Have you considered the value of PMO training? The recent Project Management Office Conference in London suggests this relatively new discipline requires closer attention.

It’s become ever more challenging to keep up to date in our rapidly changing world. Organisations continuously develop their products, infrastructure, IT and other services through carefully targeted projects and project portfolios. As a result, the project management office or PMO now plays quite a significant role in business strategy. PPM, or project portfolio management, is growing in importance every year.

Consequently, PMO training and leadership is a hot topic among industry experts. It has the potential to bring improvements in project delivery and provide better management of the organisation’s various project teams for stronger returns on investment.

In this post we explore some of the key takeaways from the recent London PMO conference, namely:

  • Prospective Hindsight: A New Way to Think About Risk
  • Leadership Qualities: Balancing Humility with Conviction
  • How to Set a Culture of Giving Feedback

Prospective Hindsight: The Smart Way to Manage Risk

As the saying goes: hindsight is 20/20. In an ideal world, you’d have 20/20 vision before you even started a project. Well, with an exercise called a pre-mortem, maybe you can.

Gary Klein (Professor of Information Systems at the University of Colorado) came up with the concept of pre-mortem in 2007. It’s an extension of the idea often applied in project management called ‘prospective hindsight’. A pre-mortem, as opposed to a post-mortem, pretends your project has completely failed even before you start. Like a team of specialist physicians come to inspect a body on the operating table, the pre-mortem team use prospective hindsight to discover how and why the project ‘died’.

It’s utilising your team’s collective knowledge of past projects to anticipate the future. In this way, PMOs can identify risks and challenges before they occur. And it works. Research from D. Mitchelle, J. Russo, and N. Pennington found that this exercise accurately predicts future results by 30%.

How to Conduct a ‘Pre-mortem’ in PMO Training

There’s a few reasons why the pre-mortem is so successful:

  1. It limits the impact of the ‘damn-the-torpedoes’ perspective of team members. This is particularly helpful when some team mates are overly invested in the project and perhaps overly optimistic about success.
  2. It encourages PMO members who are knowledgeable and concerned about the project’s weaknesses to speak up and share their concerns.
  3. It improves communication and collaboration within the PMO at the crucially important planning stage.
  4. The exercise gives teams the opportunity to refine project plans. This places the project on a better trajectory for success.

Conducting a pre-mortem is pretty straightforward. Generally, the PMO leader tells the team that the project has failed – in all aspects. Then, they collectively brainstorm all the reasons why it did so. The key is not to ask what might go wrong, but what did go wrong. The team should be under the strong assumption that the project was completely derailed.

The next stage invites team members to individually come up with their own list of reasons for why the project failed. The PMO leader asks each team member in turn, starting with the project manager, to read out one of their reasons. The final document collates and records everyone’s suggestions so that a plan of action can be drafted to avert similar problems in future.

The Leadership Paradox: Humility and Conviction

The pre-mortem is an example of PMO training that encourages greater engagement within PMO teams.

Nick Fewings, a keynote speaker and PMO training expert at the London PMO Conference, spoke of the balancing act which great leaders must exhibit: being able to show both humility and conviction. In Fewings’ view, a leader must have the humility to encourage others to step up and provide perspectives that the leader doesn’t have. Encouragement can be a formal invitation or just a manner that lets team members know their input is valuable. The key point is that PMO leaders must have the humility to recognise they won’t have all the answers when it comes to the complex task of project planning and delivery. However, they will gain considerable knowledge from the information contained in project teams.

Humility confers a quality of ‘psychological safety’ in teams. Psychological safety describes a group environment that tolerates mutual challenge and respectful disagreement. According to the Harvard Business Review, this is a culture where team members take risks and express their ideas “without fear of judgement or negative consequences.” Further, teams like this experience “increased creativity, innovation and productivity”. It follows that psychological safety is the most influential factor in producing successful meetings. In that environment, everyone understands the objective of finding the best solution is everyone’s responsibility. Consequently, greater engagement leads to lower levels of stress, less burnout and employee turnover.

So, genuine engagement and listening to opinion (however uncomfortable it may be to hear) is a vital part of PMO training for successful project management and delivery. However, team leaders still need to be the ones driving.

That’s where conviction comes in.

Leaders Must Also Lead

At the core of their role, leaders must be seen to act. Whether it’s implementing strategy, or spearheading change, leaders must take action. And, if the leader doesn’t fully believe in that action, they can’t expect their team to believe in it either. The best leaders, according to Fewings, are “high on humility…and high on conviction”.

When leaders show humility, and take the opinions of others into consideration, they make the best decisions for all. Humility drives action, based on collective intelligence, which is founded on absolute conviction.

Thus, to be an effective PMO leader, one must successfully tread the line between humility and conviction. It’s not just about being seen to be listening, but genuinely listening and engaging with your project portfolio management team. It’s not just about acting with conviction either, but working with your team to find the very best course of action.

PMO Training for Giving Feedback

Psychological safety doesn’t just have benefits for leaders and meetings. It’s an important part of creating a healthy culture that gives and receives feedback. There’s a difference between pursuing psychological safety and pursuing harmonious relationships for their own sake.

When teams prioritise the maintenance of harmonious relationships, they can often withhold criticism. However, the principle of psychological safety argues that structured feedback should be encouraged because it’s vital for improving team performance.

So, in order to ensure team members take feedback well and don’t damage their relationships in the process, there first needs to be a sense of trust built into the team. Trust allows team members to receive feedback as a positive thing. The impact of feedback, says Fewings, is largely determined by the relationship you have with the person giving it. So, how people perceive the meaning of words will depend entirely on your relationship with them.

Showing Vulnerability to Build Trust

If you’re a PMO leader, fostering a sense of psychological safety between groups and individuals is all about your ability to practice humility. In fact, you create that culture of trust in your team by actively welcoming opinions and respecting other points of view.

Fewings recommends a simple way to start building trust in your team. He says your first task is not to be afraid of showing vulnerability.

Vulnerability isn’t as ominous as it sounds. It’s simply about being able to express common human emotions and be willing to talk about them openly – like commenting on feeling nervous or unsure about a task. Showing a little bit of vulnerability at certain times creates a sense of authenticity in your leadership and within your team. You signal that it’s an environment where it’s ‘ok to get it wrong’. And you create a sense of trust and of ‘having each other’s back’ when you actively try to get it ‘right’ together.

A team that displays trust and authenticity genuinely celebrates each other’s (and collective) achievements, respects each other’s opinions, and creates a safe space for mistakes. That sort of culture creates the perfect foundation for honest feedback – a place where criticism is given with respect and received with appreciation. From that basis, your team performance will only get better and better.

Visit the pmo365 Blog for more

Interested in accessing more material like this? Check out our blog which covers all the latest developments and knowledge about modern PMOs and Project Management for large portfolios. You could start with our articles on The 5 Soft Skills for a Successful PMO Leader, and Build a Strong PMO in 8 Steps.

To find out how pmo365 can help improve your PMO training, request a free demo with one of our experts.

Bill Allars