The Challenges and Opportunities of PMOs in Scotland

State-of-PMO-ScotlandEarlier this month we held the first ever PMO Flashmob in Scotland. It was held at SSE in Glasgow and the aim of the evening was to bring together PMO professionals together and have a chat about what is happening in this region.

The evening was kicked off by Jennifer Band, PMO Lead at SSE by setting the scene and asking the all important question – what is a PMO and what does it mean to the people around the table. Here’s just some of the things PMO do:

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This question alone can fill up an evening’s discussion when you bring together PMO practitioners from different organisations. It’s always helpful to have an overview of the different types of PMO that exist, and here is one view that was shared (I’m sure you’ll also have different variations on these):

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So the discussions for the evening were kicked off by finding out more about what current PMO practitioners in Scotland were working on – what are some of the core services that are currently in demand by their organisations. In the room that night we had a good spread of public (local government) and private organisations (banking, energy, software, consultancy) and Jennifer gave some areas to consider to get the ball rolling:

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This exercise is a good one for anyone in PMO to carry out – are you able to clearly articulate the current core services that are in demand? Are you able to provide a list of core, essential and non-essential services? Can everyone within the PMO team also do that?

So what were the conversations about? The conversation was kicked off when the question was asked – what do you spend the most time doing? The most conversations were around a surprising area – training:

1. Training and support

  • Advising both project managers and others in the business

The role of supporting people in areas such as how to start a project, what governance arrangements need to be in place etc. People within the business buy into the individuals who work within the PMO so it’s important we have the capability within the PMO to be able to offer this type of service.

  • Spending a lot of time training

In areas such as basics of project management through to the things like business cases. It’s not so much training project managers to do the job (that’s not the PMO’s job) but more about doing the job specifically within the business, so the different processes that exist or governance arrangements.

Other examples included the types of project managers that exist in the business i.e., they’ve come from a technical background and have been promoted on this basis but their project management background is not as strong. A newer example is Agile and what the governance arrangements are with that and what needs to happen from a PMO and project point of view.

But there is a lack of measures and metrics that might help to show – or justify – the time invested in offering these training support services. This is seen as an important step if the PMO wants to continuing carrying out these services, or as many in the room see it, as offering a “value added service”

  • Coaching

Others in the room see this as a coaching service rather than training per se. The key to the role is about building up the engagement with people and also being able to meet the demand when there might be a raft of newer people starting.

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The conversation moved on to maturity, “does the PMO become more mature the longer it is in existence?”. Most PMOs in the room that night were less than five years old, the most about three years old (which raised some nervous laughs if we remember the research that most PMOs are disbanded after two or three years!). However most people in the room have also been around the block a bit and have worked in different organisations and different types of PMOs.

The conversation headed towards the maturity of the organisation too – and how the maturity of the PMO is deeply linked with that. In some cases, the PMO practitioner thinks they’re putting together services and support which are pretty basic, yet the business is not altogether ready for them. It’s an interesting perspective for a PMO practitioner and their career – and how they could, potentially be on a continuous start, build a PMO up, get mature, leave and start somewhere else from scratch again. I wonder how many times you would want to do that in a career?

Maturity also comes from stability and consistency over a period of time yet changes at the top of the business and the driving of different agendas means the PMO often seems to be changing the rules, which obviously has a knock on effect with the project managers etc. It’s an interesting point – does the PMO become a political football? And if it does, how do we, PMO practitioners feel about that and manage that?

There are three different aspects to maturity to consider – there is the maturity of the organisation in terms of programmes and projects (this is assessed using P3M3); there is the maturity of individuals of which there competency frameworks and assessments for that; and the third aspect is the maturity of the PMO – but there is nothing out there that specifically assesses that.

The general summing up around this topic of maturity was that the PMOs that people work in aren’t immature but there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of articulating and showing what the PMO really does (and can do).

The Interactive Exercise

The first part of the evening was all about chatting across the table – for the second part we wanted people to get up on their feet and split into two groups.

There were two areas we were interested in. What challenges do PMOs face and also what opportunities do we see in 2016-2017.

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2016-03-03 19.52.16 The group looking at the challenges focused on the people side of things so that’s:

  • The longevity and sustainability of the PMO role – specifically because of this two/three year turnover and also around keeping the team together for longer than that.
  • Getting the quality of PMO staff and having a good understanding of all the disciplines of PMO.
  • Retaining people within the PMO i.e., those who see the PMO role as a stepping stone to Project Manager.
  • The ability to build a permanent team i.e., not just contractors and short term staff.
  • The breadth of skills of some of the people who move into PMO – their skillsets can be narrow i.e., from project planner to PMO – great at planning but not so hot on finance or risk management.
  • Capacity of the team – you never have enough people in the team to tick all the services you want to provide and keeping everyone happy – there’s a lot of compromise.

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In terms of the opportunities – you might recognise the list above from the recent top ten trends in PMO – but what about the PMO practitioners in Scotland, what were their opportunities?

  • For some it was about embracing technology – even the relative basics of Sharepoint were seen as opportunities over the next few years.
  • Improvement in collaboration – or mechanisms for improving collaboration in the organisation with mobile technology.
  • Improvement in PMO capability – more training needed, and ensuring the embedding of that training.
  • Benefits realisation – the PMO has a key role to play yet the role is not successful today
  • Analytics and measurement that aid the message that the PMO adds value.

As you have probably guessed – when we set out with an event called The State of the PMO in Scotland – did we really expect to uncover anything really different about PMOs in Scotland? No, not really. And yes, some of the same PMO issues were discussed on this evening that you would equally find in Spain, Sweden, Sri Lanka and any other country beginning with S!

The great thing about these conversations is that it starts to pinpoint some of the common challenges and opportunities and because of that, PMO Flashmob in Scotland has just scheduled its second meetup in May – all about the role of the PMO in Benefits Management.

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About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay is the founder of PMO Flashmob. She's also the creator of London's first dedicated PMO Conference; Director of Arras People and PMO enthusiast

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