Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

the day to day experiences of a consultant operating in weird and wonderful client situations

Early adopters, step aside…the mainstream has arrived.What are the implications behind the increasing trend to engage
 Directors of the Strategic PMO?

Anyone else noticed the number of vacancies with the above title in the last few weeks? Maybe I’m over sensitive to these but it seems to me that we’re seeing more and more of these roles arise…whether it’s in:

  • Insurance as a result of the rise and rise of things digital for a sector that struggles with transformation at the best of times
  • telecom companies as they shift from inorganic land grab M&A to acquiring small, vaguely related businesses in the world of business intelligence / data mining, data centres / warehousing and adtech and build an empire of complementary services (or rather bring everything in-house i.e vertical integration.
  • Tech companies (as organisations which were intuitively ‘project’ based in their start-up phase, begin to differentiate between those activities which form part of their steady state (as much as that exists) from those which challenge the market.

The concept of institutionalising the governance and creating a leadership position for the project / programme portfolio of a business is smart and necessary. Looking at the project / programme management budget for one regional bank that I know…which last year was over USD 1.5 billion (the equivalent of a medium sized acquisition in the sector), it would seem highly irresponsible not to have some structure around the sign-off and performance tracking of what represents a significant and increasing percentage of annual CAPEX and OPEX for most businesses.
At the same time, are we not missing the point? For even the most conservative industries, the PMO is no longer an ‘ancillary’, nice to have activity, dependent on the goodwill or personal interests of some senior sponsor…but at the very heart of any organisation which seeks to have a successful future or indeed survive. The concept of separation still seems to suggest a future state where all change is completed and we return to the benign business of BAU!
But let’s ignore that for the moment, and think about what guidance we can give the new appointee in his / her shiny new chair / work pod. Below are my top tips:

People not process

  •  Build the function around people, not processes. Good project and programme managers have little certainty in their lives and cope with it well…the one thing they get very agitated about however is the thought of some ‘bureaucrat messing with the way I do things’. If you spend any time with them, they will reveal what those are. It could be as simple as a particular method for writing a risk register or project initiation document. These are their tools and they provide a grounding for them.

If you want to integrate methodology, do it slowly and through collaboration not coercion!


  • Own the selection of ‘who for what’. Leaving your business sponsors with the choice of who works on their project leads to the cult of the ‘heroic’ (I’ve written on this before, see the link here). And this cult has two inevitable consequences: Death or departure of the heroes (as they are overwhelmed with demand) and under-utilisation of the less experienced.
    The quality of what your team delivers has to be a collective ambition, not a series of individual actions. 

I know what you’re thinking:

    • If we have a consistent way of doing things, that leads to a consistent output and avoids hero PMing! Possibly and if you’re setting something up from scratch, there may be an opportunity to create some processes which are vaguely consistent. However if you’re dealing with an experienced population, the selection comes down to style and way of operating and the selection process has to be based on the matching of these with your customer needs.
    • This is the role which you need to own and where, through intuitive and data driven analysis, your successful assessment will be critical to the success of your function.


  • Attrition is natural and to be expected…learn to live with it. Good PMs are rare and like magpies, they are attracted to bright and shiny new projects. No matter how much you nurture and love them, they will leave. It’s usually not personal. Manage your risk by planning with each individual for a 2 year period: what are they going to learn and work on during that time, and what are they going to deliver for you. When the two year period is completed, re-engage and plan for the next two years. Most importantly of all, when they leave, make their return as easy as possible by making their exit a pleasant experience. See here for a previous blog on the subject.


  • Get to know your competitors…and acknowledge who they are. No matter what your stakeholders say, their point of comparison is not with other companies in your sector but with the increasingly specialised world of consulting. You have some natural advantages…network, intimate knowledge of your organisation and how it operates, and finally, price. They too have some clear advantages…perceived flexibility and a powerful voice / influence. Ignore them at our peril, your stakeholders won’t.

Categories: C suite leadership, Change management, Complex transformation, Consulting, Corporate Culture, Disruptive Innovation, Implementation, Organisational Structure, PMO, Project Management, Strategy

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