Telling the PMO Story

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lightbulbWhether you are trying to make the case for the PMO for the first time or giving an update on the progress of the PMO, it’s extremely important that you tell a compelling story of both pain and progress. The story needs to take your audience on the journey from where they are today to a brighter future, addressing the challenges they have in getting projects completed under the current environment.

For the last 18 years, I’ve been making the case for the PMO, both as the sole person responsible for creating it, like many of you, and as a consultant guiding organizations through the process of finding the right size and fit PMO for their organization. I’ve discovered a process that works well to make that case for the PMO and it requires that we give a little thought to our audience and clearly define the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) for each stakeholder before you start “selling” them on the concept of a PMO. Then, by the way, DO NOT start selling! Instead, focus on bringing them with you so that it is a natural progression from where they are now (and the pain they are feeling) to a much more productive and effective way of getting projects done.

Here are some tips for creating a high impact presentation about your PMO, your vision, the plan for progress, and most importantly, how you will get to high IMPACT quickly. (And by the way, this applies to ANY project, not just the PMO.)

1) Keep it simple and short – no more than 5 slides. You want to grab their attention, but also make sure they know you can speak to them in executive speak – short, clear, to the point – Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF). If you make it too long, you run the risk of losing them in the process. Remember, you eat, sleep and breath PMO and project management – they do not. Keep it clear and straight forward and speak to them in a language that will resonate with them.

2) Leverage the industry perspective – get some good data (pmi.org has pulse of the profession studies you can use, as do many other organizations like CEB and Gartner) to tell the industry story about PMOs and projects – why they fail and how they succeed. Use that data to make a connection between your organization and what the industry sees. This gives them a “we are not alone” feeling when frustrated about project failure. You can also point out data that shows what successful companies that have higher project success rates are doing differently. This also shows them that your company is really not all that different. We all think our company and our PMO is so unique and different. Yeah, not really. They all have a lot of the same challenges and the same opportunities because they are all run by people who are all trying to solve problems (many times in different ways). When you can help your leadership team see that they CAN be successful just like some of the other successful companies out there, it helps them see what’s possible.

3) Show the short and long term plan – I would highly recommend you start small in your size and scope of the changes/services you want to implement for your PMO. You can read more about that here: Don’t boil the ocean (when creating a PMO). For the purposes of the presentation, you can list the services you want to implement now and then the ones you think you could implement down the road. Setting expectations that you are going to deliver a ton of services right away will show them two things: 1) you are taking on more than you can guarantee success on and 2) you are ready to solve all problems at once before you really have had time to see what the organization really needs and can digest. Instead, show a PMO services roadmap of what they get now and what you believe will be the next set of services you could deliver down the road once phase 1 is complete and proven successful. The key is creating alignment and focus for your stakeholders. As far as what to do first, you should NOT be starting with a tool or templates. For more info on why, keep reading.

4) Give them their WIIFM by explaining the “so what?” – Connect the services you believe will benefit the organization with the value it will create for each for your unique stakeholder groups. For example, if transparency on projects has been an issue, highlight how having a project portfolio perspective and a mechanism for reviewing that information regularly will help to draw out issues early and often and make sure that everyone is on the same page with project progress. This is also a place where you can use any successes you have had to date to help make the service real for them. Have you had a project success or project turnaround you or your team was responsible for that you can use to say “Let me give you an example of where we have had success with X” to make it personal and easy to connect to? What about an example of a project that has not gone well that you can say how your services could prevent that from happening in the future?

5) Clearly show the high impact you will have quickly – Start by doing something where you can show immediate impact and solve an immediate business problem. The business problem is never “we don’t have enough templates” because that’s just not a business problem! The business perspective is far more likely “our projects are taking too long to get done” or “our projects are costing too much” or “our projects aren’t delivering the value they were intended to deliver” kind of problems. Those business problems are not SOLVED through a tool or templates. Those problems are solved by doing better project management – planning and execution. So what could you do to help improve the project planning and execution? Is it more training for the PMs? Is it more experienced PMs? Is it coaching from some senior PMs in your team or elsewhere in the organization? There are so many ways you can create high-impact quickly, but you have to understand the business problem to do so. It might even be best for your team to take on a troubled project and rescue it. I’ve used my PMs to do this first in an area where we didn’t have a lot of buy-in. We go rescue their failing project and THEN they are willing to talk to us about engaging the PMO. That PM never went in with templates blazing, they just went in and got the problems solved, the project moving and the stakeholders aligned. There will be plenty of time to do templates later, but you have to build credibility first. Go solve a problem.

6) Do a dry run with someone – Get an outside perspective from a friend or colleague in the industry or at least in another part of the organization. You want someone that is a strong supporter of you that will be fair and honest about where you stand and what will need to be improved in order to make it fly in your organization and with your leaders. This should be someone that cares enough about your success to be honest, but will also offer suggestions on what you can do to improve or give you tips to help you tell your story in a stronger way to get to the heart of what matters for the business leaders in your organization.

If you would like more information on this topic, you can download a FREE PMO Proposal template to help you make the case (or restate the case) for your PMO.


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