Top Ten Messages from the PMO Symposium 2016

badgeThis year’s theme at PMI’s PMO Symposium was all about Benefits Management, a big change from last year where the talk was all about portfolio management. There were about 700-800 people in attendance over the three days – and the set up was the same as last year. Some opening keynote speeches – a learning excursion (I picked the hospital – fascinating when you compare it to the NHS and what we have here) – then sessions you could pick from across six different streams. Some of these streams were what they called Knowledge Hubs, small groups of people being facilitated in a discussion about a particular topic.

This year, Eileen Roden, PMO Flashmobber joined me – and we bumped into John McIntyre (Ticketmaster PMO Manager, who was presenting a couple of sessions) and Mr Portfolio, Craig Kilford.

So what did I take away from this year’s PMO Symposium? Here are my top ten messages:

  1. Benefits management – just do it.
  2. Forget Agile – Six Sigma and Lean is where it’s at.
  3. Transforming the PMO – everyone is doing it
  4. Pit Crews and Quality Management
  5. Top PMO Symposium Words
  6. Secret Sauce – what’s yours?
  7. Systems Approach – er what?
  8. Difficult Projects and Innovation
  9. Chief Project Officers – the future?
  10. Pastoral Management – do you do it?

1. Benefits Management

benefits management - pmiBenefits management was the main theme for the Symposium – PMI always seem to launch the more “organisational project management” research at this time of year to coincide with the conference. This year there was a bumper pack of materials to take a look at. There’s a mix of some nuts and bolts stuff which if you’re after some detail about how to make it work will be useful. There’s also materials based on “recognising that it’s an organisational issue – not PPM – that benefits management is not done well”.

The opening session, delivered by Mark Langley, President of PMI, acknowledged that benefits management is not new – what is new is bringing some understanding as to why it’s not working and what can be done about it.

Interestingly one of the statistics – 93% of organisations have some form of benefits management – but only 17% are applying that consistently, doesn’t surprise me at all.

Benefits management seems to be one of those things that is just too hard to do – and people have a hard time recognising the value of it – otherwise they’d try harder to actively do it.

Something clearly has to change with benefits management – and PMI’s research, I think stops short at providing the real solution to this.

Here’s the main points that came from the research:

  • Organisations are interested in it – but only a handful are doing it well.
  • There is confusion about who is responsible for it.
  • Everyone is looking for an easy answer.

And the possible solutions to addressing these challenges:

  • You need a portfolio management solution that bridges that gap between strategy and execution
  • You need a dedicated space for dialogue (between execs, business owners and PMs)
  • You need the right conditions for success – the right sponsors and the right PMs against the right initiatives
  • You need the right behaviours
  • You need to hardwire the link between strategy and delivery
  • You need to link all the people together
  • You need to increase the skills
  • You just need to start doing it – choose the right projects to start with, make small, pragmatic steps.

Take a look at the papers for more details on what these really mean.

So what is the real solution to this – I think it’s twofold. The papers, as interesting as they are, are aimed more at the PPM community rather than the organisation. If benefits management is a business problem and not a PPM problem – someone is going to have to translate some of these guidelines because the language is all wrong for the business exec. Benefits management??! Surely we can think of a better term and a way of articulating what we want benefits management to being to the business.

The second possible solution to this – and I’m not sure why PMI haven’t yet pushed for this – is that benefits management really makes the case for a C Level exec position that is dedicated to looking after the organisation’s change activities – call it a Chief Change Officer or Chief Project Officer.

If projects and programmes are really the key to delivering an organisation’s strategies – keeping them competitive, increasing revenues etc then why is there no one in charge of this at the highest level? Who owns benefits management? Well that should obviously be the CCO / CPO. Who manages the portfolio? Who manages the sponsors? Who provides the leadership? Who holds the purse strings? Who does the buck stop with?

Many of the sessions on benefits management at the Symposium were about the bottom up approach – the mechanics and how the PMO can put in processes and try and change behaviours and attitudes at the grass root levels. Personally I didn’t opt to see any of them because I didn’t feel that anything new was being offered.

2. Six Sigma and Lean

Forget about agile being the buzzword – Six Sigma, Lean, Kaizen, value streams… That’s where it was all at.

If there is one thing that PMOs do a lot of – its processes – and if there’s one thing they want to do more of – it’s improving the processes – so Six Sigma et al makes total sense.

And that’s not all – ITIL (the service delivery framework) we;; that’s makes sense if you’re delivering services which is what a lot of PMOs do – so why take some standards and approaches from ITIL. There was even a presentation that mentioned using Customer Service models in what they’re doing too.

Really interesting insight that I’ve not seen many people mentioning this side of the pond.

One example in action was during the visit to the hospital (Scripps – see below, look at that sky in November!) where they gave a talk before a look around the hospital. The session “Strategic Adoption of Value by Design” was about using a methodology that engages all the people who work in the hospital who are default, all stakeholders in any changes in the hospital. They had opted for a management system focus which uses Lean – more specifically a value stream approach.

“Value By Design” is about bringing together Lean and Design Thinking – to enable better continuous improvement – before things start to go wrong. Scripps called this Lean Six Sigma. So the message for me – I want to know more about both Lean and Design Thinking – perhaps you do too?



An example of some of the detail in a value stream from Scripps:



3. Transforming the PMO

It’s a subject we’ve talked about before at PMO Flashmob – and at the Symposium there were quite a few sessions which included “transformation”, “evolution” or “changing” the PMO in some way. I listened to a session which was delivered by the Head of Strategic Delivery for an US bank. There were a couple of things that stood out for me.

The first was about knowing when transformation is necessary (transformation is an evolution, not a revolution). In this instance it was about moving the PMO from a standards PMO to a strategic PMO. The presenter said it started with understanding where you are – and highlighted this with a maturity model. Her advice was if you’re not sure where your PMO is at right now – the maturity assessment is something you need to seriously look at.


What caught my attention was the “Transformation Readiness Indicators” – these are the things that PMOs need to understand in their own organisation’s context and culture – helping to answer the question, “how do we know the PMO is ready for transformation?”


rulesThe second thing that stood out for me was within what a PMO has to do to bring about the transformation – actually making it happen. It was a combination of different things – a linear journey of you like (image to the right) – that led to a roadmap which was about defining what it is you are transforming. The four categories made sense – process, governance, people and tools/methods – and not too much activity each year on the journey.

It’s clean, simple (a theme from last year about keeping what the PMO does simple but without dumbing down), sharable, easy to understand.

Nice, I liked it.


4. Pit Crews and Quality Management

car1I could have called this one Project Portfolio Quality Management but that would have been a bit dull. So pit crews it is.

car2This was all about the type of PMO you are and the services provided around quality management – emergency crew or pit crew? Proactive or reactive? Prevention or corrective? The case here of course was more on the preventative side – thinking about “the people, processes, and tools that enable us to measure projects’ overall health and trigger remediation at appropriate time”.

The advice around being more pit crew included:

  • Establish continuous improvement on standardized compliance and performance reporting
  • Drive project management compliance through right-sized quality assessments
  • Remember to prioritize and remediate project compliance even in emergencies

It was the first one which caught my eye as the presenter suggested there are a number of different reports that help to prevent projects going off track. It made me think – we don’t really get into talking about quality management with PMO Flashmob – and this slide should prompt lots of discussion.


5. Top words

It’s funny how new terms seem to figure at conferences – someone says it once and there it is, popping up again. So throughout the conference I kept jotting them down and here they are;

  • Boiling the ocean – depending on the context this means wasting time on something – or going overboard on effort on something.
  • Anchor strategy – this came up when talking about getting started with benefits management – pick the main strategy for the business and work through the benefits management process with this “anchor” strategy.
  • Hardwiring – this one, again, in relation to benefits management, was about the best conditions for benefits management to thrive – “hardwiring” the link between strategy and projects.
  • Proximal peers – this one popped up on a talk about influence – specifically it was about being motivated in the job – a proximal peer is someone who you think is just a few steps ahead of you in their career – someone you could potentially learn from or be motivated to be.
  • Moving the dial – again in relation to why benefits management is not working in organisation – it was a call for PMOs to start “moving the dial” when it comes to increasing the effort here.
  • Secret sauce – heard a few times throughout the event, see below for more.


secret-sauce6. Secret Sauce

Secret sauce was used in a couple of different contexts. It’s either something that helps accelerate the PMO to do bigger and better things – or its something that just adds the ‘zing’ – doing something different, something unusual or unexpected that just seems to work well. Or like I said on the recent #pmchat This question was about the extra hummmph your PMO is doing to “add value”.

The example from the short session I listened to focused on the PMO getting more involved in capability development, a short overview here:

  • Implement a formal career path for project management practitioners
  • Build credentials into your job descriptions
  • Walk the talk get personally involved in PM talent acquisition beyond your own team

Back to #pmchat where we asked what people’s secret sauce might be, Nicole gave a good example:


The session was a call-to-action for PMOs – do you know what your secret sauce is – or what it could be in the future?

7. Systems Approach

To be fair I’m still trying to get my head around this one. The guy presenting had a brain the size of a planet and I wish I could have slowed the delivery down because there was a lot to take in. But it got my attention because it felt like a different type of subject for the PMO.


So in a nutshell – there are different ways to think about solving wicked problems and making decisions – some of these are in the image above.

Then the presentation went on to blow my mind a bit, when it mentioned a new framework called A2W – which essentially stands for Analysis, Assessment and Wisdom – which is used for root cause analysis.

A2W looks at quantitative (analysis), qualitative (assessment),  and leadership (wisdom) issues, and drills down within these as far a needed to solve problems. As with any wicked problem, we want to break the challenges down into manageable parts ..then solve for each part to build up a solution.



Interesting stuff – that I’m still don’t 100% understand – but that’s OK because now I can go and have a look at that all of this stuff means. I don’t understand it because it’s not from my world – and that’s the great thing about conferences like this, I get exposed to how other types of organisations do stuff, even though what they do bears no relation to my own experiences. I think there are probably hundreds of solutions for common PMO problems and challenges out there – it’s just that we’re not looking in the right places.

It’s a reminder for all of us to be curious and not just look to project management best practices to find the answers.


8. Difficult Projects and Innovation

This came from an opening keynote from Jim McNerney, he’s the ex-CEO and Chairman of Boeing. At each Symposium they like to have a business leader who just gets up there and talks about their life. With this kind of keynote it was just about catching some things that interested or resonated with me. The image below is my notes from the talk.

There were two things I particularly liked – “difficult projects can re-shape an organisation” both positively and negatively – Jim’s experiences were about finding the positives.

And I liked what he said about organisations generally being good at “two out of three”. If the three things are:

  • Dream
  • Build
  • Sell

Some organisations are good at the dreams / innovation – and can build it – but suck at selling it. Well you get the picture, I liked the simplicity of it.

I think innovation is going to be one of the bigger themes for project management in 2017 – it just seems to be on a lot of conference agendas at the moment – so let’s see what happens – but at the same time, let’s think about what that might mean for the PMO.



9. Chief Project Officer

We’ve often chatted over a few beers at previous PMO Flashmobs about the idea of a PMO executive being on the board of an organisation – after all there are leaders for other business functions (HR, Finance, Operations etc) so why not one for someone who oversees change and delivery?

So this session was about the person that owns “strategy realisation” and is definitely not leading a PMO (you need someone else in there, ‘keeping the lights on’). The Chief Project Officer (CPO) is likely to be a role that focuses on turning the business into a benefits-driven organisation.


Specifically there are four areas that the CPO would oversee:

  • Enterprise risk management
  • Enterprise change management
  • Portfolio benefits realisation activities
  • Portfolio alignment

I suppose you could argue that the Portfolio Manager role today takes the last two – but what about the first two?

Of course when the question was asked of the audience if such a role exists today in their organisation – 89% said no.

The presenter recounted his own experiences of what needed to be in place before such a role could be considered in an organisation. This included:

  • Evolving and maturing project management and business practices
  • Perfecting reporting techniques
  • Stakeholder management
  • Establish and maintaining the PMO/s
  • Effective process improvement
  • Being an education provider
  • Implementing a competency framework

This is just one organisation’s view of course about what constitute a good platform for a delivery organisation which will of course lead to increased maturity. It is part of this maturity journey that includes the emergence of the CPO role.

cpo1What was interesting – and something I totally agree with – is that new roles in organisations don’t often come from the top. Sure a role emerges because of a need – great there’s a need but that doesn’t make it so. An event or situation might also force it (optics) but there is a lot to be said for the self-promotion route, especially if senior management are not actually that clued up that a role like this exists and it would indeed be useful to the business.

The outcome for this session was – if you’re doing a great job at PMO or Portfolio – there is potentially the next step up to C-Level – but it might come down to you going out there and getting it.


10. Pastoral Management

It’s not often that this side of PMO management gets discussed or talked about – but when it is not done well, it is certainly something PMO Managers struggle with.

This was all about being a good manager of people – recognising that part of the manager role is to look after the team’s well-being and mental health. For some of us we might get decent management training from our organisations or good support from the HR department – but for many that’s not the case.

The advice in this short session wasn’t particular stellar, but because it was a different side to the job we do and not one we’ve really talked about at PMO Flashmob, we can certainly take some time out to reflect on it and think about what pastoral management we carry out and if its good enough.




linkedinOf course there were more than ten messages – there were loads! So head over to the Linkedin Group and we’ll be sharing parts of presentations from other sessions for you to take a look at and discuss.

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.


  1. Hi Lindsay,

    Great succinct write up.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Lindsay,

    First, sorry to miss yesterdays party. We must catch up soon anyway.

    Love your feedback on the PMI conference, thanks. A few quick comments:

    I agree benefit management should be driven from the top, although to take your later point about self-promotion, it may need a champion to effect this. An economist friend in Unilever used to work in their Strategy Unit which was well placed to carry out this function although I suspect it was more forward than present or backward looking. When acting as Institutional Change Agent in organisations I had to track KPI’s and benefits, but the assignments seldom lasted long enough to show that benefits were optimised.

    Interested in your report on combining Lean with Design. I was a qualified DQI (Design Quality Index) practitioner for a while when this technique was applied to UK school building. Fun and effective. If incorporating into live projects means amending the scope of current other projects to obtain earlier and less costly benefits, I love it.

    The PMO maturity table is neat, but surely Level 5 should explicitly require continual improvement. (Note: BSI speak required continual not continuous nor continuously). Yhis not just in compliance and reporting but in all processes.

    Regarding personnel and talent management. A friend in the Richmond Group of independent consultants gave a presentation last meeting on Wellness, promoting the concept as an additional focus as well as Systems and another. Wellness being much more than just HR, adding in much about physical and financial and emotional wellness as well as work-life balance etc. Wish I had worked in such organisations! If you are interested I could track down the presentation.

    All for now.


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