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PMO wisdom interview with Peter Taylor, Winter 2016

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As part of bringing real PMOs to our members, our PMO Wisdom Series provides us with an opportunity to interview PMO professionals that bring new and interesting points of view regarding the industry.

The following transcript details our Chair Emma Arnaz-Pemberton interviewing Peter Taylor, the Head of Global PMO at Kronos following our PMO and Value conference.  The archive of PMO wisdom interviews can be heard in APM resources here. he full recording of their conversation can be found here.

Below is the interview transcript.

Interview transcript

EAP: Welcome to the APM PMO SIG web interview. My name is Emma Arnaz-Pemberton (EAP), I am Chair of the PMO SIG and today I have Peter Taylor (PT) who is the Head of Global PMO for Kronos. Thank you Peter for taking the time out to support the SIG and reaching out to our members so they can learn from your experiences. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

PT: Yeah thanks for having me here, so I’m a project manager first and foremost, I’ve been a project manager for probably way too many years, but currently I would say I have two jobs – one is the head of global PMO for Kronos Incorporated which is a workforce management solution organisation. I oversee that PMO with quite a lot of project managers and a lot of projects around the world and that generally keeps me busy.
The other part of me is that I am a speaker, author, and am known as the lazy project manager. I wrote that book back in 2009 and  have written 15 more books since then. So, I enjoy both worlds.

EAP: How did you get into PMO’s?

PT: I think PMOs kind of surrounded me rather than I got into PMO. I worked for one company and I started working with the project managers developing skills, training, etc. They eventually became a centre of excellence and a community of practice, and I guess at the time when I departed I would look back at that and I would say “hey that was a PMO”.  But we didn’t call it PMO at the time but it definitely had evolved into it. So, the job after that was building a PMO from scratch, so suddenly it kind of came about. It was through my continued passion for projects, my focus on developing project managers, and helping them do a great job. From that you know this concept, term, PMO, came about. It was more of a change of reference really at a certain point for me as “you know what, this is a PMO”.

EAP: Sure I totally get that, I fell into it also!
The global PMO you’re currently working in, how big is that?, how diverse is that team if you’re working all over the world?

PT: Yeah it is big by a number of scales. So we have nearly 200 project managers working around the world overseeing nearly 5,000 projects a year. They are projects for our customers and can be anything from 12 weeks to multi-year programmes, so it’s a huge range.

Some of it is done remotely, some of it is done on customer sites. That’s one aspect of the PMO, the other aspect is the internal transformation of the organisation. So we are also involved in internal projects and programmes.

In my core team I have five people who work directly for me, they are focused on all of those internal programmes of transformation, development of project management skills, implementing tools and technologies to support our project managers, and helping the organisation go about that change.

In turn we are indirectly responsible for those project managers who oversee the customer projects.

EAP: OK, and why is there a PMO? What was the trigger? Usually because something has happened, somebody needs visibility or they want to know where their people are. What was the trigger at your organisation to actually set something up to manage change?

PT: I think there were two triggers. One trigger was probably a financial one, a profit one. With our customers, Kronos was doing great, there was a recognition that with investment in project managers we could do even more effective projects and there was a drive to what we call ‘smart value fast’ which is deploying our technology much faster as we move to a cloud based SaaS style organisation. So there was a recognition that we needed to change the way we were doing things to get faster and better for our customer.

The second one was recognition that there was a major transformation of the organisation, and so that required a lot of internal programmes. So those two things came together, back in the early part of 2015 they decided they needed to invest in a PMO; and reached out to me.

EAP: That sounds really interesting. What would you say makes your PMO different or.. and/or successful I guess?

PT: I think we are on the path to being successful. We are constantly having to prove value that’s for sure! Step by step, but we have a roadmap that we reckon is going to be a four year journey. We are 18 months into that right now.

So, what makes us different? I think what’s slightly different to most PMOs is that we are dealing with customer facing projects for the most part, we have to have that internal/external viewpoint. We always have to balance priorities. Also the fact that project managers don’t report directly into the PMO. It’s a centralised enterprise community, so that very much influences the way we work.

The last part is, because of that world, we are stretching what the P stands for in PMO. We are projects, we are programmes, we are portfolio but I also own the practice managers and practice directors inside the organisation that oversee the project managers. So, the managers of the project managers.

I recognise that if we don’t get them behaving in the way you want, they aren’t going to drive behaviours from the project managers or vice versa. So, I think perhaps that makes us slightly different, probably not unique but certainly different.

EAP: As you’re the author of the book who talked about different kinds of PMOs, which kind does your current PMO sit in? Or is there something else to it?

PT: No, we are a blended PMO. We are supportive because we offer support as a fall back position for everybody. We are an open available resource to help our project managers. We are controlling because we control the methodology and the standards, and we have expectations of what we mean by a project manager at certain levels. We are occasionally directive because we do step in to certain projects. I hate to say it but not every one of our projects is perfect so we do sometimes have to help out project managers or turn things around, or sometimes even it is just a personality clash or something like that. We operate in a blended way but if I had to pick one of those it would be controlling because that’s where we sit in the middle. We also operate in all other areas.

EAP: OK, and in those areas do you ever stop initiatives? It’s one of the question that people ask “we don’t stop enough projects”. Do you have that power or do you have the ear of your Senior Executives?

PT: OK, so as far as the customer facing projects it's really interesting because we are an infinite capacity model, we will never turn a customer project down.

EAP: Wow.

PT: Have we ever stopped one?  No. We haven’t stopped one in that area, we have had strong input into a project that’s about to kick off because we felt it was incorrectly structured, resourced, or anything.
Yes we certainly do that.

As far as the internal ones are concerned, that’s very different. Yes, we have a very strong say. I have a place on the strategy board inside the organisation that allows me that kind of influence on guiding strategy. I can certainly challenge. It hasn’t been brought to a point yet where we have had to stop one, I believe we could if we saw it going badly wrong. 

As far as our customer facing ones, our customer has invested in technology that has to be deployed in the most effective way, so we will find the resources to manage it – we make it happen.

EAP: OK, and what’s the value of the PMO? What are the perceived benefits that you give your organisation?

PT: This is a really interesting question because I’ve just had my global team over in the UK this week and that’s one of the things we explored because I was trying to convey on them, you know as fantastic as we all feel, the company is investing in us, there’s sponsorship, budget, it's wonderful we’ve grown our headcount etc. I was emphasising to them, you know we are entering the period where a lot of PMOs start to get challenged. We must never forget that we have to be prepared to present the value of what we do.

Now the sort of things we look at… there are some basic mechanics that we look at on our portfolio dashboard about delivering on time, to budget etc. and customer satisfaction is a big driver as well. In fact I’d say customer satisfaction is greater than the other metrics which I think is the right thing.

I do emphasise to the team, you know that we always need to be prepared to talk about the PMO, what we are doing, what we are trying to achieve, what’s the end goal as far as we can see it? That can change over time? How do we represent that back to the business?, so they continue to invest etc.?, we ran a few exercises this week as well.

So, you know I would hope from the organisations value, that we end up where I worked for Siemens and ran their PMO there. During the dark days of the recession the PMO was closely looked at along with every other part of the organisation and it came back that the PMO was too valuable to loose but not too expensive to keep. Again, that balance is very important.

EAP: Sure, and that’s really interesting because there is an accepted principle that PMOs don’t last much more than four years. And that’s still happening unfortunately. Why do you think PMOs are still failing in the eyes of a lot of businesses?

PT: I think the ones I see failing are the ones that have stagnated, and ones that haven’t truly grown to where they are connected to the organisations strategic initiatives, so if there is an isolated PMO but disconnected in some way to that. I’m not saying that's our PMO. It’s a very very mature PMO and I am lucky that I have a place where I get engaged in strategic discussions, you know at Executive team level – but is still quite influential. Most PMOs don’t get that and I understand that. But actually, the PMO is also the custodian of that so they should certainly be able to connect and feedback to their organisation with input that this project is being raised or considered etc. and I think the PMOs that fail, I would say, they either behave incorrectly – we talk about the fact that you have to be the right sort of firefighter, putting the fires out is not a good thing, it's about preventing the fires in the first place. You’ve got to also be part police – it’s part of the job but if you’re just policing projects that’s really bad, you’ve got to be unique, be what the organisation needs right at that point in time.

And you need to stay connected as much as you can to the strategic behaviours inside the organisation. If you don’t have a good leader and if you’re isolated from that, and you don’t change but remain very rigid – rigid in your process, and that's all about trying to enforce discipline on project managers’ and projects in a negative or aggressive way – I think that’s where the majority of PMOs fail.

EAP: It comes down to people a lot of the time.

PT: A lot of it is people yeah.

EAP: What do you think are the main challenges faced by your PMO?

PT: The first challenge was to grow to the right scale to support the organisation because when we began to show the value, it became a bit of a clammoring of “this is great, the PMO can do this, the PMO can do that” which is fantastic, but it's very easy for PMOs to over-extend themselves I think. You have got to have a clear view of what you are going to be delivering in the next six months, 12 months, and beyond, so we have a roadmap that says where we go from here to here, at the end of the four year period, and there are all these major milestones we aim to achieve whilst always having an eye on being flexible.

So I think the main challenge was to calm the organisation down about what we were trying to achieve and buy into the fact that some of the things we are trying to achieve are going to take a long time. We are down to dealing with peoples job roles, their titles, their renumeration etc. and once you get into that HR world it all slows down. So this is going to take some time to turn around, it’s a combination of doing that in the right way, at the right speed, but still presenting that overall vision of what you’re trying to achieve. So I think I see my major role is representing that back, what’s going well, what’s making progress, here’s what we’ve achieved, here’s what we are going to be doing, and you know I need your help to make this next step etc.

EAP: OK, and what do you see as the PMO of the future? What is it in your view?

PT: I don’t know what the PMO of the future is going to be. Is there even going to be a PMO in the future? I don’t know. I certainly would envisage the visibility of project based ownership activity being high up. So I support the view that in some organisations you will see this Chief Project Officer, you will see a C-level person involved in projects. Now it might not be projects it might be change I don’t know, but certainly someone who represents the underlying changes of an organisation at that level. And they will have to be supported by a team of some form – but will that be the PMO that we recognise today? Probably not, it’s going to evolve somehow.

If you project ahead, you’re going to have an organisation that's going to, I describe it as there will, be business as usual whatever the company does, this is what the company does on a daily basis. This will continue obviously otherwise why else is the company in existence?

Then there will be outright project based activity, and there’s this thing in the middle that I call projects as usual. You’re going to have a whole lot of management who are going to come through with a capability of doing projects and doing that as part and parcel of their day to day job. They won’t necessarily call it a project but they will have the understanding of the basic mechanics of a project manager in that situation. So it’s almost like the PMO remit will stretch but it will also change to a degree because this binary world of it is a project, yes or no?, will disappear. There is a generation coming through that have that fundamental capability of being able to do projects – unlike when I first joined and became an accidental project manager.

So, that will all change and will have to drive the behaviour of a PMO in the future. I’m not too sure how to actually describe it but I think they are the interesting things that are going on.

EAP: OK, and before I let you go, if you could go back in time and give yourself some PMO advice and wisdom, what would it be?

PT: I don’t know actually. If I could go back in time one of the things I would try and do is find a new title for the PMO – that P in the PMO is just so confusing! It’s great to have an acronym, an abbreviation. I don’t know if I would change anything else, it’s been such an interesting journey and if I had started talking about PMOs earlier people would still not understand what I was doing. So, if anything, I would probably have changed my CV to have PMO on it a little bit earlier because it was a very profitably period of time I think in the early days! Beyond that, I think it’s been pretty good.

EAP: OK, well thank you very much for your time. As always, a long time PMO SIG friend, and we will hope to see you soon at one of our events.

The archive of PMO wisdom interviews can be heard on the APM PMO SIG microsite page.


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