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APM PMOSIG Spring 2013 Conference: People are the PMO's Best Assets

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APM PMOSIG Spring 2013 Conference: People are the PMO’s Best Assets - 25/04/13 - St John’s Hotel, Solihull

Write up by Martin McCann

Conference Welcome – Ralf Finchett

64 PMO professionals attended the APM PMOSIG 2013 Spring Conference, held at the St John’s Hotel, Solihull on Thursday 25th April, which focused on how to make the most of a PMO’s key assets – its people.  Outgoing SIG Chairman Ralf Finchett kicked off with a warm welcome to the attendees, noting that although processes and tools might provide the PMO bones and nervous system, people are the muscle on the bone and actually make things happen. 

He pointed out that the tensions that sometimes arise between the PMO and their project managers can often come down to that fact that the PMO is often trying to implement change upon the very people who typically implement change within the organisation: the project managers.  The PMO can often experience pushback if it isn’t handled sensitively and effectively.  Humans tend to be hardwired to resist to some degree, so to overcome (or even pre-empt) this, PMO staff need to be able to win hearts and minds and strive to win over resistant project managers with a “pull” mentality rather than a “push” mentality.  The conference should therefore provide attendees with a good deal of practical tips, suggestions and food for thought to apply back at the office. 

Ralf also asked delegates to consider contributing to the planned Knowledge Management work that the PMOSIG will be starting over the next few months.  Details of this work will be promoted through the PMOSIG Newsletter, Twitter and LinkedIn, so please keep your eyes open!

Session 1 – Attributes of a PMO – Stuart Dixon
Stuart’s session, entitled “People are Number 1”, looked at some of the issues around how to find, retain and develop the right people for your PMO.  It is essential to balance the oft-quoted “People – Tools – Processes” corners of the PMO triangle to ensure that none of these aspects overwhelm the other two.  However, in concurrence with Ralf’s earlier statement, Stuart also highlighted the fact that the Tools and Processes can quickly fall over without good People to apply and manage them properly. 

The PMO is often situated as an ideal place to learn about and engage with the whole organisation, so it may be possible to find the right PMO staff members through talent-spotting initiatives, personal networks and career development programmes.  However, it is often necessary to recruit externally, and it is not always possible to find the perfect candidate, so the PMO Manager needs to clearly define the values they are seeking to develop and embed within the PMO (such as background knowledge, skills, education, behaviours, aptitude and attitude).  Doing so will put them in a better position to unearth or recruit people whom they can develop as the PMO itself develops.  The PMO also needs to be clear about the way it intends to operate (for example, will it be a dictatorial “policing” PMO, or a collaborative, helpful PMO?).  It may need to adopt a different style at different times to meet the needs of the organisation, but needs to be aware of any potential repercussions of adopting these different styles, such as perceptions of inconsistency or favouritism.

The PMO Manager also needs to have at least a basic understanding of the various learning and development styles of the PMO staff (for example, Activist, Theorist, Pragmatist or Reflector), and to cater for their differing needs if they want to optimise the development of both the PMO and its personnel.

At the same time, the PMO also needs to be developed as it becomes more embedded in the organisation.  The development of the PMO will be affected by a number of factors (such as the PMO type and size; the seniority of the PMO resources; the opportunities presented internally and externally; and the organisation’s P3RM maturity and sector), and as some of these will be outside the PMO’s control, it is important to balance the needs of the organisation with what is realistically achievable with the resources you have at your disposal.


Session 2 – Top attributes of successful PMOs – Eileen Roden

Eileen ran an interactive session where delegates discussed the key attributes required by three PMO roles: the PMO Manager, the Project Specialist and the Project Officer.  Working in their table groups, the delegates were asked to categorise the attributes into 4 groups: Gold Dust, Essential, Preferred and “Not Good” – those personality traits that would be best avoided in each type of role.  Some typical responses for the roles are summarised below.

PMO Manager
Responsible for establishing the PMO and line-managing the PMO resources.

Gold Dust
• Has passion and belief in the value and potential of PMOs
• Is obsessed with PMO best practice (in a good way!)
• Demonstrates vision and leadership
• Has a long-term perspective and considers succession planning
• Has a strategic view and can see the bigger picture
• Has the courage and commitment to go out to bat for the PMO team
• Can deliver ‘bad’ news well to senior stakeholders
• Has great influencing skills
• Used to dealing with all types of audiences

• Can balance PMO aspirations and maturity with the wider organisation’s PPM maturity
• Can adapt communication style to match the styles of stakeholders and management
• Credibility at all levels within the organisation

• Shrinking violets
• Thoughtless bulldogs
• Excessive bureaucrats
• Two faced weasels!
• Being too process focused or obsessed with rules and bureacracy

Project Specialist
Responsible for developing good practice processes and tools, and supporting the delivery teams

Gold Dust
• Broad PMO / PPM process knowledge
• Ability to interpret the needs of the organisation, project, programme or portfolio effectively and to tailor and adapt to suit
• Resilience and tenacity – the hide of a rhinoceros!
• Not too precious about having to tweak (or jettison) the processes they develop
• Ability to communicate at all levels of the organisation and with lots of different personality types
• Confidence to challenge established processes or existing hierarchies

• Ability to explain the “whys” of their processes and highlight enablers and blockers
• Excellent listening skills
• Has a “can-do” approach
• Can adapt and respond productively to change
• Has a deep enough process knowledge to know what to flex and when
• Ability to transfer knowledge and “show their working”
• Process refinement skills

• Comfortable getting involved with projects
• Good interpretation and extrapolation skills

• Passive / reactive personalities who only do what they are asked to do and no more
• Fixation with processes for their own sake
• Excessive bureaucracy
• Insular perspectives

Project Officer
Responsible for reporting and supporting the delivery teams

Gold Dust
• Analytical skills
• Decision support (using management information to drive the debate)
• Ability to challenge appropriately
• Good rapport skills to provide the first tier of assurance

• Timeliness
• Attention to detail
• Good multitasking skills
• Effective coaxing / cajoling skills
• Communications skills and contextual awareness

• People prone to “analysis paralysis” or getting too bogged down in the detail
• Unrealistic expectations of career status
• People who don’t follow through or resort to “that’s not my job”

Session 3 – A PMO Success Story – Emma Arnaz-Pemberton & Dave Powell

Emma, Office Depot’s EU PMO Manager, presented a ‘warts and all’ overview of the evolution of Office Depot’s PMO Journey since 2008.  Dave, one of the organisation’s senior project managers, was on hand throughout to give the project managers’ perspective to the various changes the PMO has implemented (and been subjected to) over the last five years.  The session outlined some of the problems associated with finding, developing and retaining the right people to staff the PMO when your team is affected by external business circumstances and downsizing.

The presentation was refreshingly frank, describing the fluctuations in number of the PMO team over time, and outlining some of the structural causes of the various changes the team experienced.  In the early days, senior management were not clear what they really wanted the PMO to provide, but they recognised that the PMO could help plug the gap in the visibility of the organisation’s change management activities.  A corporate project management methodology was developed, and project managers (and any other interested staff) were trained on how to use it.

The company had quite a low maturity level at this stage, and the PMO ended up doing quite a lot of reporting that was unfortunately viewed as little more than a “tick in the box” exercise by the wider business.  The project manager community viewed the PMO as the “report police”, and the PMO struggled to prove its value.  This situation was compounded by projects being assigned to project managers with spare capacity rather than suitability or the capability to deliver it successfully.

Like many low maturity organisations, the business went through a phase of where it tended to force all of its activities through the project methodology, regardless of whether it was appropriate or necessary to do so.  However, the PMO redesigned itself and was re-launched during 2010 with a defined Vision, Mission and Values.  It helped the business to develop a much clearer idea of what it actually needed the PMO to do, and progressed from a Project- to a Programme Management Office.  During this time it focused much more on competencies and adding value, developing different levels of training for project board and team members.  Emma also highlighted the value of holding an official launch day for the PMO to raise its profile among the wider business.  They also adopted an attitude of “Ask Me” to encourage project managers to let the PMO support them in any way they could, enabling them to move away from being viewed as the report police.

Unfortunately, the PMO suffered some setbacks the following year, with four PMO resources leaving the business (accounting for more than 50% of the PMO team) and the remaining members being redeployed back in the business for six months.  However, where possible, Emma continued to upskill the remaining PMO staff to ensure they would be well prepared once the PMO was reinstated.

Project delivery continued unabated, but without the PMO to help build the programme-level bridges between the projects, many of the project managers reverted back to a silo mentality.  To address this, Dave help set up a small community of practice amongst the project managers to share lessons and problems, and to build up a greater sense of camaraderie. 

More restructures followed in 2012, with two more PMO team members leaving the business.  It became clear to the business that the programme management effectiveness was suffering without the PMO support, so the PMO purpose was reviewed and redefined once again.  The PMO set about re-engaging with the project managers, focusing on competencies and creating PMO community to provide peer-to-peer support, knowledge sharing and expertise.  It was during this time that the European operations were added to the PMO’s remit, and much of the PMO’s activities are currently taken up with giving bespoke training sessions to business personnel across Europe on aspects of project and programme management relevant to their operations, such as stakeholder engagement, using Webex and holding stage gate reviews. 

In addition, the PMO is aiming to develop into more of a Portfolio Management Office, and has been able assert some influence at a senior level and reaffirm key strategic priorities, helping to increase business alignment within the organisation.

In conclusion, Emma and Dave admitted that although they had been forced by circumstance to take a slow burn approach, it had ultimately worked out quite well for the PMO and the business.  The long haul has enabled them to build up a passion for the business and clarity around how the PMO can best meet the organisation’s needs.  This presented an excellent learning opportunity for the team, allowing them to grow along with the business and enabling them to learn how to adapt their service provision and engage more effectively with their internal customers.

Knowing what they know now, however, they felt that would have implemented their service catalogue earlier.  Also, although their emphasis on trying to develop internal resources to staff the PMO has paid dividends on a number of levels, they recognised that they may have been able to make more rapid progress had they tried to bring in PMO resources with greater experience during the earlier years.


Session 4 – Influencing: A Key PMO Skill – Richard Pound
The next session, given by Richard Pound of Grahame Robb Associates, looked at some of the key components of the influencing process.  Richard noted that when it comes to implementing sustainable change, the most important capacity you possess is the ability to influence behaviour, be it your behaviour or that of others. 

Much of the presentation’s content was based around the VitalSmarts Influencer Model below:

 Influencer model





Further details of which can be found at

The VitalSmarts Influence Process is summarised below:
1. What is the current unwanted circumstance?  What results do you really want and need?  By When?  How will you measure the results?
2. What 2-4 vital behaviours will lead to the greatest amount of change?
3. How will you make change inevitable?
a. Source 1 – What is your personal motivation plan?  How will you help people feel morally engaged in the vital behaviours?
b. Source 2 – What is your personal ability plan?  How will you increase people’s ability to do the vital behaviours in the most challenging moments?
c. Sources 3 & 4 – What is your social influence plan?  Who has themost social influence?  What do you need them to do to influence change?  How will you influence these influencers?
d. Source 5 – What is your structural motivation plan?  What incentives keep people doing the wrong thing?  What incentives will you use to help jump-start change?
e. Source 6 – What is your structural ability plan?  What things in the environment enable people to do the wrong behaviours?  How will you make the vital behaviours easier and the current behaviours harder?

The following table provides a brief overview of the six main Sources of influence referenced above:






1 – Make the Undesirable Desirable

·         Let them choose

·         Make it a game

·         Connect to human consequences

2 – Surpass Your Limits

·         Engage in deliberate practice

·         Master emotions at crucial moments


3 - Harness Peer Pressure

·         Strengthen your relationships

·         Influence the influencers (such as formal leaders, opinion leaders, gatekeepers, and neighbours)

4 – Find Strength in Numbers

·         Provide help, information, resources and authority


5 – Design Rewards and Demand Accountability

·         Use incentives third

·         Use incentives to jump-start change

·         Punish when necessary

6 – Change the Environment

·         Use the power of Space

·         Use the power of Cues

·         Use the power of Data

·         Use other environmental forces

One of the key points to remember about these sources of influence is that you need to address each of the six aspects at the same time – you cannot pick and choose which aspects to focus on without undermining the impact of your influence to some extent.  However, the authors of the system have found that you will start to notice real effects by the time you have taken steps to address four of the six sources, so it can be helpful to make sure you focus your effort and emphasis on those that will make the biggest impact.

You can view a Hyrum Grenny video on Youtube that help illustrate some of the points at

Richard also provided a couple of white papers for further reading.  “How to 10x your Influence” can be found on the APM website here, and the Executive Summary for the Silence Fails study can be found here.

This session gave an interesting perspective on how PMOs could influence their stakeholders, and how this can be seen as successful by operating more than one strategy at a time.

Session 5 –Culture and its Effects on Communications – Rob Sadler

Rob, a project manager for a Transport for London and a member of the APM’s People SIG, discussed a number of interesting aspects about how corporate and public culture can affect the effectiveness of your communications and ultimately, your ability to successfully deliver your projects.  Touching briefly on Tuckman’s stages of group development (Forming / Storming / Norming / Performing), Rob went on to discuss how important it is to be aware of the multitude of different cultural factors (such as their ethics and values, corporate culture, globalisation and “micro cultures) that can influence and affect how an individual perceives, manages, resources and delivers their projects.  For example, the prevailing corporate or departmental cultures may result in project management being viewed negatively (as in “it’s too bureaucratic / expensive / trendy / faddy / disruptive”) or positively (where it might be seen as exciting or beneficial).

The type of organisation and its inherent cultural values can also affect the type and style of its project management approach.  Bureaucratic organisations (like banks and financial services organisations) can adopt different strategies to organic organisations like charities, which are again different to mechanistic institutions (such as retail businesses, public services and government departments) and ‘anarchic’ enterprises like the creative arts and R&D.

The PMO needs to apply a certain amount of stakeholder engagement and risk management to ensure that that project management is perceived properly throughout the organisation.  This includes understanding the context of the project management environment and the people affected by it, and having an awareness of the perennial “blocker and enabler” arguments that are often rolled out by supportive and oppositional parties.  Doing so will enable the PMO to pre-empt the nay-sayers and promote the benefits and aspects of added value that are most relevant to the day to day operations of the business or organisation. 

Rob used an interactive session to highlight the impact that different frames of reference can have on how projects and project management itself are perceived by the wider organisation and project teams.  The PMO needs to be aware of this when engaging with stakeholders, but it can be tricky when you consider that framing changes over time, so it is entirely possible for stakeholders to view the same fact in a different way at a later date.  There are a number of factors that can affect this, such as mood, emotion, external events or peer pressure.

Given the multitude of complexities that arise when dealing with a group of diverse individuals, Rob suggested a number of different communication strategies to consider, such as developing your empathy skills, ensure accessibility in your chosen methods or mediums of communication, avoiding jargon and “de-cluttering” by prioritising your messages effectively.  It is important to mix and vary your communication formats to suit different preferences, and try to find ways to check and understand what works best for different circumstances and contexts.

In conclusion, Rob reminded us that culture has multiple dimensions and layers, and that they need to be addressed in slightly different ways (such as at the individual, organisational, and sub-organisational “micro-culture” levels).  Flexibilty and adaptability are key, and he drew an analogy between a river and a canal – canals are more direct, but require more active maintenance, but a river follows a more natural, possibly meandering, “path of least resistance” to its conclusion.  The PMO needs to appreciate when to follow the river and when it needs to devote more effort to driving and maintaining a canal thorough the existing culture.

Conference Close – John Zachar & Ralf Finchett

Former PMOSIG committee member John drew out some of the key themes from the day’s presentations and activities, and summarised many salient points, some of which are paraphrased below:
• Asking the right questions at the recruitment stage can really help in finding the people who want to grow.
• The PMO Manager needs to be politically astute and, to a certain extent, streetwise.  They need to be able to read the terrain, and willing to get out and walk the floor where possible.  Face to face conversations should  generally be prioritised over phone calls or emails.
• Passion, adaptability and flexibility were flagged up as common across all three of the PMO Manager, Project Specialist and Project Officer roles discussed in the interactive session, but it is also very important for PMO people to talk to the right people in the organisation, and to work out how best to communicate to them, and how to persuade and sell when necessary
• John’s definition of influencing is “getting people to do things they don’t want to do”, so it is important to appreciate the different types of power within an organisation (such as positional, knowledge-based and status-based) and understand who wields which type.

Ralf then closed proceedings and thanking all the presenters and delegates, and then talked about how many people have grown up unpeeling bananas from the wrong end (ie, the stalk ended), simply because that’s how they’ve always done it – they have been taught and conditioned to believe that this is the norm and the right way.  Even though it is easier to pinch and peel from the other end, many people never even think of trying it until it’s pointed out to them!  Building on the theme of trying something different and not accepting the norm, Ralf then played a 2 minute video of Eddie Obeng relating the fable of the Five Monkeys (which can be found online at  Be wary of blindly accepting the established way of doing things, as it may be based on faulty reasoning!

In closing, Ralf reminded the PMO people present to “act their role, not their grade” when it comes to dealing with more senior managers.  PMO staff cannot always rely on their seniority to drive home messages and recommendations, so it is important to not to be intimidated if you have to make unpopular or unfavourable decisions or recommendations to senior managers or stakeholders.

Martin McCann, PMO SIG Committee member


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