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Top Ten PMO Themes 2019

PMO Conference

Last week it was the fifth PMO Conference in London. With over 400 PMO practitioners from around the globe and over 20 sessions to choose from, there’s a lot to learn about where PMO is heading right now. Strategy Execution were there catching up with PMO practitioners and discussing the latest challenges PMOs are facing today.

In this article, one week on we take a look at the key themes covered at the conference and share what PMO practitioners are thinking about right now.

1. Automation

With the advance of Artificial Intelligence in the workplace with machine learning and automation becoming an achievable reality, PMOs are getting interested in how parts of the work they do could become automated. What’s exciting for the profession is that this isn’t something that we need to wait years for – or it won’t happen because the costs don’t stack up.

At the PMO Conference, we heard about the Realities of Robotic Process Automation in the PMO from John McIntyre and how has already made it happen in the PMO.

At the very simplest, Robotic Process Automation can start to take some of the mundane parts of the reporting cycles in PMOs, automate them and leave the insights, communication and analysis to the team that does that part best, the PMO.

PMO automation


2. Data Analytics

Staying with the reporting theme, data analytics will be a game changer for the PMO in the coming years. At this year’s conference it was all about making sense of what data analytics means in the project environment. PMO practitioners are concerned about the state of the data they currently work with and whether advanced analytics – and therefore advanced insights – can be extracted.

They’re also concerned with the skills and capabilities needed to be able to use the many different tools and techniques that are available. Plus there is always the cost vs return argument to consider when looking at any new approaches in the PMO.

2019 starts the conversation and the exploration of what analytics means and can do for our project organisations.

3. Agile

AgileIt’s been a theme for the past three years now at the PMO Conference and there are no signs of this one not being a theme for the years to come. The PMO sees Agile as a method, a framework, an approach and a different mindset to project delivery. That means change to some of the different PMO functions and services, and where there is change there has been uncertainty.

There’s certainly a lot of education right now around Agile and the different frameworks that organisations are adopting (think SAFe, Disciplined Agile etc). Due to the role the PMO takes in the delivery organisation there is an expectation that the PMO understands which approaches are right for the business and more importantly can support the transition and provide the ongoing expertise.

4. Agile for the PMO

Staying with the Agile theme, there have been conversations for the last few years about how Agile principles could in face be used when it comes to PMO implementation.

Adam Skinner of P2 Consulting talked about what that means in reality using backlog; roadmaps; regular comms; retrospectives; use stories and show & tells. There were also insights into how the Agile principles could also be adopted into the PMO – principles such as the customer at the centre of everything we do which for a long time has been something the PMO has neglected.

As the PMO continues to learn more about how Agile is working within their organisation; it makes sense that those learning points should be incorporated into how the PMO operates too.

5. Strategy (and Portfolio)

For those PMOs operating at a portfolio or enterprise level – the themes of strategy and portfolio management continue to figure highly in their day to day work. More and more PMOs are getting involved in the strategy formulation at a senior level alongside the strategy execution through portfolios, programmes and projects.

Holger Heuss focused on portfolio management with the PMO role in strategy and leadership being focused on:

  • Being an advocate for holistic portfolio management;
  • Ensuring strategic alignment;
  • Ensuring investment mix;
  • Maintaining corporate targets;
  • Reminding senior leaders of their roles and responsibilities.

6. Rethinking Communications

The PMO is always concerned about how they communicate across the organisation – from senior executive reporting; supporting project teams; liaising with project stakeholders; working with other departments across the business.

In this conference we learnt about storytelling – not just how we can rethink the way we might present reports but how the principles can be utilised in everyday dealings with people. It’s a fascinating area that reminds us to take a step back and think about who we’re communicating with and how we can adapt what we say and how we say it.

We also learnt about the Ella’s Kitchen story – they’re the APMO PMO of the Year winners for 2019 – and they have a brilliant way of branding their PMO and the services we provide that fit the business they operate in (children’s food). They remind us that the PMO can be both fun with a serious mission – that we can delight our customers – and we can bring bursts of creativity into the work the PMO does.


7. Maturity

Getting better at what the PMO does is something that all PMO practitioners talk about. When a PMO is established and embedded, it’s the ‘continuous improvement’ work – and finding a balance between operating the PMO on a day-to-day basis and finding the time to improve on what the PMO does that causes a few challenges.

With continuous improvement, PMOs are looking to improve their maturity and that of the organisation. At this conference, we heard the fascinating story from Network Rail about their journey to the highest level of maturity, with the highest level of P3M3 assessment – a score of 4.4.

Wajjahat Khan, Head of Planning & Programme Controls, IP Signalling, Network Rail, shared the story and gave real practical insights into what needs to happen to get to that level of maturity. Perhaps surprisingly for many, knowledge management featured as one of the main focus areas to get them there. Here’s the summary:

8. Digital PMO

Ralf Finchett made a great point in his closing keynote that the PMO seems to have a stepped change every decade or so. Coming out of the Mark Price Perry era of the Business Driven PMO, today’s businesses are focused on digitalisation and creating products and services – faster, smarter, cheaper.

Why does that mean for the PMO? The culture is changing around us – not just in business but in the wider world – consumers want more and they want it in different ways; projects will continue to help businesses deliver what their customers want; and all of this has to be done with the right governance and decision-making.

How we provide a PMO service in this environment; what we do and carrying out the services will change because the business environment will change.

The Digital PMO is more about how the PMO adapts to work with different people in the business – and partly comes back to the communications theme.

Finchett makes a great point about the language we use within our project management work – how many times have different people within the business shy away from projects – partly because of the language we use – funding requests certainly sounds better than business cases.

9. Putting Yourself Out There

The conference kicked off with the theme, ‘getting out of your comfort zone’. It’s about PMO practitioners keeping pushing on with what they’re doing and what could be possible if we allow ourselves to take calculated risks.

We also looked at PMO leadership for those thinking about – or already leading others in the PMO:


And can the PMO provide a pastoral role too? The PMO at Parliamentary Digital Services does just that:


10. Keep on Moving

The conference closed out to the tune of “Keep On Movin” from Soul II Soul.

A reminder that the PMO will keep on moving – just as the businesses we work within keep moving and changing – we will be moving and changing with them.

We can choose to be reactive to business changes – proactive if we can by utilising new technologies and thinking. We can choose to learn, play, experiment.

We can keep on movin’ as individuals, as a PMO team and as a PMO profession.

We’re looking forward to seeing where we move to in 2020.


Strategy Execution

Strategy Execution at PMO Conference 2019

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About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay Scott
Lindsay Scott is Director of PMO Learning, the PMO training specialist and Arras People the programme and project management recruitment specialists. Lindsay is the project management careers columnist for PMI's Network magazine and co-editor of the Gower Handbook of People in Project Management. Lindsay created and hosts The PMO Conference and hosts the monthly PMO Flashmobs

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