Speaking to Senior Executives

Week 16 of #PMOwfh – four months of PMO chat, debate, a few laughs and lots of sharing during four months of the pandemic.

There’s one thing we’ve definitely learnt during this time – there’s no limit to the subjects and themes we can choose to get into, the life of a PMO is such a varied and interesting one!

This week we’re looking at the theme of “talking to senior executives”. It was one suggested by one of the crew so here we are.

We were delighted to have Terry Doerscher join us from good ole Texas. Terry has loads of relatable experiences and knowledge, plus he’s a really nice bloke.

He’s the author of a great book – Taming Change with Portfolio Management – an excellent choice if you’re working at the senior level in portfolio PMO.

The 10-in-10 session from Terry covered:

  • Role of the PMO from an executive perspective
  • Communicating project and portfolio performance
  • Effective portfolio governance and project sponsorship

The Video Session

The Deck

There were two stand out parts to the session for me.

We loved this part of the deck:

If there was ever a great overview of why the PMO exists, this is it. These are the things the executives need and want from a PMO – even if they don’t know it!

It is an image I would certainly keep and use as a reminder when thinking about PMO set up – improving the PMO -maturing the PMO or thinking about the performance and KPIs around the PMO.

If you’d like to keep it, here’s a PDF version of it >> Download it

The second stand out was the focus on project sponsors – the bottom line, we could be doing more to help project sponsors with their roles, the “sponsor is the single most important and influential player on the project team” and often they’re not getting the support and help they need to do an effective job.

There was mentions of how the PMO are doing this – one shared, “In implementing a PMO at my organisation we ran an Awareness course for project sponsors. That helped a lot. Worked with accredited provider to develop specific content for sponsor” Another, “last client had a blitz of what being a sponsor meant which unsettled a lot of people” and “the same last client also got each divisional sponsor (MD-level) to physically sign a letter agreeing to what they’d signed-up for”. And an excellent point we probably have all come across before, “Accidental sponsor – dangerous role”


We have a breakout session each time and in this week, the crew were answering this question.

Here we capture some of their thoughts:

  • Use of data and engaging with sponsors
  • Outside in – customer data, rather than inside-out: what value can sponsor get from the data?
  • Data is a starting point, needs to be interpreted in order to help make good decisions
  • Access to data – what’s available and what is not being shared?
  • Too much data – what do they really need to know? Issues in terms of communication
  • How to link up different areas of the business? Using the same language, use of acronyms
  • Talk the right language – need to understand precisely what they are interested in– respond in their language
  • Managing up: senior execs don’t understand Project Management so don’t know what they need
  • Provide recommendations of what information we suggest they might need
  • Having regular catch up meetings
  • At the first meeting get an understanding from them of what they want/how often/how to share
  • Build their trust and ensure open communication
  •  Get them onside and get their support (they can help with resources etc)
  • Address the confidence concern of PMO practitioners being able to converse with senior executives effectively – ‘I’ll go and find the answer if I don’t know it’ , book a follow up session
  • Try to place ourselves into the Executive shoes
  • Give them suggestions to play with / tear down (strawman)
  • Allow the Executive to be brought in to what we are giving them
  • Work out how the data we are collecting can answer the questions they are asking. (or collect different data!)
  • Adapting to who the Executive are. Stay adaptable.
  • Be consistent in reporting, so that Exec can compare
  • Focus on outcomes and benefits
  • Pre-meetings are helpful for some Executive (we can show that we are more than a Secretariat function)
  • Use opportunities to demonstrate PMO value – particularly as part of the decision making process
  • We should remember that communication is two way. Keep adapting.
  • Summarise key decisions needed.
  • Don’t overload with data.
  • Understand Exec priorities.
  • Demo value to Exec.
  • Aim to move towards tracking strategic outcomes rather than deliverables.
  • BUT overall be an honest broker, provide clarity to the Execs

Further Resources

You can check out a four-part series from Terry over on Linkedin called Developing High Performance Project Sponsors and Stakeholders

Part 1 – covers the case for action

Part 2 – the business proposal

Part 3 – Workshop Considerations and Tips

Part 4 – Implementation


About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay is the founder of PMO Flashmob and a Director at PMO Learning - the sister company to PMO Flashmob and the best training company for PMO people in the world! She's also the creator of London's first dedicated PMO Conference; Director of Arras People and PMO enthusiast. Loves dogs and gin.

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