Top Ten from the PMO Conference 2017

PMO Conference 2017The PMO Conference last month pulled together an eclectic mix of sessions, speakers, practitioners and supplying organisations. People have often asked what the theme for the conference is – it’s PMO. Simple as that. It doesn’t have to have one theme – or one focus – because PMO is so varied, so why not pull together a conference that celebrates that variety.

This year I was spoilt for choice when it came to putting together my top ten – those little nuggets or lightbulb moments – things that have stuck four weeks later.

If you want to see the sessions for yourself you can, there’s a small fee that goes right back into PMO Flashmob so we can carry on pulling together great events in the future.

Here’s my top ten:

  1. The Golden Rule – It’s Not Your PMO
  2. Who’s Who in the PMO Zoo
  3. Agile PMO – Three is the Magic Number
  4. Bagel Theory
  5. PMO Principles
  6. Epics and Sprints
  7. We Don’t Close – We Change and Evolve – Beyond the Tricky Third Year
  8. Tailoring the PMO
  9. Growing Up Portfolio Management Style
  10. Flip the Switch


1. The Golden Rule – It’s Not Your PMO

Mark Price Perry just has the knack of really changing the way you think about PMO and in our opening keynote he was right on the button – having said that not everyone is ready to receive the message – especially when he tells you that the PMO doesn’t belong to you – the PMO, it belongs to the business. Then he set out to Business PMOsay that PMO management is not project management at all – it’s business unit management, which for many of us is a whole new ball game.

In this session Mark pulled from his year’s of PMO experience from across the world – he talked about the organisations that get in touch, needing help and advice Traditional PMOon making their PMO work. In his experience every failing PMO has followed the “traditional PMO” route. Let’s just say that’s the one most of us are familiar with, like this:

  • Sell pre-determined PMO solution
    • Pick a PMO model
    • List PMO services
    • Present generic PMO benefits
    • Ask for management “Buy-in”

And what’s the alternative? The Business Driven PMO? Well that includes things like this:

  • Leadership team determined (ends)
    • Report period PMO mandate
    • Project-related issues/opportunities
    • Value of meeting issues/opportunities
    • Vision, mission, goals, objectives
  • PMO Business Plan (means to ends)
    • PMO determined plan/strategy
    • Key PMO capabilities
    • Tactics to enable capabilities
      • KPIs
      • People, process, tools

2. Who’s Who in the PMO Zoo

The session on Stakeholder Engagement from Louise Worsley went down very well. There were two specific things that stood out here, that third bullet point:

  • A willingness to listen
  • Able to discuss issues of mutual interest
  • Prepared to consider changes in light of the engagement

A simple sentence that really does drive home what stakeholder engagement is really all about.

The second takeaway a reminder that we should:

Use judgement…

Not templates!

We can often get wrapped up in the PMO world of providing tools, techniques and templates without taking a step back and using the judgement we’ve worked hard to gain through the variety of programmes and projects we’ve supported.

Of course there was loads more nuggets in this session – you can take it as the role the PMO can play in supporting stakeholder engagement in portfolio, programmes and projects OR you can look at the session again and see it from the angle of the PMO’s own stakeholders and how we engage with them.

Here Ken Burrell gives his overview from the session:

In the session, Louise sets out how stakeholders can be classified according to the nature of their association with the project (those who are involved with the project by virtue of their role, and those whose agenda is affected by the outputs of the project), and some tools that can be used to engage them. She outlines how projects can also be classified according to the number and type of stakeholders, and how this classification might affect the stakeholder engagement approach used.

Louise’s presentation describes the example of an infrastructure project that sought to introduce an integrated road transport system to Cape Town, South Africa by removing many of the taxis, adding a new road, and adding a new bus system (which was not at all popular with the 900 or so taxi drivers impacted). Success here depended not on managing stakeholders but on engaging them; achieved by creating a stakeholder-sensitive project within the programme aimed specifically at engaging stakeholders (rather than running this an activity within the other projects).

Louise proposes that adoption of a “stakeholder mindset” is fundamental to project success, and she describes how the PMO can act as brokers and facilitators in this; connecting projects and stakeholders together and then getting out-of-the-way.

These topics are covered in more depth in her book, “Stakeholder-Led Project Management: Changing the Way we Manage Projects”, released in October 2016 and reviewed here


Stakeholder Engagement

3. Agile PMO – Three is the Magic Number

The delegates who listened to Jesse Fewell talking about Agile PMO were raving about this session – Jesse really knows his stuff – both Agile AND PMO which has been a tough find to get someone with both sides. So what’s the three?

Key takeaway from the project side:

Don’t ask WHETHER Agile…

Ask HOW MUCH Agile

Key takeaway from the organisation side:

  • Build awareness across the organization.
  • Apply and assess techniques on Pilot Projects
  • Designate and equip internal change agents to sustain an Agile competency

And key takeaway from the personal side:

Go deep and broad with your capability development – the workplace is changing and so are the skills we need to perform well.

4. Bagel Theory

Who knew this phenomena actually had a name? This is something instantly recognisable if you’ve worked in an organisation with many PMOs:

PMO Bagel Theory

This was part of the quick PMO Flash Talks session from Dr Ralf Muller – one of four talks in an hour.

5. PMO Principles

A PMO should have some principles right? But how many of us stop to think about what these should be for a PMO – or indeed what a principle even is?

So a little education first from Dr Robert Joslin, Founder of AIPMO – a new body called Association of International PMOs:

So first the definition of what a ‘principle’ is:

A fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning

And why principles are important?

Process and procedures can never describe every unique situation therefore in situations of uncertainty of what to do one should fall back on the governance ‘principles’ of the organisation. This helps ensure you do the right thing and act as stewards to the owners of the organisation.

So when things are not going exactly to plan, what do we call on and remember as our guiding principles to get us through the rough patch (well that’s how I remember what principles mean anyway!)

Seven core PMO principles were introduced:

PMO Principles

What do you think? Something missing? Why not add your thoughts in the comments below.

6. Epics and Sprints

It’s always good to hear from the practitioners who are really doing some great stuff in their organisations – one of the most popular at the moment is listening to people who are supporting agile within their organisations, programmes and projects.

Ian Harvey, Senior Director of Programme Management at Elsevier took to the stage to give a great session on this. One part in particular caught my eye (there was loads but I’m only doing a top ten, not a top 100!) and that was the relationship between pulling together a roadmap of projects – seen as Epics below and how that maps out into pulling together estimates for work. It’s really practitioner nerdy stuff and Ian did a great job in giving the crowd loads more of this.

We still want more of this type of understanding – how Agile projects work and where the PMO can really help and support – the roll your sleeves up stuff without getting in the way of Agile teams doing the stuff they’re great at.Agile PMO

7. We Don’t Close – We Change and Evolve

Let’s just bring it out now into the open – that stat about PMOs closing down within three years is wrong – it always was. The original research paper actually said that PMOs change and evolve into something else – they are never the same PMO three years down the line as they were when they first started. There its said.

So John McIntyre’s session on Beyond the Tricky Third Year was neatly positioned – plus we got to hear about a real practitioner’s approach to changing and evolving and what that has meant for the PMO. Pruning what they do versus what they’re going to do was fascinating:

Evolving PMO

With the key message that the PMO has to be really tight with the business – it’s back to Mark Price Perry’s session on ensuring the PMO is a Business Driven PMO – and that means supporting the innovative processes for the business – or as John put it – the PMO has to be an enabler. He also talked about the types of coaching the PMO can offer and choosing the right delivery approaches for the right bits of work. All great stuff to hear from a PMO working in a very technology driven, bleeding edge organisation:


8. Tailoring the PMO

We hear it all the time – every PMO is different, no one size or bundle of services fits all… I doubt there will ever be a PMO-off-the-shelf solution (thankfully) because of this, and one thing that I’ve been hearing over and over recently is that if you’re working in or managing a PMO you’re going to be doing a job which requires a lot of thought. So thinking about what the PMO needs to be in relation to what the business wants throws up lots of knotty interesting challenges that sometimes just need time to be thought through before making plans and taking action.

Hans Arnjberg’s session focused on how the PMO tailors his functions and services to meet that business need. There’s a bigger planning cycle to consider (over Deming’s cycle) with 12 stages; and there’s the mindset of the PMO and the organisation to consider too. So a lot of thinking, some practical advice on how to tailor different aspects of the PMO; and some examples in the session about what and how other PMOs have tailored. Suits you sir!


Tailoring the PMO


PMO Mindset

9. Growing Up Portfolio Management Style

Portfolio management was the “in” thing a few years ago, I’m not saying it’s not a thing anymore, it’s just that it seems to have fallen down the agenda list a bit (enter stage left – strategy stuff and Agile, agile). Another thing I’ve found is that actually not a lot of people are working in an out-and-out Portfolio Office – they might be doing bits of portfolio stuff in their Enterprise PMO, combining what they do with other essential services.

In this session called PPM 2.0 from Andy Jordan – it should appeal to those in Enterprise PMOs and Portfolio Offices – or should that be ‘directing PMOs’?

The one pager call to action sums up nicely what future activities or approaches are needed to bring a PMO to a successful future state.


Portfolio Management

10. Flip the Switch

End of a conference always needs something humourous and educational – and we had Jez Rose, who is a behaviorist – and a funny, relatable one at that.

Flipping the Switch is all about your own behaviour and he uses this quote as a basis for the session:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom – Dr. Viktor Frankl

Key takeaways for me (and I have no doubt that other people in the room saw other things / took other things away):

  • Try to remain as positive as you can (even to the point where you might note down the successes you’ve had in any given day or week) because there’s too many negative people out there that are ready to rain on your parade.
    • It might seem like one of those things that people just say and then we forget about it – I’ve actually really tried in the last few weeks to actively flip the switch here and like any change in behaviour, ongoing practice might make perfect.
  • Knowledge is useless unless it is applied – plus I think how you apply something is often seen as secondary to the PMO talking shop. Less talking about doing good stuff and showing lovely framework and process pictures and just getting on with it and doing a good job.
  • Think before you fill that space between stimulus and response – hands up I admit I often think out loud, filling the gap with drivel 🙂 In this part of the session, Jez talked about the consequences of what is said. It’s very powerful if you’re able to think a couple of steps ahead in a conversation, and I guess that means shutting up more and remembering “two ears, one mouth, use them in the right proportion” I’m going to carry on practicing.


PMO Conference Copyright 2017


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.

One comment

  1. Just watched the session from Jesse on Agile PMO – Three is the Magic Number
    Not going to forget his explanation of why Agile is the new rock n roll.

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