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PMO’s – Enabling and Restraining

What has the P3O® (Portfolio, Programme Project Offices) guidance that was published in 2008 by the UK Office of Government Commerce got to do with Yin and Yang?

The Chinese ancients believed that Yin and Yang is the interplay of opposites and stresses the importance of balance. “All things connote the Yin and the Yang, and the Yin and the Yang keep acting upon each other and thus things keep changing and unifying themselves.” The Book of Tao, describes two kinds of energy, two modes of consciousness

Yin Yang
feminine masculine
contractive expansive
conservative demanding
responsive aggressive
cooperative competitive
intuitive rational
synthesizing analytic


Fritjof Capra, physicist and systems theorist, sees Yin and Yang energy as related to two modes of consciousness, two different kinds of knowing.  The rational and the intuitive are complementary modes of functioning of the human mind.

  • Rational thinking is linear, focused and analytic.  Rational knowledge tends to be fragmented.
  • Intuitive knowledge is based on a direct, nonintellectual experience of reality arising in an expanded state of awareness.  It tends to be synthesizing, holistic, and nonlinear.”

P3O suggests using a “Value Matrix” to determine the scope of the support and assurance services that are provided to the organisation. The matrix considers 3 levels of change management that an organisation may experience in handling the management of portfolios, programmes and projects and may prompt a debate with the stakeholders of the P3O model. The catalyst of the debate is the parallel governance opposite activities of “Enabling and Restraining”.

If we recognise the word governance, as to take decisions or to “steer” the dialogue between the PMO and its stakeholders, including Management Boards, Programme and Project managers, customer/ user community, Other Corporate Functions (Audit, Finance, HR and Procurement) and Suppliers (PM’s), Management Boards and their delivery teams could cover the following:

“Enabling” – PMO Ensuring that

  • Right decisions are being taken by the right people, with right level of information
  • Right level detail are captured in plans,
  • Dependency tracking is in place,
  • Examination and escalation of risks, issues and changes is happening, and

“Restraining” – PMO Ensuring that

  • Phase / Stage (Kill – Go/No Go) gates are completed and not passed through without the correct level of authority
  • ‘Management Boards’ reports are provided with accurate and timely progress reports and options

Has the debated started in your organisation when establishing or re-energising your PMO?

Is the debate focused on rational or intuitive thinking?

How will you strike a balance between enabling and restraining?

Share some experiences and best practice, let us know.

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About Graham Shreeve

Graham Shreeve
Graham Shreeve, an instructor with ESI International, has more than 30 years of experience in leadership and senior management. He is an experienced trainer and facilitator, specializing in project and program management that is based upon the practical application of best practice methods (UK Office of Government Commerce) and recognized bodies of knowledge (the Association of Project Management (APM) and the Project Management Institute (PMI®)). He also has facilitated training sessions in planning and control techniques, risk management, benefit management, and stakeholder management.


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    Thank you for that interesting view. You state “P3O suggests using a “Value Matrix” to determine the scope of the support and assurance services that are provided to the organisation. The matrix considers 3 levels of change management that an organisation may experience in handling the management of portfolios, programmes and projects and may prompt a debate with the stakeholders of the P3O model. The catalyst of the debate is the parallel governance opposite activities of “Enabling and Restraining”.”

    Could you please go into this in more detail in a future posting?

    With thanks

    • Avatar

      If we recognise the word Governance as to “steer change” the PMO would be looking for clear accountabilities and scrutinising and challenging of information to support decisions.
      Where P3O® supports the dual paths of Governance as ‘enabling’ and ‘restraining’, decisions at all levels of the Portfolio, Programme and Project. It gives a view that by agreeing with seniors within in the organisation these dual paths, we set the scope of support and assurance services.
      We need to go deeper to explore both the guide as well as practice. In my experience the PMO would be:
      “Enabling Decisions” (Support) – by probing the levels of plans (content, detail and consistency), performing dependency tracking across the change portfolio including identifying significant BUA (business as usual activities), examining risks, issues and changes to ensure they are being managed and escalated appropriately and then providing roll-up of progress information, ideally based upon exception rules/thresholds to the right group so as decisions are taken confidently and timely.
      “Restraining Decisions” (Assurance) – by co-ordinating or facilitating End of Phase/stage review (Go/No Go) or by assuring that these gates were not passed through without sign-off authority and acceptance of decision makers. Also, the PMO needs to assure that management boards are equipped with pertinent progress and if necessary exception reports containing viable options to recover a change that is in trouble.
      The key challenge that I see working with organisations who are seeking to implement or extend the range and reach of its PMO services is potential conflict of interest that the PMO has in working with other established functions, e.g. Audit, Finance, and Strategy Unit.
      We need to recognise these functions as stakeholders who will be impacted both positively and negatively from the PMO operation and that they are users of the services that the PMO provides.
      Put yourself in the shoes of your stakeholder, better still get them to voice their own needs and concerns. Your agenda must at least cover the rules for enabling decision: Who makes what decisions? When and what information do they require? How information is escalated and cascaded.
      Those questions can be pitched at the levels of Portfolio, Programme and Project Management. If we boil it down, it is all about driving appropriate decisions at the right level, and if necessary taking them to the main board.

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    Without wishing to undermine the points you are making (thank you for those) my comments are related to the use of Ying and Yang. It is a useful introduction to looking openly at issues and ways of doing things, but that is where the use of the analogy should stop. The small table shown listing the characteristics is, I believe, flawed. Yes to feminine/masculine, intuitive/rational, synthesizing/analytical, but No to the rest. Your “Book of Tao” seems to have missed the essence of Ying & Yang somewhat.

    • Avatar
      Graham Shreeve

      The use of analogies can be useful to start a debate or draw a response but are limited, in particularly when using translations from ancient Chinese scripts to English. In using the aspects of yin and yang which is part of the Taoist philosophy in the “Enabling” and “Restraining” analogy I have tried to promote the idea that they exist together within change governance and they may continue moving in tandem through the life-cycle of the definition and delivery of portfolio, programmes and projects.

      The PMO is ideally placed to observe these dual “Enabling” and “Restraining” governance paths. They may recognise greater emphasis being given to one aspect in deciding on change, but there might be some reference to the opposite, since they are bound together to impact the outcome of decisions to an organisation.

      In my experience PMO’s give too greater emphasis to the “Decision Restraining” aspect, with their services being more to support the Programme / Project Managers. The challenge for future PMO’s is that they need address this imbalance an offer more “Decision Enabling” assurance services to a wider set of stakeholders who are seeking confidence in the change, that may include the corporate board. To move to this position you may have to promote your services as being relevant to the organisations needs, are economic and are an improvement to organisation decision making and are aligned to other functions processes, systems and structures, including Finance, Audit, HR, Procurement

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    Thanks for sharing,this article is great, very useful for us…thank you

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