Using a Coaching Model in the PMO

In January’s PMO Flashmob we had Susanne Madsen join us for the evening session on Coaching Project Managers. We wanted to explore the idea that the PMO coaches project managers, after all we see it on a number of job specifications as a task that PMO should carry out. We had about 30 PMO Flashmobbers so at the beginning of the evening we needed to find out what the objectives were of the people in attendance. What would they like to get out of the session, what kind of answers were they looking for. These are just a few of them (and believe me, there were loads more!):

  • What is the difference between coaching and mentoring?
  • What is the difference between informal vs formal coaching?
  • What is a coaching style – is there a method?
  • What kind of experience and training do you need?
  • What is the PMO suppose to be coaching the PMs on?

 What is the difference between coaching and mentoring?

Essentially the difference between coaching and mentoring is a mentor gives advice and a coach doesn’t. A mentor will be an experienced, knowledgeable person, someone who has been there and done it before and the advice they give is based on experience. A coach is about asking questions, questions which help increase confidence in the coachee’s own abilities. Further to that, a coach’s own experiences are irrelevant, they just need to know what types of questions to ask.

Straightaway it got me thinking about two things. One, I think that PMOs at the moment tend to provide some kind of mentoring service. They are generally giving advice and guidance on things like process, good practice, the organisation’s way of doing things. Two, there was a bit of a buzz on social media before the Flashmob event which went along the lines of, a PMO can’t coach PMs because they’ve never delivered a project before. If we look again at what the coach does, their experiences are irrelevant, they just need to know what questions to ask.

So what we’re saying here is the PMO can be a mentor to PMs in certain areas – and no-one ever said anything about teaching PMs to suck eggs – we’re talking about things like good practice and process as defined by an organisation. They can certainly be coaches too, but the feeling at this session was you would definitely need to be trained to be a coach before anyone would take you seriously. Indeed, the PMOs in the room didn’t feel particularly comfortable getting into true coaching unless they were qualified to do so.

So what questions do you ask?

OK I’m simplifying that just a little bit but Susanne did share a well-known coaching model called The GROW Model. There’s a PDF handout below for you to have a look at.

You should take the time to visit Susanne’s website and also sign up for her resources page. She gives away some excellent stuff and I would recommend the Project Management Coaching Workbook too if you’ve not already (really practical and it’ll be useful if your PMO is going down this road – good for you too really!)



Two things that stuck in my mind about the role of the PMO as a coach is the need to build rapport and to not have an agenda.

To me that means you need to be a certain type of person to be a coach, it’s not going to be for everyone. Not everyone finds it easy to build rapport.

Not having an agenda is also an interesting area. The PMO can still be seen as the ‘project police’ in a lot of organisations so, would I as a Project Manager, want someone offering a coaching service to me?

The PMO that offers a coaching service would have to be incredibly mature and ideally staffed with people who command a respect from the project community. Regardless of the fact that coaches don’t have to have specific experience in projects, they still need to have credibility as an individual.

All in all a really interesting session, great to explore some of the so-called ‘softer’ areas of the job.

If you’re interested in reading another PMO Flashmobber’s experience, visit Stuart’s website for his take.


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photo credit: Vienna Service Design Jam 2013

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. It was an excellent session. I’d also recommend Susanne’s book “The Power of Project Leadership” which I’m currently working my way through.

  2. Thank you Lindsay for a great write-up and also to David for recommending my book! I really enjoyed the evening 🙂

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