.
It’s really important to be honest about where you are on your journey and where your gaps are. However, it’s fine to say that you don’t need to be operating at high levels of maturity across all dimensions on a maturity model. You only need to reach the level that’s relevant for your business at this time, so take comfort from the fact that you don’t have to be a level 5 operation to be adding value!
‘Building maturity’ looks like different things to different organizations at different times. You might analyze your current situation and realize that you need to spend more on adopting the right technology and tools to support your project managers and reporting needs. Or you might need to invest more in training. There isn’t a single journey to a mature PMO as it all depends on where you are starting from, your business environment and what you need to do to support your organization.
A couple of the speakers, including Bill Dow and Lori Silverman, talked about data visualisation, albeit it coming from different angles. Silverman’s presentation was on the value of stories as a way to incite people to take action based on the insights you have uncovered in the data. Presenting the data in a way that makes it relatable and actionable – so that people can visualise the thing they need to do – is hugely influential.
Silverman shared her ‘data–insight–action’ framework and that highlighted the fact that we can’t simply present data to executive stakeholders and expect them to know what to do with it. They are looking for the story, for the insight within the numbers that will help them understand the meaning.
Dow talked about dashboards and reporting, sharing several examples of what data could look like if it was intelligently put together in ways that were meaningful for the audience.
The power of data to create information and then insight was another trend that ran throughout the day. If you can harness that, and use it in your own organization, you can get your messages across more easily, be more influential and shape both your own career and the direction of your PMO.
Change Management and the PMO
Finally, there was a lot of talk between delegates and speakers about change management and the role that the PMO can play in supporting change activities in the business.
Deanne Earle, in her presentation with Francesca Valli, talked about the growing overlap between change and the PMO. The PMO, she said, has a significant role to play in supporting the tools, practices and plans for change management within a business.
The PMO team is perfectly placed to ensure change is part of the project organization. They can plug into the delivery teams to help support strategic change. This is one of the ways that the PMO can move from being a more administrative and governance function to leading on change management activities that drive the adoption of project outcomes and support benefits realization.
The PMO Conference was attended by around 600 project office professionals of all levels, and from all kinds of industries. The main takeaway for me is that we are all struggling with similar challenges: resourcing, capacity planning, managing the pipeline of work, consolidated reporting, and exploring what value means to the organization and how we deliver it.
Despite the challenge, we are all part of the same community of professionals and there are solutions out there. By drawing on the knowledge of others and sharing what we know ourselves, we can build maturity and develop PMOs that support our businesses for the challenges they face today.