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PMO Best Practices, Part 3: Addressing Common Challenges

We’ve reached one of the most critical parts of our PMO Best Practices series: Addressing Challenges! In our experience, PMO obstacles tend to fall into the same six categories:

  • Resource & capacity planning

  • Visibility across projects

  • Scope management

  • Accountability & ownership

  • Communication across projects

  • Governance & poor product launches

We see these challenges appear again and again for our clients, so we’ve got some insights on the best way to navigate them. Read on to learn our strategies for addressing the most common challenges when implementing a PMO.

Resource & Capacity Planning

If you’re having trouble with resource and capacity planning, a good place to begin is by looking at your intake pipeline. It’s essential to have visibility of all the different pieces of requested work and current projects.

Once you understand your intake pipeline, you’ll need to know what resources you have available to contribute to the projects. In a lot of organizations, there are business resources that aren’t fully dedicated to projects. Instead, they might be utilized across multiple projects, or might dedicate some resources to the projects but might have a full time job outside of project work. For this reason, it’s essential to understand who is available, and to what degree they can take on new project work.

Determining your resource pool can be a high level, big picture understanding – we like to use percentages with clients so that it’s easy to get a quick overview of who is available. So for example, rather than defining resources by the exact number of months, days, or even by hours per week, you might consider a resource on your team with a 20% capacity to take on more project work.

If you don’t have an index pipeline in place, an intake sheet is a great place to start. We also find a RASCI matrix to work well for understanding roles and responsibilities, which is essential when determining your resource allocation.

A great place to start defining your intake process is to use a simple intake sheet.

A RASCI matrix can also help immensely in improving resource and capacity planning.

Visibility across projects

Building visibility is all about getting organized and making information accessible. Think about your stakeholders and the key milestones that you need to roll up for an executive view. Having a clear understanding of project status, scope, and milestones will improve stakeholder buy in.

Some of our favorite tools for visibility are a RAID log, a project status dashboard, and a planned vs actuals portfolio.

A RAID log incorporates not just tasks to be done, but it focuses on Risks, Actions, Issues, and Decisions. Our favorite version of RAID also includes a C for Change Requests, and we find a CRAID log to be an essential tool for our team. We use a CRAID to replace meeting notes!

There are tons of tools for data visualization, and dashboards with health indicators are a great way for key stakeholders to get the information they need in a consolidated, organized, and accessible place.

In a planned vs actuals portfolio, you get a sense of what was planned, what actually happened, and can begin to understand the difference between those.

Some essential information for visibility are:

  • Project phase & status

  • Key dates (start, go live, finish)

  • Budget (Approved, Spent to Date, Forecasted)

  • Project Roles (PM, SME Leads, Sponsor)

  • Project Health - RYG (and define them!)

  • RAID (Risks, Action Items, Issues, and Decisions)

Scope management

To address issues with scope management, you want to bridge the gap between stakeholder & project team communications. Building an approval process for scope change requests is essential here.

This is a great place to revisit your project intake pipeline that we discussed earlier. In the example above, we consider three different roles that are involved in the intake process. First, the requestor is the one who initiates the project and is invested in its completion. The project sponsor will likely review the request and build a business case for it, and the steering committee handles approval and project prioritization.

With approvals incorporated into the intake process, you can ensure that a project sponsor or other stakeholder doesn’t spend significant time fleshing out the project idea before it's been approved and prioritized to move forward.

Accountability & Ownership

An important note here: a stakeholder’s title is not the same as their role in the project. Even a team member with the title “Project Manager” will likely have different roles for different projects. So one of the best ways to determine accountability and ownership is to get clear on the roles involved in the project, and who sits in each role.

Once you have the roles (we like to call them “hats”) defined, you can start to understand the responsibilities of that role in that project – and who needs to be involved in the project as opposed to who needs to be informed about project health.

To determine roles we return to the RASCI matrix. Here’s how it might look in determining accountability and ownership within a project:

Communication across projects

One of the key definers of something being a project is that it has cross functional resources – meaning that all the resources working on the project are not within the same department.

When that’s the case, you need to know what the shared resources are, and then you can begin to focus on visibility across departments or teams, as well as the timelines and dependencies between those resources.

Lack of Governance & Poor Product Launches

Bad product launches are a direct result of not having project governance. Our best practice tip for better product launches is to standardize the process for defining scope, budget, milestones, timeline, and ownership BEFORE project launch.

With these standardizations in place, you can create a governance plan so that all launches follow the same process for approvals.

These are the most common challenges that we see clients face with their PMOs, and we're passionate about guiding organizations and teams through these challenges. If these obstacles sound familiar to you, head over to our Contact Page to connect on how we can help.


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