TransparentChoice Logo

5 tools that are changing the PMO landscape

written by

Dec 8, 2016 8:10:54 AM

Kaboom - PMO head explodes.png

You. Me. Anyone with a management job-title. We all have the same role – to manage change.

We are here to improve things. But innovation in the PMO can be difficult and there’s one huge barrier that stops many in their tracks. I think this barrier is captured best in this quote:

The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.
- John Maynard Keynes

This blog will highlight a few innovative “tools” that are changing the PMO world.

And I promise, not one of these ideas will make your head explode. Every one of these “innovations” is really just common-sense, sometimes delivered in some clever software. The only things that will explode are pre-conceived ideas.

Before we start, let me state that I know tools aren’t everything and that they certainly don’t guarantee success… but there’s a real shift going on out there (and we’re doing our bit at TransparentChoice!). In particular, the new generation of collaboration tools are really unlocking new possibilities.

Do share your own innovative “tools” as well.

The PMO is dead. Long live the PMO!

Earlier this year, the head of Gartner’s PPM practice, Donna Fitzgerald, basically said that as an industry, PMOs had gone as far as they could in improving project success rates (read more here). They’ve put in place project methodologies, risk registers, implemented PPM solutions, etc. and those things all add value… but have taken us as far as we can go.

Of course, she’s talking at an industry level – motivated individuals/organizations can always improve.

She went on to say that in order to continue adding value, PMOs were going to have to look somewhere “new”. They need to look at project prioritization, at leadership, at change management.

She’s right… and wrong. PMOs and executives do need to look in new areas for value, but there is also room to improve project execution. Those improvements might not, however, come from the same old places.

Value-based project prioritization

It starts by prioritizing your projects based on the value they deliver to the organization. The only problem is that each of your key stakeholders will define value differently.

Now, people have historically used weighted scoring in spreadsheets, or simple scoring in PPM solutions, to try and address this, but the problem is those tools really don’t build the agreement and understanding between stakeholders on what value means.

Without agreement you cannot have buy-in. A lack of buy-in leads to people trying to game the system, trying to do end-runs around your project selection process, people “selling” projects and a general lack of “value-based” project selection. We usually see that implementing a good value-based project prioritization process leads to a 20-40% increase in the value delivered from the same resources.

So, the “innovation” in this area is to use a proven, research-validated tool to drive this process. Our favourite, as you’ll know if you’ve read our other blogs, is the analytic hierarchy process, AHP. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that AHP provides a powerful (and time-efficient) project prioritization tool that gets everyone on the same page.

Eliminate time in project demand management

Capturing and evaluating project requests is usually a labour intensive job. Why? Well, because spreadsheets are just so easy to get your hands on and so that’s what people use…

But spreadsheets are the wrong tool.

Evaluating projects is an iterative process. There’s quite a bit of back-and-forth as the project is sized, benefits are evaluated, risks quantified and this typically means e-mailing spreadsheets around. Then someone has to aggregate the data… and THEN someone makes a change and we’ve got to work out which is the latest view of the data… please put me out of my misery.

Many of the PPM tools have the ability to request projects, but they typically do a poor job of helping you evaluate the projects (which is where most of the work lies)… so what’s the “innovation”?

Well, in this case, it’s moving the process online. There are now free online tools to manage the project request and evaluation process. These tools make this pain go away, but most people are still “locked in” to the old way…

Continuous planning works

Most of us have an annual “planning season”. This is the time that the organization comes together, defines its priorities and (this is the main one for the PMO) selects the projects that will be implemented.

[A quick aside, before you go into any planning meeting, watch this video. It’s very short indeed, but the message is a vital one. It could just revolutionize the way you (or more likely, the finance team) thinks about projects.]

As we discussed earlier, value-based prioritization is the first step, but after that comes (dah dah daaaaah! – work with me, I’m trying to introduce a little suspense)…. resource planning and scheduling!

Really, it’s not scheduling, it’s portfolio optimization.

It’s about maximizing the value delivered (from step 1) from a given set of resources. Of course, resources in the real world are limited and you have multiple “resource buckets” and interdependencies between projects and… well, it’s a mess.

Now again, innovation comes to the rescue. You no longer have to manually juggle all the variables whilst simultaneously negotiating with stakeholders. You can use software (this is my favourite) to automate the process, optimize the portfolio and negotiate what’s in and what’s out. This can cut the planning cycle down from weeks to hours.

That’s cool, but it’s not the important bit.

No, the important bit is that this opens the door to continuous planning.

Continuous planning has been a myth, a dream… some would say a delusion. But I’ve seen it. With these tools, every governance meeting is an opportunity to review and optimize the portfolio and the resource allocation.

What, more work? No! Remember the quote at the beginning of this blog – leave behind the old. The point is that the new generation tools let you do this all on-demand, in real-time again and again and again until you get it right. Your discussions with stakeholders become shorter saving you, and them, time.

What this means, in business terms, is that your portfolio is right-sized and that adequate resources are applied to get each project done. We’ve seen cases where this continuous planning process has doubled the project on-time/on-budget rates within a portfolio. Think of that.


Not all “tools” are software

Right, before anyone starts accusing me of being a total software junkie, let’s think about non-software tools.

I recently wrote a blog about this and some of the non-software tools I talked about include;

  • Reorienting project kick-offs to be about value

  • Implementing a “red light / green light” system to improve individual productivity

  • Focusing on overall team capacity when planning a project

Of course, these blogs get posted to around half-a-million PMO-type people every week. The feedback we got, and there was a lot of it, represents thousands of man-years of PMO experience. Some of it represents real wisdom!

I’ve added some of my favourites to the end of the original blog.


So, lots of tools and ideas. No exploded brains.

I hope that what will explode, after reading this, is curiosity. I hope you’ll go out and engage with new ideas, new tools. Go and try them. Talk to your peers, to consultants, to vendors. And most of all, challenge those old ideas – innovate.

Register for FREE portfolio Kanban software

Sign up for a FREE Portfolio Kanban