It is a question that gets asked a lot by people who work in PMOs – “What are the best training courses for me to pursue?”. The problem for a lot of people who do work within the PMO is that on the face of it there doesn’t appear to be many options. Aside from the project management led accreditation and certifications from bodies such as the PMI and IPMA and the methodology led courses like PRINCE2 and MSP, there are two that are solely PMO related.
These two courses are both accredited, meaning you will receive a certification once completed. The P3O (Portfolio, Programme and Project Offices) from AXELOS and the ISEB PPSO are your options. For the first, P3O, this is mainly about the set up of a PMO. A course worth pursuing if your work is centred around the initial set up of a PMO, what structure it needs to take and the functions and services it provides. This is not an accreditation that looks at how to carry out any of the PMO tasks. The second, the ISEB PPSO, whilst being quite an old qualification that needs a serious overhaul to be more relevant to the marketplace today, is centred on the project management aspects that PMOs will support. Incidentally, I took this course many years ago and felt it was too similar to a project fundamentals course.
For people working in a PMO today, the most pressing need is for training and development in some of the core areas in which they work. There are no accredited or certified courses available, so for the savvy PMO professional they need to take a look at the alternatives. Of course there will be different needs for PMO professionals, mainly due to the type of PMO they are working in, however in this article we take a look at more advanced options that are aimed at increasing skills and knowledge in core PMO areas. Take a look and have a think about incorporating these into your development plan for 2015.
1. Advanced Communication Skills
A big part of the PMO job is about communication. The PMO becomes the hub of programme and project activity. They are working with so many different people within the business (and outside it if the PMO supports client activity too), people who interact with the PMO in so many different ways. The diversity of people the PMO works with means communication skills are crucial, yet many PMO people have not looked into how formal development could boost their skills and ultimately their career.
One of the key aspects of communication for the PMO is communicating upwards. As much as we don’t like the thought of the PMO being at the bottom of the hierarchy in a project organisation, the reality for many is that is exactly how they are perceived. We often hear from the mouths of PMO people, “We need to sell the PMO better to senior stakeholders….”. If that is the case, communicating upwards is going to be key when interacting with these stakeholders.
That’s why advanced training in something – anything – communication related takes the top slot in this article. We can be the best PMO in the world process wise but the reality is a lot of the day-to-day work is all about communication.
2. Coaching and/or Mentoring
We see it a lot in PMO job descriptions, ‘the ability to coach and mentor project managers in…..’ yet I could count on one hand how many PMO people I’ve met in the last 15 years who have actually got some formal training in this area. That is a shame because the people in the PMO really are ideally placed to carry out that role…. if they understand the difference between coaching and mentoring and what is required in both cases.
The vast majority of PMO people, if they are performing ‘coaching & mentoring’ today, are generally just carrying out mentoring. Mentoring, in a simple definition, is a relationship where advice is given or a solution is suggested. The mentor is someone who has the experience and has ‘been there and done it.’ We see this mentoring in a PMO a lot when there is a new starter, perhaps a new project manager needs help and guidance around the organisation’s method and processes. The PMO is absolutely well placed to provide advice on the best practices and processes.
Coaching on the other hand is not about giving directed advice or solutions. It is about asking open questions with a coachee, helping them to find their own answers. Coaching helps build confidence through a series of conversations. It is generally said that the coach does not need to know about the details of a person’s role, or in this case, the details of how to manage a project.
The biggest objection to the PMO providing mentoring and coaching from those in the wider community is that they don’t believe the PMO has enough experience in project management to do so. They have never been project managers so how can they coach or mentor?
I think they are well place to mentor in best practice and processes – these are at the core of what a PMO does. In terms of coaching, well it looks like they don’t have to have walked in a PM’s shoes before if they really want to provide a coaching service. To do that though, they really must be qualified to be a coach. They need to be trained before anyone could be expected to take them seriously.
3. Financial Skills
In the recruitment of PMO people, the one harder skill that is missing the most is budget and cost management skills. Perhaps it is because the Project Manager likes to keep a tight rein on this part of the project without delegation to the PMO. Without the delegation, PMO people can often miss out on on-the-job training or skill development opportunities. Yet budgeting and cost control are a large part of projects and in turn it is an area that PMO will report on often.
It is a ‘chicken or egg’ situation. Without the opportunity to work closely on project finances, the PMO cannot build up the experience and credibility. If given an opportunity, there will a need for intensive training and support in order to provide a good service.
The advanced PMO practitioner can increase their worth and respect in a project organisation by seeking out development in key project management areas. Budget management is the key area for me yet advanced skills in areas such as risk management, contracts management and governance are other areas where development is missing in a PMO’s career plan.
4. Negotiating Skills
It stands to reason that boosting communication skills of any kind are going to stand anyone in good stead regardless of the role you perform. In project management, the key players are often seasoned professionals with many years of delivering projects and managing & leading people. Their behavioural skills are often much more advanced than the average worker in an organisation, after all they are used to conflicts, juggling priorities, getting people to do what they want them to do and so on.
For people working within a PMO it should also make sense that they need to develop their own professional behaviours too, after all, they are working with senior people in the business every day, the way they interact with these people are crucial.
Negotiation skills are just one of the many, often dubbed ‘softer skills’, that help to develop professional behaviours which in turn help to do the job more successfully. PMO people, by and large, do not invest in their professional behaviours development. Alongside negotiation I would also include influencing, problem-solving, managing people for non-managers, facilitation skills and building relationships.
5. Process Work
Another key area of work for the PMO is process development or process improvement. We see it a lot on a job description. It often means that a PMO should be able to change, adapt or start afresh with a project management process that is no longer delivering the right results or behaviours. This type of work in reality is often done in an ad-hoc way and again that is due to the lack of real training and development in carrying out this kind of work.
For those PMO people currently working in a Centre of Excellence type model, where they are the custodian of the project management methods and processes, should certainly take note about process design courses available to help strengthen their credibility.
For the people who work in the PMO there has long been a black-hole where PMO related training has been concerned. There may never be a training course that helps PMO people to build the requisite skills in every aspect of what a PMO needs to do. Let’s face it, a training course like that would last for many months! But a PMO professional who does want to advance in their career, needs to look at all the areas in which they work and pursue courses both in and outside project management in order to build their bespoke development plan. After all, the saying goes that no two PMOs are ever the same, the same saying can be used for the people who work within the PMO too.