Improve Project Management Capability

Improve Project Management Capability

A regular challenge in any active PMO is integrating new project managers into your way of doing things. This is challenging when you are called upon to improve project management capability because you have had to take on one or more inexperienced project managers. There are many reasons why this may be the case. Firstly, the PMO may be taking on younger, less experienced people because generational change is seeing your baby boomer PMs head into retirement. Secondly, you might be in a low maturity organisation that believes that sending an employee on an introductory project management course enables the employee to manage any project. Lastly, and perhaps even worse, a decision-maker in your organisation has decided that their people are best at delivering a project, because they know their business area so much better than any external project manager.

The risk with any of these scenarios is that one of these newly-minted project managers is handed an initiative that becomes a large complex project with significant internal risks to manage. Consequently, you may face risks that your executives have not recognised if they arise because of a poor scope or schedule management. This can be a frustrating time as you try to integrate new PMs into a functioning PMO while departments jostle for control. You face bewilderment from people forced to deliver using new methods, and resistance from others who think project documentation is too much trouble. After that, the big project begins to show signs of trouble, and you as the PMO manager are asked to step in and smooth out delivery.

Read on to discover how you can avoid these challenges and take project managers on a path that transforms them from beginners into a capable delivery team.

Educate Upwards

Company executives assume the ultimate responsibility of for the execution of strategy. Above all, if they are project sponsors, they need to understand how project governance works and commit to being part of a workable governance structure. If you are working in an immature organisation, it will be useful to engage early with these executives by setting up a short information session to summarize the approach to improved project management capability. Keep these sessions short, executives are busy people who can spare you only an hour or two at most. This is your opportunity to sell the concept of project management to the decision makers, to engage them with the idea that projects provide a structured approach to executing strategy.

If you are in an organisation with a more mature environment, you may already have a governance structure. As a result, the conversation becomes more about inducting new executives into this structure.

These conversations are important because they enable you to position the governance structure to restrict inter-department conflict, or to establish central control of a resource pool.

You, as the PMO manager, need these introductory sessions because they sanction the additional rigor you are trying to impose with executive authority. They also encourage a culture of executive ownership. As a further outcome, these meetings also identify you, to these senior managers, as the resident source of project knowledge.

Set Standards

A project may be given to a particular individual because of their inherent business knowledge or because their manager trusts them to get a job done. However, this doesn’t mean that they can’t become great project managers. This person is a subject matter expert and is often passionate about their area of expertise. They are capable of self-managed activity and may be tasked with managing others. If you are lucky, they are also good at influencing others.

Approach improving project management capability with these individuals by providing a short in-house training course on the PMO’s expectations. This focuses on the absolute basics of scope, planning, and delivery, and sticks to the simplest tools. Above all, consider at the very least, a schedule, budget, risk analysis, and a scope statement that focusses on outcomes. Keep everything simple by developing cut down tools that describe your process in an unambiguous way. Secondly, ask yourself what is the minimum information you need to manage the portfolio? Develop tools that meet this need and don’t go far beyond that in the beginning. Lastly, conduct regular health checks on how these new project managers are delivering. This is never done as a fault-finding exercise, but rather in a spirit of encouragement and guidance. Remember that you were also once a beginner and needed the advice of more experienced mentors.

Don’t forget to introduce the requirement for regular reporting, which allows you to set expectations of regular contact with the PMO. After that, you may consider implementing simple agile tools such as daily stand-up meetings and Kanban style visual management boards. Overall, choose tools that are easy to teach and provide the beginner project manager with ready feedback on their progress.

Finally, encourage basic project hygiene across your entire pool of projects. Do project managers report on time? Are the reports detailed and accurate? Is spelling and grammar acceptable? While this may sound trivial, it develops a focus on quality that may be reflected in more serious metrics like schedule and cost variance.

Improve Project Management Capability over Time

People do not stay beginners for ever. Consequently, it is prudent to plan for those people who take a wider interest in project management and come asking for more information. Such people are the ones who may become those skilled project managers who are a real asset to the PMO. This is the time when you may need to act as a mentor and provide suggestions around formal training or career progression. 

As your beginner project managers mature, consider introducing a risk metric to measure each project in the portfolio. This is a risk of project failure base on the size, complexity, potential for adverse consequences, or other inherent risk. If we map the risk metric against the experience of potential project managers as in the table below, there is an argument for choosing more experienced project managers for risky projects.

Project Management Capability Risk

The choice of how you classify a senior project manager in this diagram depends on the scope and nature of your program of work. The selection process can range from a subjective choice, based on your experience of the people involved to a detailed skills evaluation tool.

If your resource pool includes experienced project managers, consider asking some of them to mentor the new project managers. Such mentoring can be as informal as a regular coffee meeting where the experienced project manager answers questions and offers advice on any of the multitude of challenges that the beginner project manager faces.

Own their Outcomes

Your new project managers have been thrust into an unfamiliar world. As such you can make them part of your internal team culture by treating them as part of your core team from day one. Be alongside them as they learn from their mistakes, and just as important, be there to acknowledge and celebrate their success.

If you have obtained executive support, have encouraged delivery to be the best it can be, and backed it up with the tools and processes to get the job done, then give yourself a high five. Now, your new project managers have the best chance of making a great entry into the exciting world of project management. After all, one of the great joys of running a PMO is seeing the moment when a first-time project manager takes an ambiguous strategic initiative and turns it into concrete outcomes that their team has taken great pride in delivering.


PMO Optimisation in Four Simple Steps

PMO Optimisation in Four Simple Steps

Struggling with PMO Optimisation

Is it time for you to consider PMO Optimisation? Does your leadership ignore your project portfolio updates?  Do your project managers  report green even though the project is late or over budget? Or even worse, can you name a hero who steps in to save projects at the last minute? Are your executive stakeholders dissatisfied with the outcomes that your project managers are delivering?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then consider working through this four-step process to kickstart your PMO to delivery maturity.

1. Define your PMO Purpose

Before you do anything else, ask yourself, why does the PMO exist? What is its purpose? How does it deliver value to the business? The PMO has a defined position in your organisational structure. This position drives both its form and function. A PMO within the Finance function of an organisation has a different focus to one that reports into IT or perhaps, direct to the Board. A solid understanding the PMO position and purpose will provide you with the insight needed to articulate specific, business-oriented goals and objectives.

Working with your executives you can now begin your journey of PMO Optimisation and build a shared vision of how projects within the organisation go from idea to realised outcome. Defined outcomes colour your view of how to shape the PMO. Gartner Research defined four styles of PMO in their paper Deciding Which of Four EPMO Styles Is Right for Your Organisation namely:



Degree of Control


Central portfolio status reporting and common reporting standards

Minimal, limited to reporting compliance


Project enablement. Provides one or more of portfolio management, governance, operational project standards and central resource scheduling

Varies depending on how governance structures are positioned

May range from one large project to whole of enterprise

Business Transformation

Purpose driven to execute specific business change

High, within the scope of the business change


Manages transformational projects that redefine the organisation


All PMOs contain elements of one or more of these functions. Choose one style that is the most likely to enable your team to deliver outcomes. This improves your chance of success. It is unlikely that one team can be all four types of PMO at once. It is better to start with more focus and show that the PMO can deliver.

Consider the scope of the PMO’s control. Projects exist in a variety of shapes within the organisation, some of them will be called improvement initiatives, or process optimisation, or something else again. How far into the organisation does your PMO stretch? Do you control all projects or only those in a specific domain? Are you limited to specific functions such as IT projects, or to specific geographic locations?

2. Measure PMO Maturity

Start by assessing the Capability Maturity of your PMO. Several suitable models exist for doing this, mostly based on the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute’s Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI). The basis of most of these models is to assess the stability and repeatability of the project management process and the level of successive refinements above the basics.

Once you have developed an understanding of the capability maturity of the PMO, it is worth considering benchmarking the level of maturity against other similar organisations.

3. Develop a PMO Improvement Roadmap

Once you understand where you are on the journey to PMO optimisation, you can aim for where you want to be. No matter where your PMO is along the continuum from disorganised to best in class, there is always an opportunity to drive for the delivery of greater value. What follows are notes on various aspects of improving your PMO to drive outstanding performance.

Establish PMO Structure

The purpose of your PMO will suggest the organisational structure you require. Regardless of how you choose to structure your team, you will require several functions to deliver the overall value proposition. What these functions are depends on the kind of PMO you are aiming for. The Reporting model leans toward analysts, whereas Operational models rely more on an internal pool of high-functioning project managers.

The balance of people within the team may change over time. For example, consider a PMO with a group of process focussed project managers. Good adherence to process is a healthy sign in most PMOs. However, it focusses PMs on rigour rather than business outcomes. Over time you can encourage these PMs to develop their understanding of the priorities of the business units they were working with. This results in a team that delivers greater business value while still holding a high degree of process compliance.

A part of your thinking around structure should incorporate consideration of the relationship between the PMO and the business it services. Does the PMO require team members who can act as trusted advisors to the business? Or is the model more formal with documented requests for work driving your pipeline of projects. The former requires resources who can build relationships, while the latter needs people with a strong attention to detail.

Don’t forget to consider your own role. Are you going to be focussed on being the project expert? Or is your role more about reporting an accurate, believable picture of progress to the Board? Perhaps you serve as the conduit for conflict management. Your role may be all of these things and more.

Choose PMO Tools

PMO tools can be divided into those tools needed to manage a project and a separate group of tools used to manage the PMO.

By virtue of the current multitude of methodologies, project management tools and processes are available to manage every aspect of a project. Regardless of your choice of methodology, it is recommended that you establish standardised process across all projects. This can vary from having a single mandatory process and toolset to having no standards other than a common reporting framework. Both ends of this spectrum can be successful, provided they are deployed within the context of the PMO’s mandate. Standardising the methodology and tools allows for repeatable process, a hallmark of the emerging maturity of your PMO.

The tools required to manage the PMO are far more consistent. The data managed by these tools provides the control for effective management. At a minimum, it is work considering a Forward Pipeline of Projects, an Active Pipeline of all work in progress, a repository of all previous projects as a source of Lessons Learned, as well as consolidated Resource Schedule and Budgets. There are elegant software suites capable of providing these functions. However, such tools can be costly. There is much to be said for the humble spreadsheet if your budget does not stretch so far.

4. Validate PMO Optimisation and Optimise Performance

Once the initiatives from the PMO Improvement Roadmap begin to take effect, it is time to reassess how far you have come along the path to full PMO optimisation. At this point a body of delivery metrics should exist that define how well the improvement initiatives have worked. Consider holding a workshop with project managers and key stakeholders during which each initiative is examined to decide what has worked, what didn’t work, and what can still be further improved.

Often at this point, PMO Managers establish a process of Continuous Improvement. Discussion here may vary from redefining the PMO culture to establishing further rigour through a process such as Six Sigma.

If your PMO needs help in moving to the next level of capability maturity, contact MagniStrat to learn how our experience and expertise may help you.

Metrics PMO

Improve Your PMO Metrics

Improve your PMO Metrics

Improve your PMO Metrics In an ideal world, a functional PMO is a joy to run. Projects get delivered on time and within budget; Executives have an accurate view of their project initiatives; and the PMO Manager operates with their finger on the everyday pulse of delivery. If you are fortunate enough to be one of the lucky few who run such a PMO then read no further. What follows, for the rest of us, are a few focus areas that you can use to improve the performance of your PMO metrics toward that next level.  These are not project metrics, but rather metrics for the whole PMO. The data, managed by the metrics described below, is the heartbeat of the PMO. An accurate, timely view of the entire portfolio provides the control you need to manage effectively.

Twelve Kinds of PMO Metric

The Forward Pipeline of Projects is a register of all projects being considered by the business. This is the place to consider each project’s strategic alignment and priority to the business. In commercially focussed organisations this may take the form of a sales funnel where projects must be qualified to progress. The forward pipeline is where initial prioritisation occurs.

The Active Pipeline represents all work in progress.  It may form the basis of a progress report, so it is worth considering how much detail needs to you need to keep on each project.

Functional Performance metrics measure how well the PMO does things internally. They are easily quantifiable and allow the PMO to demonstrate performance over time. As an example, consider tracking how accurate project manager estimates of time and budget are. Over time, performance trends can be identified at both project and portfolio levels. Another common approach is to track the percentage of resource utilization to illustrate how well the team is being used. Some PMOs track the quality and punctuality of project reports. These are indirect project hygiene metrics that track project manager engagement.

Process Flow metrics can be built on top of functional performance metrics to measure how long specific types of project take to go through stages of the methodology. Paying consideration these PMO Metrics can highlight specific stage issues such as when initiation takes too long.

A Consolidated Resource Schedule allows you to perform capacity planning if you manage internal resources across multiple projects. If managed well, this can prevent resource contention from causing project delays. Key metrics to measure here are the percentage resource utilisation and the overall staffing level.

Timesheets metrics not only track effort on projects but can also provide insight into the accuracy of estimation processes if they are matched to the predictions of the overall resource schedule.

Consolidated Budgets have value if the PMO operates under a profit-and-loss arrangement. This combines profit and loss from individual projects. It may also consider the cost to the organisation of having idle resources that have not been assigned to projects.

Business Value metrics are measures of whether the PMO is doing the right work. This includes metrics such as Project Return on Investment, Project Breakeven and Benefits Realised. In government and Not-For-Profit environments where profit is not a consideration, metrics can be based on marginal utility and allocative efficiency.

Earned Value Management, when applied to an entire portfolio, allows a PMO to track the value of execution against the business strategy. Solid EVM management allows the PMO to assess the mission criticality of funding flows towards late projects.

Service Level metrics illustrate how well the business perceives the PMO to be delivering value. These metrics are more subjective in nature and as such it is movement between measures that is important rather than absolute value. Typical metrics include: Customer Satisfaction, Time to Complete Projects, and Responsiveness in time to get a project started. More sophisticated PMOs may implement Net Promoter Scores.

Defect Related metrics are used by PMOs where projects build outcomes to a quality standard. The two considerations here are the cost of preventing defects in the first place versus the cost of rectifying defects later.

A Closed Projects Register provides a repository of all previous projects as a source of lessons learned and benchmarks for benefits realisation if that is part of the PMO brief. This is left as a historical record of previous actions and their consequences.

Implementing New PMO Metrics

The implementation of any new metric is a change for the organisation that may affect both the project managers producing the data as well as executives that use the summary information. Frequently the exercise of implementing new metrics accompanies a PMO Capability Maturity assessment. Measuring the right metrics may become a priority if they help to improve maturity ratings. Bearing this in mind, it is advisable to treat each new metric as a change initiative with appropriate communication and rollout planning.

There are elegant software suites capable of providing these functions. However, such tools can be costly. There is much to be said for the humble spreadsheet if your budget does not stretch so far. However, spreadsheets can be resource intensive. It is best to carry out a cost benefit analysis before deciding to commit to either path.

If your PMO needs assistance in using metrics to move to the next level of capability maturity, contact MagniStrat to learn how our experience and expertise may help you.