Pragmatic PMO at Project Challenge

2016-10-12-13-25-31I recently spent a day at Project Challenge. If you work in projects and you don’t know about this event, then you should really make the effort to go. Over two Autumn days in London (and in some years one spring day in Birmingham), you have the opportunity to hear the latest thinking from industry speakers, talk to PM software and training providers, membership organisations and consultants. If (like me) you’ve been around the industry for a few years, you’re bound to bump into someone you know who you haven’t seen for a while.

I was helping Lindsay and Eileen to crew the PMO FlashMob stand, and met some interesting people with some interesting challenges – from the PM trying to improve the way the emergency services work together, through the PM considering a move into PMO in the laundry business, to the cool dude in the bright yellow suit giving away Starbucks vouchers!

Whilst I was there I managed to take in a few presentations. Here are some highlights:

    • John Sheffield from PCU3ED highlighted the need for traditional (waterfall) and Agile delivery methods to be used together, often on projects or parts of projects that are part fo the same programme. He described the reporting and implementation timescales of sprints and product releases, projects and programmes as being like planets in a solar system with different orbit cycle times. He also suggested that projects and programmes incorporating agile delivery benefit from a more flexible form of governance based on relationships rather than rules. He explained that there is an important role for the PMO in co-ordinating all this so that planetary orbits align when required, and that both waterfall and Agile elements are governed effectively.


    • Eddie Borup of IBP Solutions asked whether we think being on track means just delivering to time, cost and quality (spoiler alert: it’s more than that!). Nowadays, being On Track encompasses benefits and strategy as well as TCQ. PMs need the maturity to realise that if their project is part of a Bigger Picture, then in the context of that Bigger Picture they are delivering just a Work Package (so they shouldn’t throw their weight around too much). To stay on track, do the basics well: Identify and map your stakeholders; Plan collaboratively with stakeholders for increased robustness and buy-in; plan from the end point backwards (with more detail for things that need to happen soon). If the plan tells you that you should already have started, then look to: Kill the project; Move the end date; Descope to maintain the end date (in that order) – if none of these is palatable, the only option is to take some risk.


    • Stephen Brown of Polarisoft mused on how automation will affect project resource management, and concluded that simple tasks will be automated, reducing cycle times and moving the focus of human involvement more towards strategic thinking. Indeed many resource decisions may well be not which person to use for a task, but whether that task should be done by a person at all!


    • Finally, PMO FlashMob’s own Lindsay Scott and Eileen Roden spoke to a packed house about the seven habits of highly effective PMO Managers, working in some good and bad habits that had been collected during the event. Stand-out points for me were that a PMO Manager should challenge PMs, playing the role of the “critical friend”. If a PM asks if their plan is rubbish, the PMO should not be afraid to say yes! (but then offer some support to rectify it). PMO Managers must “play in position”, that is they must remember they are there to inform and guide the decisions of CxOs, not to actually make the decisions.


All in all it was an interesting and stimulating day, and I would recommend you go next time if you haven’t been before.

About Ken Burrell

Ken Burrell is a contract Project, Programme and Portfolio Office (PMO) Professional, who helps organisations to improve the way they change through engagements of his company Pragmatic PMO: sometimes by supporting the controlled delivery of change programmes, and sometimes by ensuring CxOs get the information they need to make strategic decisions about those change programmes.

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