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Learn From the Pros About Capital Project PMOs

 

11/18/2021

57 Minute Watch Time

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Catie Williams:

Hello, everyone, and welcome to our webinar today. My name’s Catie Williams and I am a product director at InEight over our connected analytics products, which includes everything from data to reporting and dashboarding analytics. I’m really excited to be here with you today. We have a really exciting topic with some industry experts about the PMO. From a housekeeping perspective, first off, I hope no one had any technical challenges getting in today. I know we are facing potentially some challenges, but hopefully everyone’s been able to get in okay.

Catie Williams:

We would love for you to ask questions during the webinar, feel free to use the chat. I will be watching as we go along for questions that come in and trying to incorporate them into our discussion. Please feel free to give us feedback and rate the webinar. There is a heart scale at the top of your screen that you should be able to give us a rating after the session. So please give us feedback. And as I mentioned, feel free to ask questions at any point, and I will be watching and making sure that I incorporate those in.

Catie Williams:

To kick us off, we will go ahead and introduce our panel. We’ve got Val, Carey and Mikail here with us today, and we’ll let them go ahead and share their screen or their video and get here in the stage. Just give them a second. And once their videos come through, we will kick off introductions. Just give one more second. Thanks guys. All right, Val, do you want to go ahead and kick us off with introductions? Tell us a little bit about yourself, your experience with the PMO, capital projects.

Val Matthews:

Sure. Thanks, Catie. And thanks InEight for the opportunity and invitation. Hello everybody. So yeah, I’m Val Matthews, I’ve got, geez, a long time, about 16 years in project management, PMO and project controls. I’ve done everything from defense to renewables to oil and gas, to mining, to roads, ports, aviation, you name it. And I’m really passionate about PMO. Also advanced in the project community, so I do have some hobbies additional to my main job, which is director of PMO and digital services.

Val Matthews:

But I do also run the Project Chatter Podcast. I am also the co-founder of the Project Connect Group, which is an open networking group and I’m also the AAC regional chair for Victoria and Tasmania. So yeah, I guess my experience in PMO goes vast and broad, and I’ve also worked across various different countries, mainly the UK and Canada.

Catie Williams:

Well, that’s great. Thank you, Val. We’re looking forward to hearing your insights during our webinar. Carey, you want to go next?

Carey Gent:

Hi, Catie. Thanks, and hi everyone. My name’s Carey Gent, I’m the director of program management and construction services for KBR Infrastructure Services. And I’ve been in and around projects for about nearly 30 years and my business and what my business at the moment really looks after setting up PMOs for many organizations as part of program and project management services. And my background has been in a history of both consulting and organizations and having had the experience to set up and be a part of sort of multiple PMOs either through organizations or in sort of delivery contexts.

Catie Williams:

Thank you. I’m really looking forward to talking about how to start a PMO implementing, and it’ll be good to get your thoughts on that. Thank you, Carey. Mikail, would you go ahead and introduce yourself please?

Mikail Khajavi:

Hello everyone. And hello, Catie again, and thanks for the opportunity. It’s great to be here. My name is Mikail Khajavi and at the moment I’m the capital works portfolio manager in city of Melbourne, the local government area of the city of Melbourne. And I am a civil engineer in my background and had a couple of certification in project management, similar to Val, but possibly for a different reason due to the economic turbulences. I have been in different continents.

Mikail Khajavi:

I’ve worked in UK, in Middle East, and now in Australia. So work in variety of industries, you name it, from telecommunication, transport or water and waste to, I don’t know, oil and gas, energy, and resources and transport. I’ve worked as project manager, project control manager, project scheduler, portfolio manager, and PMO manager. So been different capacities, know the different perspective, both in public and private sector. It was an interesting journey and learning a lot from different people and different industries.

Catie Williams:

Thank you. Yeah. And I think we’ll really want to get into the difference between public and private during this webinar, so that will be great. How about, I think maybe if we start with you Mikail, when I was thinking for this webinar about the PMO and what that means to me, I thought maybe a good way to level set with everyone and just make sure we’re all on the same page is having you guys define what the PMO means to you.

Catie Williams:

And so when you’re talking about that and when we’re going through some of these questions and having the discussion, just making sure we’re all talking about the same thing. So if you don’t mind kicking that off, and if you could define what that means, and then it’ll just open it up for discussion around, what do we mean when we say PMO?

Mikail Khajavi:

Okay. Look, what I would call PMO is a service based group or team in an organization with a number of expert people that they have to have very strong background in what they offer in the PMO. So they might be the analyst, or let’s say schedulers or project controls or cost controls or risk managers, et cetera, that they get together to deliver certain services to the organization. I would say first they should be very social people to interact with people because they’re basically sending a service to the entire organization, internal or externally.

Mikail Khajavi:

And also they should be able to coach and train people and encourage people to follow the PMF. PMF basically sets the standards for the organization and bring the transparency and monitoring the status of projects. PMOs can be defined or established in three different levels. They might be just supportive PMO that they just provide supportive services or administrative services. They might be collaborative PMO, which I think they are really good because they help the project managers free up some of their times and then leave the scheduling risk management, cost management, or reporting to the experts. And then there are delivery PMO, which they just basically rolls the sleeves up and deliver projects in some organizations. So it depends what organization needs, PMO can be molded in different ways.

Catie Williams:

Val or Carey, would you add anything to that? Do you have anything else from a definition perspective or what the PMO means to you?

Carey Gent:

Yeah, I think there are sort of … PMOs have various scopes as Mikail talked about. And I think though the common elements which I tend to see is there’s probably really two fundamental ones for me. And it’s really around standardizing and optimizing approaches to how projects, programs and portfolios are managed throughout their life cycle. And as part of that, aligning these to the organizational objectives. And then I think the second one is often the provision of tools, systems, and expertise, which enables database decision making. So brings essentially the reporting, decision making and everything together for a single source of truth. They’re probably the two key things for me when looking at PMOs, which are pretty common to most, I would say.

Val Matthews:

Yeah, I’d just add to that. I think they’re great explanations and definitions, so there’s not too much to add. I would probably just simplify it in my language. I think they are critical because they’re the most malleable organization in the professional services suite. They sit between the delivery arm and the actual corporate office, managing the outcome of the project and supporting and enabling that ability to be on time, on budget, whatever their success factors are. It’s been told to me once that PMO is the critical friend and you’re not always popular being a PMO. And I always take that as a really good tip.

Catie Williams:

Yeah. I know I have said that they’re doing their job right, if you’re being annoyed by someone from the PMO, they’re making a difference then, right, so that’s funny.

Val Matthews:

Exactly.

Catie Williams:

Clearly the value, right, you all have seen it. If you don’t have a PMO, how do you make the business case for it? How do you move beyond where we don’t have any standards in our organization to establishing this? And Carey, you mentioned that this is your sweet spot is implementing, how do you get started? Where would someone even begin if this is a journey they’re interested in taking?

Carey Gent:

Yeah, I think what’s fundamental in [inaudible 00:23:43] for PMO. I mean, there has to be the case for change and that needs to be developed. But for implemented PMO for it to be successful, it’s important to define actually what its purpose is and what its mandate is. So what responsibilities  and then I think what does success look like for the PMO and the performance indicators which sort of align to that. Because fundamental to start with, it’s getting an organization on board. Usually when we get asked to set up PMOs, some of the executive align, but there is executive alignment space. And then there’s also the alignment of the organization who is going to be part of that PMO.

Catie Williams:

I don’t know, Val or Mikail if you have anything you would add on to that if just … we’ll get into this more as we keep going more and more will come out naturally. But if you were trying to kick this off, what suggestions or how would you do that if an organization is interested in moving this direction?

Val Matthews:

Well, certainly it comes back to Carey’s point. It’s different for each organization and aligning to the business objectives as well. But it’s also understanding what type of project environment it’s going to be formed in. Is it complicated? Is it complex? Is it chaotic? Is it simple? And that should define then the framework you might use. I have this term called freedom within the framework. I think it’s quite dangerous and this is probably the only modality in terms of roles and departments in an organization where being too prescriptive could actually be an inhibitor to success.

Val Matthews:

Most other departments is pretty standard. You take your finance, your HR, et cetera. You can set them up and they’re fine to work within a compliance framework from the start. But ultimately some of the PMO teams I’ve set up from scratch, it’s good to have a little bit of flex to respond to the environment you’re in and then provide a framework that suits. I go back to fit for purpose and fit for scale.

Mikail Khajavi:

I couldn’t agree more with you, but possibly the only thing I add is that I’ve seen the organization, they didn’t have PMO and they didn’t have a standard project management framework and a standard method for delivering their projects, identifying projects and measuring the success of their projects. And it looks like you imagine a city that the drivers, some of them that drive in Australia and British way, and some they drive in European or American way.

Mikail Khajavi:

And then some use imperial measures and some use standard measures. So just imagine how much chaos there will be. I’ve seen organization that one team establish very good project management system tools and templates and one team doesn’t. And that’s because they don’t have a PMO. And then back to Carey’s point, PMOs mission is first standardizing the way they deliver the projects, bringing the project management framework. And that’s possibly one of the key things that makes the business case justified.

Mikail Khajavi:

And there is a question that who is in the organization decide what type of PMOs I just jumped to that question quickly. I think it’s a collective decisions by number of people from the senior management to the project managers. They should have that collective desire for having a PMO. But I think let’s leave that, go through some of the other questions and then we get back to that question, it’s a very good question.

Catie Williams:

Yeah. I mean, and then the other question was if we’re referring to portfolio program or project management and we’re referring to project, right. I mean, you would all agree that that’s when you’re saying PMO, that’s what you’re referring to, correct? Is that fair?

Carey Gent:

Speaking personally, I think when we look at PMOs, it can be through all three lenses. But generally when you’re setting up a PMO, it usually involves more than one project because that’s where you’re looking to in terms of standardizing new systems and new processes and getting some of the benefits across multiple projects. And then it’s just whether you look at it within that there are programs and broader than that portfolios.

Val Matthews:

Yeah, that’s a good point. I think PMOs are generally brought in on those harder projects because they are either complicated or complex or both, and it’s the ability to provide certainty too. There’s a level of sense making that PMO provides to all the decision makers. And so we have to be that conduit between what’s really happening on the ground to how we make effective decisions for future based outcomes. And so PMO provides that kind of, as I said, critical friend, that insight view and that integration perspective.

Catie Williams:

What are some indicators that your organization needs to establish this? I mean, I thought it was interesting, the question we got about who makes the case for it and where does that rise from. But if you were going to make the business case, what are some leading indicators that there’s a problem and this would be a great fit and solution for it or something repetitively is happening. I don’t know if that question, if I’m making sense, but are there red flags that show up that say like, hey, we’re too big, it’s too complex, this is now the time.

Mikail Khajavi:

Do you want to go ahead Val or?

Val Matthews:

Yeah. Well, I was just thinking about it because it’s a good question. And there’s never really … generally PMOs if they’re not already established for the business and they’ve made the case upfront, it becomes an afterthought and I’ve seen retrospective PMOs being established and it’s a little bit messier. In terms of leading indicators, I guess generally this is driven by the client, right? The client has the key requirements and demands and thus contractor side and I’ve been both.

Val Matthews:

They will obviously be incentivized to have a conduit that connects and shows certainty back to the client. I’ve seen PMOs be retrospective fitted to provide, I guess a safe space, a connection with the client. The PMO would actually be hand in hand with the client working in collaboration. I’ve seen that actually quite well in the UK where they have NEC contracts and the like, where collaboration is kind of incentivized and that’s done through PMO and various reviews. But it could also be another method to develop I guess quick wins, right?

Val Matthews:

If you established a framework within PMO, you know instantly that you’ve got industry standards, you’ve got benchmarks, you’ve got frameworks, you’ve got processes. If you take AAC or even some of the agile manifesto, you can apply frameworks relatively quickly and get benefits on the ground. And then it comes down to a capacity issue.

Catie Williams:

Great.

Mikail Khajavi:

I think to Val’s point and what you mentioned before, Val, very good point. You said there are departments in organization like accounting or HR. When you start a business, you have those things in place, but then the PMO comes next. And how that desire comes in organization is, first of all I think when you start delivering projects as a client organization, you realize that there are discrepancy among the projects, how they are being delivered. You don’t have enough visibility of what’s going on into your programs and projects.

Mikail Khajavi:

You look at the annual budget and you see you’re falling behind the targets for your capital projects. Your strategy is not being delivered. And there are possibly indicators for the board or the executives to understand PMO is necessary for the organization. And PMO is delivering efficiency on a scale. They standardized the methods and the framework and people can work easier. They are the things that they can be seen as indicators, key indicators that you need a PMO. I would love to see organization being established and next to the accounting or HR or procurement, they establish a PMO as well, but it’s not the case unfortunately, or at least at the moment it’s not the case.

Carey Gent:

Often I do see them get created after the fact. And it’s usually when other organizations or programs get to a certain level of complexity, or just a realization of their own maturity and project management and that projects are going off the rails and there’s lots of surprises and there’s just not that consistency, executives seeing one report for one project and something different for another and it’s all over the place. And so the inefficiencies become apparent as complexity grows I think.

Catie Williams:

That’s great. Mikail, not to put you on the spot, but before we move off the topic of starting one up, your perspective from the public versus private, are there significant differences when implementing a PMO?

Mikail Khajavi:

I think what needs to be seen when you establish a PMO will need a PMO, is that PMO is a place that you want to deliver a number of capital projects if it’s for the purpose of the capital projects. And then it doesn’t matter whether you report to a board of directors or shareholders, or you want to report to, let’s say councils or government, let’s say government ministers, it doesn’t matter. You need to prove that you achieved your organizational strategy, you meet your capital works targets and that’s necessary. Those elements you want to bring with the PMO established project management, doing the best practices to the system, bring the good efficiency in reporting, in planning, in controlling the projects and the frameworks you required for identifying projects, delivering and measuring the benefits. From different angles, you can see the requirements of the PMO, but at the end of the day, the mission is to help organization to achieve their goals.

Catie Williams:

Thank you. We did have a couple questions come in. If you guys can see those, I’ll wait because we’re going to talk about best practices, so some of those will address then. If we switch gears to change management. I think we’ve established that there’s the necessity, but then it always seems like the real hard part is convincing the organization to do it and to actually change. What are some thoughts you have about suggestions for change management? What’s like a rollout strategy, right? Is it big bang? Is it like area by area? Any thoughts around that and how you really make this happen?

Val Matthews:

Oh my God, this is such a good subject matter. Particularly given the year everybody’s had, given the pandemic. Look, I think that the thing is with change management is it’s undervalued and it’s overly optimistic. That’s what I see in every single project that I see change management deployed. It’s not a lack of process. The skills aren’t necessarily difficult to obtain. I think there’s some great principles out there. There’s the principles. There’s the framework if you want to manage in complexity, but that’s not the issue.

Val Matthews:

And I think it’s because it doesn’t address necessarily the culture. I think that’s one of the questions that we had as well. And when we do start a change element, whatever that might be, we again underestimate critical mass. So the importance of bringing people on the journey and making sure there’s a what’s in it for me or a so what response. And so for transformation that actually keeps us consultants quite busy, as you can imagine, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. I think change is actually something that similar to risk and safety is a cultural thing. It should be front of mind for everybody. You don’t need the title change manager to be a change manager. And certainly we’ve seen some of that event. We’ve all been change managers over the pandemic.

Catie Williams:

That’s great point.

Carey Gent:

Yeah, I think that’s a really good point Val. Fundamentally in setting up PMOs, it’s as much a people process as a technical process and really needing to focus on both those elements to be successful. And ultimately I think in setting up PMOs, we’re trying to set something up, which helps an organization and helps individuals in an organization. I think you started with, Catie, around sort of PMO being your friend. It should actually be your friend and the part of the process is actually convincing the people that it can be rather than a level of governance, which they don’t really want.

Mikail Khajavi:

Yeah. I think when it comes to change management, you should look at where the change comes from. I either want to eliminate a risk to the business or meet some strategy targets. And then that defines a change. And a change by itself is a project. Sometimes organizations rush to deliver a change. And that’s the most important reason for failure. I think the people they want to deliver the change, I agree with Val, differently have to follow a change management framework, but you should be able to go through to your manager or executives or general manager and say, “Don’t stand in my way, don’t rush me to get the change done. Give me time. I need to implement my change correctly.” So that includes lots of communication, bringing people on board, collecting different feedbacks and slowly, slowly plan and implement it. And obviously establishment of a PMO is a big change management. And if you start wrong, it fails because people they don’t get the buy in PMO and they don’t use the service and they don’t trust the PMO.

Val Matthews:

And to just address Catie, you mentioned the big bang approach. Look, and just from my own experience, I’ve never seen that work. It’s never been pretty and it’s always been very expensive.

Catie Williams:

Agreed.

Val Matthews:

And then everyone doesn’t want to talk about it anymore, so I would suggest an incremental approach if that’s possible.

Catie Williams:

And Mikail, you started to answer this question and I think it’s a great one that we got from someone listening in asking about what are the main causes of the PMO failures or any lessons learned. I don’t know if you have additional, I think it’s great based on what we’re talking about, some good recommendations that you might have or things to avoid.

Mikail Khajavi:

Val and Carey, let me to start. I think one of the very important things, people in PMO they should be aware of, delivering a service. So not only how you establish a PMO and manage the change to establish a PMO is important, parties, bringing the right people in the PMO. You should be careful, you’re delivering a service. Imagine you call your, I don’t know, telephone service providers or your utility company for a request and you receive a bad attitude. You definitely won’t be happy.

Mikail Khajavi:

If you’re a project manager or executive and you contact someone in PMO and they don’t know how to deal with the case, it’s a pushback. People with real social skills and communication skills and engaging people, mentoring them, coaching them should be in PMO. Other thing is the PMO people, they should promote their mission as well, so it’s not only senior management. They should be a people that get the buy in more.

Mikail Khajavi:

And I think finally is making sure that you appoint a person as a head of PMO that understand the diversity of the skills and services PMO provides. I’ve seen organization, they put a very senior accountant person, let’s say a CPA person to manage a PMO because the company has focused on, oh, we should manage our project costs and avoid budget over on. So they think an experienced accountant can do the job better. And then the experience accountant doesn’t understand in depth risk management, project controls, project definition, et cetera, et cetera. Then the connection is not there. The cognitive don’t match. So that’s very important to understand who you appoint as the head of European.

Catie Williams:

Those are great suggestions. I don’t know Carey or Val, if either of you want to add anything to that.

Carey Gent:

I guess one thing for me, I think thinking about the change management process, and we talk quite a bit about the people side of it, and you get to a point where, how do you embed a PMO? How do you move it from a startup to a business and usual? And I think the systems and the data and the process is the way that happens. Because essentially what you’re trying to do is invoke a change in how people work. And that’s an important element and it actually requires a lot of effort. I think all of us have been through it, know how much effort is in that space, but to create that sustainability and to change people’s work habits, you sort of got to provide that framework and systems where there is just the one way of doing things for instance.

Val Matthews:

100%. And I’d just add, I think Mikail stole my notes, so I would just add to that communication, this instrument here is the most important thing in PMO. I have a mantra, I hire for attitude, I train for skill. And I don’t hire people just because they technically astute student. I mean, that is fantastic to have those types of people, but you need the diversity of thought, you need the dynamic. And so when you are performing, let’s say a following a PMO team, it’s important to have those people that effectively are managing, like you said, a project professional service and that servant leadership type style.

Val Matthews:

Whereas whether the hierarchy, the org chart is irrelevant, it’s important to flatten the structure and have everyone on a peer to peer basis. And I think that’s how you get effective change, particularly whether you have … I had an experience where we had a client, a contractor relationship that wasn’t very good, and it was up to us to really unpack what the problem was with the client, work with them. And we actually sat with them. We actually relocated our entire team, sat with the client, built the trust, and that’s a really important factor of the PMO piece. Communication and consistency will build performance and trust and that’s what we want.

Mikail Khajavi:

In your point, Val, in previous organization, so it was basically very related to the train transport. I had a standard email and the email title was PMO signal. So like the train signaling, what was PMO signal. And the PMO signal mission was to just communicate some of the important things and changes happening within the project environment. So to keep the consistency of the communication, standup title comes every, I don’t know, fortnight or something, and provide a set important information for project managers. So they know where they have to find those things, just follow your PMO signal.

Catie Williams:

Well, that’s good. We got a question about, this is kind of on the implementing but also suggestions, best practices, any indicators about the size of the PMO, what do you think about, can it be done in-house? Can it be contracted out? How do you keep the cost low? Kind of goes back to that. How do you justify and demonstrate the ROI, the value that the PMO brings, any thoughts there, things you’d like to suggest?

Val Matthews:

Yeah. Well, I constantly get told, “You’re too expensive, Val, and we can’t have you on this team.” Look, I think the best fit is a hybrid, I’ve seen in house PMOs. I’ve led PMOs with 50 people. I’ve led PMOs with two people. And I think it’s really relative to the life cycle of the project. I’ve started projects with 20 to 30 people, and then I’ve finished with two to three. I think we’re going to talk about technology later and how that could effectively offset some of the costs and smart, soft wear decisions.

Val Matthews:

But I think as well it’s a benefit and a luxury at the same time. I think if you’re in Australia right now, Catie, you will understand that finding good resources for permanent stuff is very difficult because we have so many in demand projects wanting good people. It really is a slight and dice, but it then depends on your cost and budget. I guess PMOs don’t decide that, we’re allocated, we can be part of the decision, but we’re more of an influence rather than a decision maker ourselves.

Catie Williams:

Another question about best practice or recommendation is from an implementation, is it better to have a top down, bottom up or a function based approach for rolling out and implementing a PMO? We’re getting a lot of really good questions to you by the way, so I’m going off script, hope that’s okay. We’ve got a lot of activity in the question box.

Carey Gent:

Yeah. I mean, my concept of a PMO I think is probably similar to what Mikail was talking about is that that’s service orientation where PMOs can actually include all project managers and everything else. And that might be relevant, see less of that. But certainly in a matrix, it really is the horizontal where you’ve got your projects in the verticals and your PMOs working horizontally and functionally it typically covers certainly project controls, analytics, estimation and those sort of disciplines which are core to project management and can include, and has value in contract management and procurement and all those other things as well. And I think that goes back to looking at the scale and what you’re actually wanting to achieve in it. Because if you define your purpose and objectives upfront, then the answer kind of falls out.

Mikail Khajavi:

It’s very interesting, came after the previous questions about the size of PMO. I agree with Carey, look, the answer is not a one size fits all, okay. So you should see what you want to get from your PMO and whether you want to deliver services or the PMO is established just to pull away a set of administrative support to a project or program or portfolio. This is up to organization to decide what size and where it sits in bottom approach or top on approach. It depends if you are establishing an enterprise project management office, or just establish a project management office for a certain part of organization so that you should answer all of those questions to decide where is the best place for the PMO. But us as the PMO people, we are very flexible, I can guarantee that.

Val Matthews:

Yeah. And just to jump in there, because I love these questions, they’re great. Strategically you do a top down, you can do a top down for a PMO establishment and implementation plan, but effectively if you want it to be integrated, it needs to be bottom up.

Mikail Khajavi:

Yeah. And you’re right Val, you want to keep your PMO independent. You don’t want to put a program manager basically in charge of a PMO. Maybe I have to say it differently, you don’t want your PMO reports to a program manager and just monitoring that program. You want that PMO be independent to report directly maybe to executive general manager or something. So it depends again, what type of PMO you have, if they have the role of audit and reporting or quality assurance of projects, definitely you don’t want to put them within the project, it should be independent.

Catie Williams:

Great. So another question, I really like this one. What is the role of the PMO from a lessons learned? So as projects are happening and you’re collecting lessons learned, what role does the PMO take in, let’s see, how do I put this right, like making that part of the process. And then if the PMO is one of the last groups established, how does the company standards as intellectual … I’m butchering this question. Let me start over. The PMO should standardize the lessons in organization learned from their experience in delivering projects. I think you would agree that’s a role of the PMO. And then it says, in this case, the PMO is one of the last departments to be established. So in general, how do you see a company standards as IP of the organization?

Carey Gent:

It’s an interesting question, and lessons learned is interesting because I think lessons learned are the ideal place to capture them is within the PMO of it being, if you like, the knowledge center and that sort of continual flow from project to project.

Catie Williams:

I agree, love the lessons learned. How do you really take the lessons learned and share them across the organization effective way?

Val Matthews:

Through storytelling.

Carey Gent:

Yeah.

Catie Williams:

Like in a technology solution or you mean I do a road show about things that did and didn’t work on my project.

Val Matthews:

Just really quickly, from my perspective I think we innately humans, we are storytellers. We learn from stories and images. And if you think about how we digest information, the abstract comes before the written or even symbols for that matter. Knowledge is actually a really good point that Carey made about lessons learned. We’re talking about knowledge management, but we’ve turned it into a transactional arrangement.

Val Matthews:

And we know for a fact quant data or a quantitative data is in itself bias. And so we need more context and that’s one of the challenges we’re having with data, which I’m sure we’ll get to at some point Catie. Knowledge management is great, but what I’d really love to see in PMOs to make them effective is decision logs, decision management, to capture it against the data. So are we effective decision makers or are our decision makers effective? Which is basically putting your executive team on the hook, which is not a very popular idea as you can imagine. But I would like everyone to think about that if they could.

Mikail Khajavi:

And I think that capturing the lessons learned in terms of technology, you can’t do it different way, just please, if you put it in Excel, make sure you put some attributes for your lessons learned that you can find them later on. Otherwise, if you just want to add text in each cell, you never use that Excel file again. But I think to Val’s point, the storytellings, I love the idea because me personally I believe your lessons learned caption should not be at the end of the projects, particularly if your projects are long and more than a certain type of projects, more than a period of time, let’s say 18 months or 24 months. So many people they may leave. And then they take that knowledge and experience with themselves.

Mikail Khajavi:

Better to have the lessons learned, retrospective more like agile method at the end of each gate of the project life cycle, capture the lessons learned, and the storytelling and learn or sharing the town hall and forums of the team. Just put some slides case study and share the experience and then keep the information nice, easy to access somewhere in your database to get access to those things later. And then part of lessons learned is just capturing the benchmark of time of your cost of the risk. They are your best inputs for future projects, so benchmark them and keep them available.

Carey Gent:

It’s an interesting one, and I think Val touched on it in terms of where analytics might be able to take us in the future. Because projects by their definition, every project is different, but how can we use analytics to take lessons by data from other projects and bring them into new projects as the data comes in and how often have we sat in project reviews and the gut feel is this project’s going off in some places, but can’t really put our exact finger on it or can’t bring some of the other sort of some of those lessons. I’ll be interested to see what we can do in that, in the future I think.

Catie Williams:

Great. I’m going to ask one more question before we move on to the technology, because I think I warned you, I’m not great always about managing time, but this one’s a good question. And we had talked about it in our prep. What are the metrics or KPIs that you use to determine if a PMO is successful? How do you measure a PMO?

Carey Gent:

Fundamentally it would be that the projects which organizations do does actually achieves the business objectives and that the strike rate of that actually improves. And what I mean by that it’s actually aligned to the organizational’s objective. Sometimes it might be not just delivering an asset as we do in capital, but what that asset does. It’s the benefits and the realization of those benefits, so that’s one aspect of it.

Val Matthews:

And I would really briefly probably add that it’s an auxiliary function, it’s a professional service. So the measures of HR and finance aren’t necessarily as heavily scrutinized as they are on PMO, which is interesting, right? Because it’s the most malleable so therefore the hardest to measure. But I think Carey’s right, it’s intrinsically linked to the business rhythm of the project. So subject to real definitions of measures it’s, is everything going in the right direction and are we getting a consistent output?

Val Matthews:

And so you could probably measure PMOs by output. But fundamentally I think the problem with that is PMOs are measured by their performance, which really isn’t a good place for PMO to be, effectively if you want to be a good PMO, you want to be independent of the performance of the project because you’re independent of the effort that it takes to deliver something. Again, it comes back to, well, what is the relationship between the executive team and the PMO and us? How is the PMO understood across the wider delivery team? If we are accountable or owners of deliverables, then of course we should be held to measure, but we’re not.

Mikail Khajavi:

Yeah. And one last point possibly, if you deliver a project, you define a certain success measures for your projects and at your benefit realization stage, you want to make sure you attain all those benefits. Let’s say you put a new train ride line and you want to have a number of passengers using this public transport system. If you define your PMO, like we said before, establishment of PMO is a project on its own, is a change and you should have some set criteria how you want to success the measure. There is no right or wrong answer, what is the KPIs for the PMO? The organization decide to establish the PMO. They should have a clear idea and how to capture it in the future when the PMO establish maybe one year after establishment or something.

Catie Williams:

That’s great. Those are great suggestions. Thank you. Shifting gears a little bit, technologies come up a couple times. I’m curious, what are your thoughts on how technology, different applications that exist have changed, the PMO maybe made things better, more efficient. How do we rely on that from a PMO perspective?

Carey Gent:

Catie, I think 10 years ago, I think someone was asking that when PMOs came about. I mean they’ve been around a long time, but 10 years ago, pretty much doing everything on spreadsheets and PMOs, other than maybe a scheduling tool like Primavera. And I think now there’s a lot more systems and tools which are available to either draw together or to have integrated upfront.

Carey Gent:

There’s certainly a lot more scope these days, but what are we trying to achieve with all that? It’s typically to just have that single source of the truth so that project managers and reviewers and steering committees and all those sort of government forums can make database decisions. Whereas that’s often what’s missing when you don’t have a PMO.

Mikail Khajavi:

Yeah.

Catie Williams:

What’s the biggest … Oh, sorry, go ahead, Carey.

Mikail Khajavi:

Sorry. I just wanted to add that at the moment [inaudible 00:58:02] the journey of selecting a enterprise tool and we are in halfway through to the going to tender and basically take some serious activities there. And before city of Melbourne back in big track, we had the same experience as well. I would say you need to see what is the outcome, the main outcomes you want to get out of your system.

Mikail Khajavi:

But the more you put in your technology that you are bringing on board in terms of don’t bring just a standalone system for, as a PPM or project portfolio management. Sometimes you want to align your strategy with your … I mean, you don’t want, you have to align your strategy with your PMO. Then you may need to consider that the system should capture your strategy and how that the strategy becomes the projects that you want to define in your organization.

Mikail Khajavi:

And then to make sure that your strategy is being delivered, then you want to add a little bit of corporate risk management into the system. So then you see that it’s become a bigger and bigger system they want to bring in place. And maybe you have to invest more to have the idea to suit your organization the best. But one thing that is very important in selecting the system, it’s not like five or 10 years ago that you bring up, even not maybe five years ago, possibly 10 years ago, you bring a tool and you want to work with it for five, six years.

Mikail Khajavi:

Systems are being upgraded so quickly and organizations are changing very quickly. Changing organization are inevitable, so bringing a system that power user, organization can configure it and change it as the organization grow. Don’t stick to what you brought and you have to just live with it, or you have to get the vendor to come and upgrade it for you with very expensive bills. Try to get something that is flexible for current and the future needs.

Val Matthews:

This is my favorite subject, Catie. I live in the future most often because it’s fun. Look, the metaverse is coming, whether we like it or not. And I think the most interesting thing back to Mikail’s point, I think there’s a real point in time that’s going to affect project managers in a great way and PMO because we won’t have to pick, we’ll just have to be deterministic. We’ll basically say, “Well, we’ll have a blank canvas in front of us.” And the software will build itself based on the parameters that we put in.

Val Matthews:

We’ll decide, well, we need a scheduling tool. We need a risk tool. We need a cost tool. I’d like a portfolio tool please. And it’ll be like a chef in the background building as required and as requested. And in fact, there’s some tools doing that already I know and it’s got some pretty interesting machine learning capability. Also ALICE Technologies and end plan are all working towards a space. Some of them are working towards the terministic. Some are working towards the probabilistic. But arguably I think we’re not too far from this.

Val Matthews:

And the reason I say that is because now we’re moving to a world where you don’t need to learn code to work with code. And so that my children are already learning how to code by dragging blocks and creating arguments and what I call algorithms. I think we’re pretty close to having an open buffet when it comes to technology.

Carey Gent:

It’s a good point Val. But if we go back, it used to be either spreadsheets or you’d have to go, like you said, Mikail, buy a big system, which was very inflexible, hugely expensive, and generally didn’t do what you wanted to do. Whereas now we’ve got more flexible options, but I think that future is very much where you can take bits from a whole range of places to pull together something which is very integrated and very fitted to what your business needs are and I think that’s really exciting.

Carey Gent:

The people which you really want and you’ll be after won’t … when we look back at PMOs, we find a project controls manager. In the future it’ll be a data analyst and somebody who has great ability to connect data together will sort of drive all that and it’s exciting.

Catie Williams:

I love that transition to the data, Carey. That’s perfect. And I’m going to use the question we got to kind of kick off that discussion around the data as well. The question was having been through the evolution from paper. Oh, sorry, it just went away because someone else asked a new one. Having been through the transition from paper to cloud, how do you ensure that the information from your older systems, all that experience and past projects is not lost. And I think if you expand on it even to what is the power of the data that’s now in these systems and available, what is that going to drive and what does that make the future of the PMO look like? I know that was the loaded, full question.

Val Matthews:

I’ll jump in there. I mean, I’ve been thinking about this a lot, so there’s going to be a migration challenge. I think we’re feeling it now. And even Jeff Bezos says, “Our generation is not going to benefit from AI, we’re really the infrastructure.” We are building the data warehouses, the repositories, these common data environments. What’s interesting is no one’s really mastered this yet. So you look at government in the way that we’re trying to integrate systems and tools. We’re just not quite there yet.

Val Matthews:

Data quality is one of the biggest issues to effective technology. I think a lot of the technology is already there. You look at blockchain, you look at natural language processing, machine learning, all the applications are starting to play nice. They integrate, even if they’re not the same enterprise platform forms, so it’s not a question of technology. It’s a question of data and that retrieve and recall function, which I’ve done many, many conversations about and the volume.

Val Matthews:

I think I did a presentation last, it must have been last month with AIPM. And I read some really interesting stats that we produce 1.7 megabytes of data per second, per person on the planet, which blew my mind. And it still stays with me today. I think that’s the biggest challenge and it’s a good question.

Catie Williams:

Either Mikail or Carey, do you have any thoughts on that part or anything about the data? I mean, it doesn’t have to be specific to what I asked, but as you think right about now we’re moving from paper to a system and hopefully an integrated system. What impact does that have?

Carey Gent:

I think Val touched on some very good points and it goes to probably the heart of sort of some of the things which are now becoming sort of common language in machine learning and artificial intelligence is that in the data space the biggest thing I see in organizations is exactly what Val said. They’ve just got tons and tons and tons of data and they don’t know what to do with it. And some of it is good, some of it is bad. And how do you actually weigh through all that to get, turn data into information and then into insights and into value. That’s what I’m sort of keen to see how we can actually make that process better. Because a lot of the work I see at the moment in this space is more sort of proof concept. Some people have been able to take it further, but the challenge is actually the upfront bit about dealing with data.

Mikail Khajavi:

Yeah. I just wanted to add, if the organizations are still paper based and still they’re using standalone files and maybe desktop systems, they are already the organizations of the past. It is necessary because just only lots of collaboration and reduce the duplication helps people deliver faster. And scenarios similar to COVID, you need to have a database and cloud based systems in place that you can access from anywhere because we are going to diversity and in terms of the workplace and flexibility. I would say, yeah, that’s the way to future. And if the organization they don’t have it, they should just start switching as quick as possible.

Catie Williams:

That’s great. So a time check, we’ve got about five minutes left. So if anybody has any other questions, feel free to throw those in the chat. We did get another question about how often should the PMOs health be measured and who’s responsible for performance metrics and then who’s responsible to fix those items that would come up in a health check?

Mikail Khajavi:

Maybe I answered that with very traditional HR method of managing people. You have a head of PMO, so you decide and discuss the organizational requirements from the PMO and the head of PMO is in charge to deliver those objectives. And then you performance manage that head of PMO. Typically in the organization, there is a performance plan which is cascaded down to everyone in the organization and that those things goes down to even PMO as well. One way to measure those success criteria is that how people are performing. And then there was another part of questions which I think I missed. Can you please read the question again?

Catie Williams:

Just how often should you be doing the health check and then who’s responsible?

Mikail Khajavi:

Oh, how often? Yes. And I wanted to say one of the attitude or attributes of people working in PMO is that they should have a desire for business improvement and they should be eager for business improvement. And that business improvement is not only outside the PMO. They should constantly see how they are performing as a PMO and improving themselves. The business improvement starts from the PMO and expanded across organization.

Catie Williams:

Great. Carey, did you have something, sorry.

Carey Gent:

I was just going to add that, I think one of the measures which is often used generally involves consultants, but is various, there’s a number of maturity tools out there which can be used to help organizations initially based where they’re at and some are broader, but some are actually quite customized to PMOs and use that as a periodic check of someone coming in and just sort of seeing where you are.

Carey Gent:

And typically the way those processes work is that there’s a benchmark and a baseline and there’s some improvement actions which help move you up. And it help gives a sort of, I guess a stepping back sort of view of maturity of a PMO. I think there’s that element. And then there’s sort of some of the other elements we should talk about later, earlier, which is actually to me the maturity is an input where there are the outputs which you’re looking for in terms of results, which executives looking at in terms of better performance, more efficiency in their projects, so it’s the combination of those two.

Catie Williams:

We have two minutes. I don’t know, Val, if you had any last parting thoughts about that topic or something else too?

Val Matthews:

No. I just think the maturity piece is interesting. I always hear everyone wants to speed up maturity, but it’s like a child growing. You can enable, you can feed and water and get sunshine, but it’s not necessarily something you can speed up. And then I heard something interesting that you can have a maturity model for change management, which I actually don’t think you can. What I think is missing is what I call fusion skills, so the ability to learn on the job, right? We’ve forgotten that we’re greater than the roles that we have in particular PMO, which is quite a fusion role. We have various different skill sets, we need to be technical. We need to be communicative. We need to be political. We need to be influencers. We have to have all these soft skills. And so I would say, “Continue learning and reading.”

Catie Williams:

That’s a great way to close it up too. I usually go a little over, I apologize, we didn’t get to all of the questions. We will try to send out a follow up. I appreciate you guys’ time so much. I thought it was a really engaging discussion. I know I learned a lot and thank you everyone for joining. Please visit ineight.com and you can see our project management solution that we offer and there’s other webinars too, so that’d be a great resource to check out. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much for your time. It was great to chat with you guys. Have a good day, everyone. Thank you.

Mikail Khajavi:

Thank you.

Catie Williams:

Bye.