Thought Leaders

New PM Today Podcast: Transforming PMO Capacity At The Maritime and Coastguard Agency

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In our latest podcast, our Associate Editor, Amy Hatton, talks to James Yeo, Head of PMO at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s Directorate of IT – and Stuart Barker, Account Executive at Planview.

Together, James and Stuart share the story of how the MCGA delivered a PMO transformation, bringing a formerly outsourced PMO fully back in house, rolling out a new PPM tool and achieving full delivery in just six months from developing a roadmap to implementing a satellite PMO model and an enterprise PMO. All of this was achieved not only to a tight timescale, but during the early days of the 2020 pandemic lockdown, creating new and unforeseen challenges.

Stream the podcast below to discover how James and his team delivered the transformation, underpinned by Planview’s technology. James also chats to Amy about the importance of stakeholder management, how to deliver what sponsors are really looking for, lessons learnt along the way and his own top tips for a successful PMO career.

Plus, the full transcript is below.


Amy: Okay, so hello, everyone, and welcome to the latest PM Today podcast episode. I’m Amy Hatton, and you all know me, of course as the Associate Editor of PM Today. And I’m delighted today to be joined by two fabulous guests. One of the things I know our listeners really enjoy is hearing about the lived experiences, and the real-life challenges of flagship Project Managers, PMO people, and learning from the experiences they’ve had. And that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing today. So, my two wonderful guests today are James Yeo, who is the Head of PMO for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s Directorate of IT. He’s a professional PMO. He’s got over 15 years’ experience in IT and business-related projects and programmes. And he’s joined by the lovely Stuart Barker of the fabulous Planview, who we partner with very closely at PM Today. Stuart is an Account Executive at Planview. And he has very much walked the path of this PMO transformation journey with James that we’re going to be talking about today. Hello, guys. James. Hello, how are you today?

James: Hi Amy, very good thanks. Nice to meet you.

Amy: And Stuart, great to have you on the call, as well. Hi, how you doing?

Stuart: Good to meet you too Amy. Very well thank you.

Amy: So, James, Stuart, thanks so much for joining us today, we’re talking about what I have to say appears to me to be one of the most astonishingly rapid IT Directorate transformations I’ve ever seen, especially in the context of it being a central government organisation. So, if I understand correctly, despite the very challenging couple of years that we’ve experienced, you have managed to deliver something really quite extraordinary in just six months. And it all hangs, doesn’t it, James, around the question of bringing what was originally a completely outsourced PMO function back into house, so that you’re managing it centrally from within the agency, just give me the headlines of what the programme has been all about.

James: Yeah, that’s correct Amy. So, in terms of the outsourced PMO, when I initially came in, it was back in March 2020. We had a really tight timeline, it was a drop-dead deadline to about September 2020, to have transitioned over the outsourced PMO back in house. The challenges I faced for that transformation was purely in terms of the presence, the visibility of the current PMO, ownership and control of project information, the processes, tools, and methods that were currently in place, and response time to get, as opposed to having somebody in house. And I think that’s where the pain points came from for the transformation, to have it brought back in house to have that control back. So, I suppose that target drop date was quite imminent. And then it was, in terms of understanding the current processes, and tools, and then in terms of how to engage with external suppliers to get onto that journey in terms of where I wanted to go in terms of a PPM tool. My initial plan that was a three-step approach was thinking about whether we transitioned with what we had there available from the outsourced supplier, or we took some of what they had, and then built upon it, to customise it to what would meet our requirements. Or the third option was to basically wipe out the whole thing and start from new. And that’s what we did. So, it was just deciding we really needed something that was more streamlined. We wanted something from IT in the future to grow, we wanted something that was SaaS based, Cloud based, that’s easy to move forward and not be anything that’s heavily customised – that out of the box type of approach. So that’s when we went down in terms of, OK, if we did go down the new tool (and that was one of my other pain points in terms of the procurement side of it, with government, is how do I go about it, because it’s from the private sector learning public sector in terms of that roadmap and how it goes through was quite painful). A lot of the timeline was about the communications. So the fastest route when I was looking to it was looking at the use of the G-Cloud 11 framework. And that was the fastest method, where we looked at potential vendors of key criteria that met what we needed as a project office. And we had a number of suppliers, Planview was one of them. And that’s how we went down that route. But the real pain point was then putting the business case, to get that approval within our senior managers. And then, in order to alleviate that pain point, it was quite important for me to communicate to stakeholders, our senior stakeholders, finance, and also my line manager, most of all, in terms of trying to convince them to take them on that journey and having that conversation with them early on. So, we managed to condense that, trying to get approved within one month. But yeah, along that journey, we had other spanners in the works that delayed our timeline on that. But once we got our business case approved, it was able to very quickly engage with Planview to get to our journey. And one of the things we were looking at is wanting to go on that same journey and get something we could use straight away out of the box and get running really quickly. And then basically, partnering with the supplier, Planview, they helped us on that journey. And they were very quick in terms of responding to meet our timelines, even though our timelines were getting shorter and shorter as we approach month by month closer to that September deadline. But yeah, one of our biggest stoppers was back in June, because we wanted initially to have the business case, to have started that work with our new PPM tool in June. But that got pushed back by an extra month, so it was already the end of July. So we only had August, and pretty much September to have got up to speed and up and running with what we needed to do in that short timeline. But we got there at the end. And it was a huge challenge. But it was really big for achievement for us as a team.

Amy: Okay, wow. So, I mean, James, you’ve really, as you say, achieved, I think an astonishing amount in in a very short space of time. And some of the themes that jump out at me immediately are around the agility and the speed of transformation. Stuart, can I bring you in at this point, because obviously, as an Account Executive, you’re going to have a fairly broad perspective of what the marketplace is facing generally, in terms of delivering more, faster, at speed, across a number of sectors. James’s experience and what he has achieved and what his organisation has achieved in this transformation, would you say that’s typical of how things are looking at the sector at the moment? Or are there particular challenges that you’re facing time and time again, with your customers that Planview is working to help customers solve?

Stuart: Absolutely, thank you, Amy. So, I guess in the context of MCGA, certainly the rate of change that James and the team were able to deliver up perhaps is at the faster end of what we typically see. I think what’s key to put forward there, though, is that there’s often a fear that it does take a long time to implement this type of solution to make those type of changes. I think what’s testament from what James and the team have delivered is that where there is a desire to change, there is ability within the Planview solutions to enable that at the pace that the organisation is looking to move. So in the context of MCGA, it was a very, very quick turnaround to start delivering results for the team. And that’s led to further discussions about how we can further support other parts and other directorates within MCGA as well.

Amy: Okay, so bringing it back to you, James. I think it’s interesting to reflect on the fact that of course, being a central government agency, you are working against the backdrop of the GDS Cycle (for any of our listeners who aren’t aware, that’s Government Digital Services), which very much looks to implement a more Agile approach and mindset to projects, programmes, portfolios), but one of the things that strikes me is, looking ahead (and we’ll talk in more detail about your roadmap moving forward a little later in the podcast), but looking ahead, by its very nature, an agency like the MCGA, must have to look at delivering a hybrid mix of methodologies. I mean, I find it’s getting more and more fluid all the time anyway, now across the entire PPM sector, but you are presumably having to ensure that everything that is implemented by the PMO to support the wider agency activities is able to flex to those different methodologies that you might need to use. Can you just talk to me a little bit about that? Because that must be quite complex gearing yourselves up to be able to make those leaps?

James: Yeah, sure Amy. So, it’s interesting you mentioned about the GDS side of things. So we currently have a mixture of projects, which do follow the strict GDS guidelines in an Agile way, and we also have our Waterfall type projects still, and we have the hybrid, like you mentioned. But just an interesting point that you mentioned regarding the GDS side of things – within our team, we’re just establishing a GDS expert within our team so one of our Project Managers will become an expert in that field – this is the GDS assessment. And that helps our projects to go through the GD assessments through the Alpha, Beta, and the Live iteration cycles you have to go through. So that’s one of the things we’re looking at improving. That’s really helped out because it’s been a bit of a dark art, in terms of the GDS, whereby it’s been difficult for Project Manager team and us in the PMO, to be able to factor like time and effort for your project planning. So, it’s a bit tricky depending on the outcome. But I believe there will always be Agile, there will always be Waterfall, and there will always be Hybrid in terms of where we’re going now in today’s society. And our journey so far, I’d say it’s really important to be able to flex between these two methodologies and cater for both in your tools, whether it’s your PPM tool, reporting or processes. So one of the things we established was, we didn’t want to have one tool monitoring Agile projects, because of the iteration cycles and sprints, and then one tool to be able to monitor like Waterfall types of projects, which is more sequential. So what we wanted, it was very key that our PPM tool that we were going to use basically had the same information, but in terms of working with our stakeholders, whichever project they were going to be working under, it had to be a consistent report, whereby if it’s an Agile project, it will still show up in the same report, whether it was a Waterfall project, it will still show up on the same report, and people were able to interpret that information. Because one is overhead on us in the PMO creating two separate reports. And also, for the stakeholders, it can make them a bit frustrated, sometimes if they’re seeing two different things for two types of different projects where they just want to see the one to see the progress. And it’s very key, that all they will really want to see is the key progress, they’re not really interested from an Agile perspective, we found, and it works well, in terms of you can mix the two together. And I think a lot of people in the PMO community out there sometimes feel that two separate methodologies whereby you must either keep them separate, and it’s really hard to combine. And I think, if you think about it more, work with your stakeholders, what they actually truly want to see, you see that there’s a common goal. That what they want to see is the same sort of thing. It doesn’t matter how the Project Manager manages the project, whatever methodology, that’s fine. But the end goal is that progress report and seeing; yes, it’s on track, no, it’s not on track, what are we going to do about it?

Amy: Yeah, James, I’m smiling as I listen to you say all this because, in my experience, this is actually one of the biggest blockers to project success and to portfolio success. I find there is typically a real disconnect between what the PMO is doing at the coalface, if you like, and all of the passion behind that, and all of the skills and the training and the processes and the stage gates and all of that sort of thing. And what the sponsors actually need to see, to be able to make the right decisions. There is a real cultural disconnect, I think, between the two, typically, my experience is that the PMO wants to say far too much, and the sponsors are not able to absorb that level. It’s not that they’re not able to absorb that level of information, it’s that they have neither the time, the capacity, nor the inclination to do so, because that’s not what they’re there to do. They’re there to steer the project from a sponsorship and executive level. Stuart, does this tie back to this phrase that we keep hearing in the industry, the importance of the single source of truth or the golden source of truth? What in your view is is the value of having that central data repository in terms of actually communicating information and getting cultural buy-in for the right decisions being made at the right time?

Stuart: It’s a great question. I think in our experience, the consumer in this day and age has got a lot more impatient than perhaps what they were couple of years back. I think COVID has really accelerated that journey. So, that transcends into a pressure for organisations to work quicker, to deliver more, to add better quality. And with COVID, actually doing that with lower headcounts. So actually, that single source of truth in terms of being able to understand where best to apply efforts to, where to apply the focus, where things are going well, and for the senior leadership’s teams to be able to see, here’s how we’re delivering against strategy in real time, and be able to pivot and shift the business in a different direction, if needed, is really, really powerful. And in our experience, that’s really accelerated in this last two years under COVID. So, with lower head counts, it’s much more difficult to manage.

Amy: Yeah, and Stuart, I think what you’ve touched on there that really resonates with me, is the very, very interesting perspective that we’ve seen during the pandemic. And as we emerge from the pandemic and take account of lessons learned and that kind of thing. My own experience with a lot of our IT based readership and our IT based clients is that, in fact, COVID has actually offered a fantastic opportunity from the perspective of an IT based PMO. And what’s happened there is, because you guys have been at the front end of having to roll out this rapid work from home model, which of course involves the technological implementation, it involves devices to be secured and got out to people, it involves VPNs being set up, etc etc. I think, by definition, the fact that it’s had to be done on an emergency level, particularly at the beginning of COVID, when it was first announced and lockdowns first came in…is it fair to say that it’s given the PMO the opportunity to actually show sponsors and executives, what can be done with perhaps a slightly lighter touch governance approach, you’ve been able to demonstrate what you can do when you have more autonomy to deliver at speed, to make independent decisions, etc, etc. I mean, it’s a tricky balancing act, isn’t it, because of course, that governance has to be there for very obvious reasons. But at the same time, over the years, I’ve spoken to many a frustrated PMO leader who’s just not able to deliver the change they need to deliver because they just can’t get through the gateways, they need to get through, and things end up just going on for years and years and years. Here you are delivering a transformation in six months. Do you think the governance PMO relationship has something to do with that?

James: It’s a good question, Amy, I believe, in terms of the pandemic itself, it definitely made a change in terms of how people work, in terms of how people approach their work. I think one of the biggest changes here is in terms of where you are location based. That’s not a key factor, you can actually deliver successfully with your trusted resources, your team, everyone’s all professional, they’re here to deliver, and it can be done. So, I think, as a result, we’ve all embedded Agile working dynamics and some of the capabilities in terms of our tools that we use, the collaboration tools, whether it’s across Teams or Zoom. And that’s had a huge influence in terms of technology, for us to group together quicker. Whereas, before, if you wanted any sort of governance to go through, you always had those very formalised governance meetings, you had to attend with certain managers, if they’re not there, then unless they had actually delegated the responsibility to someone else to get approval, you had to wait till next time, or it got cancelled, the meeting. But because it’s all virtual, everyone’s available for example here, where getting our committee business cases, for example, approved, normally that’d be quite a painful process. But here, just by using the collaborative tool for Microsoft Teams, we’re able to have a certain channel group about a committee, we’re able to submit that, get them to review it (the relevant approvers) and they can comment or feedback if they had any questions straight away, instantly. And if everyone’s approved on that channel, it’s by default approved. That’s how quick! I think to begin with, in the early stages to pandemic, people were just sort of getting used to it. And they weren’t too sure how things were working. I think after this whole year, at least in that six months when we transitioned, people got used to that sort of way of working. That did probably help towards how we managed to accelerate in terms of our six-month programme, to get it transitioned in that timeframe.

Amy: Okay, so we can really see that technology is an enabler and an opportunity in the transformation landscape, James, let’s bring it back, shall we, to the nuts and bolts of what you’ve achieved and where you’re going next. One of the things that really, really interests me, is your enterprise PMO approach, which I believe is something you’re developing a business case for at the moment, have I understood that correctly?

James: Yeah, so that’s a future thing in our roadmap to eventually develop that. And that’s the long-term goal we want to get to.

Amy: And at the moment, you’ve got a satellite PMO model operating. You said some really interesting things to me, when we were preparing for this podcast, around the ability to equip your Project Managers to be able to pivot between projects using the same approach, the same processes. So, they’re able to be Agile in themselves and jump from team to team and jump into new projects – but always with that system behind them that brings that continuity. Can you just tell us a bit more about that? Because I know that something a lot of our listeners really struggle with in their day-to-day work, and their planning?

James: Yeah, sure. So, our current roadmap, where we’re trying to get to, and where we are on that journey still, is we wanted to build out these satellite PMOS. So, being used by our different directorates across the MCA, And the reason why we thought of doing it this way around is because, in the past, we’ve seen, you go straight to the top and try to implement an enterprise PMO, then so the satellite, that’s always harder to justify when there’s no evidence to show: is it going to be successful or not? And that’s where the PMO could fail before you’ve even started. So by building it from the bottom up, so to speak, we’ve proven the success of our PPM tool that we’re using, and our Project Managers have been onboarded with it and are using it, and taking their feedback constantly to improve what they need from it – and stakeholders, what they want to see out of it. Then also, demoing it to other directorates within the MCA to say: ‘Have you seen this tool? This what we were using.’ It gives them their buy in and so far, basically, as soon as they’ve seen it and we’ve been able to give that demo to them, they’ve all been thumbs up saying: ‘Oh, we want it, we love it.’ So that journey is continuing. And eventually, once we’ve got those paths in place, we can now formulate an enterprise PMO, which links down to the satellite PMOS. Therefore, with that one tool for project data, single source of truth, you can filter information up and down from the satellite PMOs up to the enterprise PMO. It alleviates a lot of the senior managers from each of those directorates having to get information back up to execs, whereby the enterprise PMO can pull that for them. And also, the benefits…it allows career development for our PMO staff to then grow, in terms of moving to either one of the satellite PMOS, to manage it. And for myself, if I wanted to go to the enterprise PMO, to manage the enterprise PMO, it allows my team to then grow. Because one of the things not just in terms of our development of the tool, was also I’ve been thinking about development of my team. That’s in terms of, you’ve only got one Head of PMO, you’ve only got one PMO manager, you have a finite number of PMO Analysts. So how are you going to develop them up in terms of the ranks? So by having that satellite PMO and the enterprise PMO model, it helps your team grow and want to stay on within your organisation longer, because therefore they can laterally move from the PMO side or move up to manage different PMO offices. But then also, from a Project Manager’s perspective, they may say; ‘Oh…I’m interested in the projects that’s going on in different directorates’, and no longer may be interested in working in IT projects, and so okay, move there. But at least they’ll get the knowledge of what those projects are about. But in terms of the tools to get them started, they already know what to do with it, and there may be slightly different customised fields or different field names in the PPM tool. But the tool is same tool. So you’re not having to like go back to: what your processes/ What this? How does this work? So, all round, to me, it’s a win-win.

Amy: Thanks, James, I think there’s a lot there that our listeners can really get their teeth into actually, in terms of practical tips and takeaways. And a lot of experiences there that I know our listeners are going to find really interesting. One of the things that I found very interesting there is your mention of career development. And I think that’s really important, because we all know that talent retention, in particular, is a huge challenge, and is going to be a huge challenge, we suspect, moving forward. But it also leads me to think a bit more about one of the comments you made at the beginning of this interview, which was around the stakeholder management aspects of delivering this transformation, and delivering it at speed, and delivering it in the middle of a pandemic, when you’re presumably all working virtually. Nobody can see anything but each other’s heads and shoulders. We all know the challenges now. We’ve all met each other’s cats, all that kind of thing. But joking aside, it has been a very challenging time, I think, because we have lost that face-to-face communication, the body language, the water cooler moments, all those sorts of things. So just say a few words to me about why you think that stakeholder communication is so important in delivering a transformation like this successfully. And how did you go about handling that much more human aspect of managing a transformation like this?

James: Yeah, because of the pandemic – so let’s say, when I started it was only about, I think, it was only about two or three weeks I was actually in the office, when I first started and literally it was into lockdown. So basically, everyone was working virtually. So, the stakeholder management side of things was and is really key in terms of anything to do with any transformation, or any changes any organisation wants to go through. So, my experience within the MCA was, it was key to know who the right key stakeholders are, that you’re trying to get approval for or influence – that you need these decisions from. And it’s very important to build that relationship very quickly with them. So therefore, if you trying to do some sort of change, you’ve planned it early enough and give them enough notice. And that’s very key – not landing it on them and saying: “Oh, I need this approved by tomorrow’ or something. That won’t go down very well! Especially for those senior-type level stakeholders. They need to be brought in really early on in the journey. Have those conversations. It doesn’t mean you have to show them something physically on paper, but have that conversation, talk to them saying, you know: ‘We’re about to bring idea forward. It’s a PPM tool, it’s going to be SaaS based, what’s the benefits?’. And those sorts of senior stakeholders, all they want to know is, what the benefits are, is it going to help us? That’s it. On the ground, our field Project Managers, they can be a bit of a challenger sometimes. But again, it’s understanding, bringing them into the fold, in terms of not just pushing things onto them, but gaining their feedback saying: ‘Look, you’ve seen what it’s like now in terms of what we’re using currently. We’ve got documents here documents there, we’re using different spreadsheets. We’re now going to be looking at a tool that’s going to consolidate everything. How’s that sound?’ That’s very important from a PPM tool perspective that, yes, you need to get their buy in very quickly. Once you’ve got their buy-in quickly, that helps you in terms of the senior stakeholder management, because therefore, yes, you’ve given them the benefits of it, but then they will definitely go back and say: ‘Are your team and people actually going to use it? Are they happy with it? Is it going to improve their life? Is it going to make it a lot easier? Is it going to help them in terms of visibility of project statuses, the reporting side of it? Is it going to help in terms of being able to monitor progress on the project? Can we pre-empt stuff going wrong in terms of, the project’s going to go red, for instance?’ So yeah, it’s very important that you have those conversations with key stakeholders early on. If you don’t, then you will get stuck. And that will be a huge challenge.

Amy: Well, and again, James, I mean, I think lots of takeaways for our listeners there in terms of making sure that the changes that are coming down the track – particularly when you’re talking to sponsors and executives – making sure that people are aware that they’re coming, that they understand the value, that they understand what’s going to be proposed at the meeting, or the sign-off meeting or whatever it is, I am a big, big believer in doing your lobbying for your decision making, before the meeting ever takes place, whether it be a two minute Teams meeting or whether it be a more formal face-to-face, in the boardroom. Because in my experience, if there’s one thing that people hate even more than change, usually, it’s surprises. And a nasty surprise really can derail the decision-making process more than anything else. So I’m totally on board with everything you said there. I think is fascinating to hear about you implementing this kind of behavioural cultural management at speed. And one of the things that really interested me actually was this mention that you made of the trainer model that you’ve implemented around Planview. Stuart, just say a word to me about that, and about Planview’s approach to that training and consultancy side of it, because it’s only a recent thing really, that I’ve seen vendors actually making more effort to embed those training and those sustainability skills within the organisation itself. Is that something that Planview looks to do proactively, or was it specific to this project?

Stuart: Totally, it’s a proactive act by Planview to ensure that the solutions that we’re offering to our clients are fully utilised. So, very much, the Train the Trainer approach is to ensure that our users are comfortable and capable, in terms of managing that solution longer term. So, for a lot of people there’s a little bit of a fear of managing new solutions, new platforms. A lot of our users tend to be non-technical. And Train the Trainer, it’s really the fact that we are a software provider, as opposed to a consultancy practice. So, very much our interest is delivering that skill set across to our customers so that they can see the best value from the solutions. But certainly, we are also keen to be part of that future evolution of the journey. And that evolution as James progresses towards enterprise PMO, helping him to learn from what others have done in that space. But it’s very much a culture where we’d rather our users are able to use the platform to its entirety, rather than having parts of that not being used or not understood.

Amy: James, let’s look at where you are now, and the roadmap ahead. So as we’ve touched on number of times, astonishingly fast transformation, something you’re clearly very proud of, clearly a very impactful journey with Planview underpinning you from the technological perspective, just in terms of now – today – just outline for us what you think some of the key benefits of the transformation have been so far. And I suppose, equally as importantly, what’s your roadmap moving forward? From now? Where do you hope to be in say, six months to a year from now?

James: Yeah, sure. So I suppose the benefits out of this whole transformation, with the help of the PPM tool, is that it has given us that single source of truth for our projects. And being a SaaS based product, one of the big benefits is we’re not having to rely on our corporate laptops all the time. We can look at it on our mobile devices, tablets, that’s a huge benefit. We can go to our own personal computers, we can actually access and still do it, access our project information, pull out reports. But also, in terms of the key benefit for us as a PMO office, we’re actually in ownership and control of the tool, following bringing it from outsourced back in house. And what I mean by that is that we took away the pain of onboarding users to a system – or not having to say: ‘Right, Service Desk, new user…Service Desk, can we have access to this PPM tool?’ And you know, ‘X days, depends on priorities.’ We took that away. That was one of our things on our journey, we wanted of our remit as PM Office. We wanted to control our own PPM tool. So, we control licences, we control the usage, to have that fast response. If there’s a password reset, which we do sometimes get, we can just do that straight away for them. And we’re like that sort of SME area whereby, if you’ve got any problems with the tool, come to us. And if we had any problems, we’re able to then go back to Planview, and say we needed help. But in terms of other things – it’s helped as benefit in terms of the quality, consistency was one of the big key things in terms of for example, weekly and monthly reporting for our senior stakeholders. It also allowed our Project Managers consistency for them in terms of their stakeholders when they’re doing monthly project board packs. So, the information they can pull out consistently, we created certain templates for them, they’ll be able to pull that financial information, risk and issue information, financial data, milestones out of the system very quickly, for them to just put it in, as opposed to them having to pull out data from different spreadsheets, it’s there straight away. So that’s a huge benefit for them. So therefore, the other thing is that when, eventually, when auditors come back, we’re able to show, you know, a consistency approach. If they interview one of our Project Managers, you know, they’re sharing the same system, the same sort of approach, in terms of how a project plan is done – a template, how a risk is done, how and issue is put in, how your weekly report is done, how it’s actually shown. So, and again, the tool itself allows us, when an auditor does come in, we’re able to give them access, read only access, and they can go into at and such a system. Because it’s one repository that they can look in, and then question it. Whereas if we go through previously, they would be asking and sitting with a lot of questions, saying where’s this? Where’s that? So I can see that benefit for our future in terms of auditing, and that’s a huge plus to that side of things, especially within the public sector, you want everything to be evidenced and shown very clearly, and that’s one of the things that it shows us. In terms of going forward, as mentioned earlier, the model was to grow, and to continue growing that journey in terms of creating the satellite PMOs, and eventually the ultimate enterprise PMO. So, we’re all linked, using that same tool. And also allowing that career development for our teams to grow across the organisation, in terms of either as a Project Manager or within the PMO side of things. The next step for us in terms of where we want to go in the journey is then trying to mature and improve continuously. And that’s one of the key things is not to be comfortable, I’d say where you are. You want to keep growing and learning and stay on top of things. Because once you get too comfortable, then later on, when you do want to do big change, it’ll be a bit of a shock to everyone’s system. By constantly changing, by giving that feedback, saying: ‘What can we improve now? What’s not working for you? We can change as we go.’ So that’s one of the things we’re looking at in terms of, we’ve rolled out rapidly. We want to try and take that breathing space now to try and streamline what we’ve rolled out. And then also implement new steps whereby, getting better at our resource management, capacity demand on our projects, where we can apply resources across the teams, not just project managers, but let’s say architects, engineers, and so forth. When it can can be done, we’re going to be looking at more detailed risk management side of things on projects, and how to educate our Project Managers to use the tool to escalate risks from a project, which could be dependent upon a wider programme or projects – and then anything that might be portfolio wide, that could be across directorates, not just within IT, that could be impacted. So we’re looking at that as our model to typically identify risks earlier. I think we briefly covered some of that you really mentioned with Stuart, about the Train the Trainer model but maybe an insight from my side. The fact that that was very key for us, in terms of not having to rely on professional services, we had consultancies and professional services help us on that journey to build the tool itself. But from our standpoint, we didn’t use it too heavily. We really sort of dived in from our side as a PMO office to really learn the tool and took the time – really wanting to take ownership, of the tool and do things ourselves. Even though the consultant said: ‘Oh, yeah, we can build that for you.’ But we said: ‘We’ll do it ourselves and build it and if we get stuck, we’ll come back and ask you, how do you do it?’ And that’s, I think that’s a good advice approach as well, for other PMOs, that they shouldn’t just say ‘Okay, the supplier, they’re gonna just do all for us.’ They need to take ownership, really understand, and learn it. Because at the end of the day, as a PMO, you’re going to be taking responsibility for that tool for the organisation. The consultant will be gone at some point, because you paid for X-amount of hours or days, but then you’re going to take ownership. So you, ultimately have to be that SME. So if you haven’t gone through that journey of trying to build it yourself, you’re going to get stuck again. Okay, yes, they’ve got a great help support network and help guides on the Planview pages that can show you how to do things, you know you’ve got a safety net with the consultant if you need help. But by building it yourself, then going for the help, that’s a better way of doing it than the consultant builds it for you, then you try and look at: ‘How did they build it?’.

Stuart: In terms of the ease of use and the out of the box capability, James, which is very much what you’re alluding to there, how did you look at those two areas as part of your initial assessments for tools? In terms of understanding the ease of use, in terms of understanding how versatile the solution would be for your intended delivery type? I mean, were there certain things that you did differently, or are worth highlighting as a suggestion perhaps?

James: Yeah, I think that was one of the key things at the time with Linus, we said that we wanted more out of the box capabilities. We didn’t want to have to customise reports where needed. You know, it’s like, extract them out and then, it could be just run within the tool. And with certain service lines, could extract data. I mean, that was one of the things we saw during that initial demo that you could do. And graphically, it’s pleasing. You know, the dashboards and reports that were all there, you could just pick up and use or edit it to create a different cut version of what you wanted. So basically, that was a big tick box in terms of our out of the box requirements, it wasn’t something you had to go and request saying: ‘Where’s that field?’ ‘Oh, we’re gonna have to put that field in for you, and it’s going to be X-amount of days.’ No, okay, you just do it, you just drag and drop it, like you said. There’s the flexibility of being able to change the wording because there’s certain – let’s say, yes, it’s out the box, as you’d expect. But some fields are called differently. So, we wanted certain fields called risks. But that’s really easily changed from the default out of the box setting from the Planview capability. So that really helped us.

Stuart: I think the only other part I’d mention James is the simplification of the process I know our management consultants encourage. Understanding what you need now – and you mentioned it before in terms of what did the stakeholders need to see to understand things? But I guess something from our side that we see all the time is the fact that people come to us asking for Gartner stage five maturity requirements as part of an implementation. They’re not particularly successful cases where that does happen. I think where there’s a simpler version of specifics that they want to deliver. And then a building out of that process, it seems a lot more successful. Again, so mirroring back to when you started with Linus, I’d be fairly confident you would have started with select functionality that you wanted to deploy first as a priority, and then gradually phase out. So sort of simplifying rather than going full solution wide straightaway, let’s deploy something.

James: That’s definitely true. So one of the things we did, and we took that approach, is do it in piecemeal, to your Project Managers. So we said: ‘Okay, this week, this is how you enter your project information, maybe next week, we do a Lunch and Learn session saying, this is how you do your weekly report.’ So we just broke it down. And then it built up their level of knowledge on the system, too. So that’s how we did it.

Stuart: It feels like, because you achieved that very, very quickly. So you did that within a six month window. But I think it’s a key one for me, because you’ve delivered a lot very, very quickly. But you started quite concise in terms of what you wanted, delivered the piece, moved on to the next piece, did some refinement as you’re going along, but still achieve that very, very quickly. I think had you cast out a little bit broader to try and tackle more things in the first phase, it could have been a very different outlook.

Amy: What can I say? James…I think is it’s a fantastic example of people, process and technology coming together at speed to deliver what sounds like a very, very effective and skilfully managed transformation. It’s obviously exciting times ahead for you as well. So we’re very grateful to you for coming here today, for joining us and sharing that experience with our listeners. I loved your comment as well about ‘don’t get too comfortable’ at any one time. I think that is the hardest thing, actually, with any transformation, is to deliver it and then sustain it. Because we all know how easy it is for people to slip back into old habits and old ways of doing things and that sort of thing. With that in mind. James, you’re an experienced guy. And we will have lots of people listening to this podcast who are just starting out on their hopefully very distinguished PMO careers, their PPM careers. They’re looking to become professionals in modern PPM. Do you have any general advice, from your personal experience, that you feel would be valuable for our listeners to take away with them? What are your top tips for running a successful PMO?

James: Couple of tips I can share. I think it’s very important, if you’re in the PMO space, it’s definitely really important to be transparent, in terms of what you’re doing, by communicating, sharing your new ideas, and, you know, your new processes that you’re going to be rolling out – whether you’re doing Lunch and Learn sessions (or some people call them Brown Bag sessions) and taking those into small training, bite size training sessions for your Project Management community, in terms of what you’re doing, where you going. And then that gives them that heads up in terms of what you’re trying to achieve now, where you want to go, and then you’re just sort of rolling it on, on each Lunch and Learn type sessions. So that’s really important because then that allows people to follow your journey, not get to cumbered with so much information overload, and then they can’t actually understand where you’re going or what is it, exactly, you’re trying to achieve. So, as mentioned, you don’t want to try and do a big bang approach. You just want to do it in piecemeal. Another key thing would probably be always engage with your Project Managers and your stakeholders – obtaining that continuous feedback from them, don’t be too content with: ‘Yes, we’re the PMO, we’re just going to roll out what we want to roll out.’ If you do that, at some point you’re going to get resistance. Yes, they’ll d, as you say, but at some point, you’ll find they’ll resist. And then it’ll be really difficult to be making any sort of changes in the future. So yeah, you always want those guys on board. Whatever you want to do, get their feedback. So they feel involved, and they feel valued as well. Even if you can’t take on board all their ideas, take on board, some of them, implement it, but don’t do it constantly every month. I’s say minimum at least six months – let it settle, do a change, let it settle, re-evaluate. And then I suppose the last advice is, again, because we’re talking about a PPM tool, if your project data is not centralised yet, centralise it! And that’s where the PPM tool can really help you. Yes, there’s different approaches out there. And it’s just you know, how you approach it depending on the size of your organisation, customise it for your needs. Don’t think: ‘Oh, that’s a tool, we have to use everything.’ You can use what you need of that tool. So that’s another firm factor that a lot of people get worried about. When they see a PPM tool they think: ‘Oh, it’s a big package. We may not need it yet.’ But don’t worry about it. Just use what you need and grow it. And at least you’ve got the scalability in place for you to grow.

Amy: Okay, brilliant. Thanks, James. That’s some great tips to finish up on there for our listeners. I think that is bringing us to the end of our time today. It’s been fabulous having you both with us, guys. Thank you so much to James and Stuart, for joining us today. For the benefit of our listeners, just a reminder, that Planview has a huge number of PPM and PMO resources out there. If you go straight to, you can visit their resource section, where you’ll find a whole host of very useful information. In particular, I recommend on a personal level that you search for the Insider’s Guide to Modern PPM eBook, I enjoyed it myself recently and packed full of practical advice. Obviously, it’s a good idea to follow Planview on all their social media channels. And, of course, PM Today does welcome you following us and connecting with us across our social media channels as well. As the Associate Editor, I’m always very happy to hear from our listeners and our readers on LinkedIn – do feel free to connect with me directly there. And I think, really, all that remains is for me to say a huge thank you again to our guests, Stuart Barker – Stuart, thanks so much for being with us today.

Stuart: Thanks Amy. Great speaking with you.

Amy: And to James Yeo, James. It’s very generous of you to take the time to share your journey with us. Really appreciate it. I know our listeners are going to get a lot from this podcast. So thanks for sparing the time.

James: Thanks, Amy. Thanks for inviting on today’s podcast.

Amy: And thanks to you, our fabulous listeners. We’ll be back soon with another episode. And enjoy the rest of your day. Bye Bye.

Amy Hatton
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