Rebel PMO: How to claim your seat at the strategic table

confident strategic PMO leader

Creating a strategic PMO doesn’t require rebellion, here are some steps to take to bridge the gap between project management tactics and company goals.

Project managers (PMs) and the leaders in the Project Management Office (PMO) are crucial resources in any efficient business. Managing day-to-day operations requires PMs to track multiple deadlines, milestones, expenses, and resources. PMOs must also aggregate this information across all projects to inform decisions and keep leadership in the loop. With precision, they get projects to the finish line. But this isn’t enough to truly become a strategic PMO.

However, too few project managers are involved at the beginning when the project is conceived and scoped. Instead, they’re perceived as order takers for the business, tasked with executing initiatives without much influence over the strategic decision-making.

Furthermore, without input from the PMO, businesses cannot think through potential threats and blockers, potentially adding time and expense and making the project less efficient overall. It’s time for PMs and PMOs to claim a seat at the strategic table and increase the overall efficiency and resulting business value of high-impact projects.

There are five clear steps PMs and their leaders can do to move from tactical to strategic in their PMO.

Step 1: Get outside the silo.

PMs often operate disconnected from broader organizational goals and the type of cross-functional collaboration common between other divisions. PMOs can break down those silos by aligning PMs with each critical business function within their organization.

  • PMOs with centralized PMs, might have “PM specialists” in each business function, including HR, sales, and marketing. That way when an HR project comes into the PMO, the HR project specialist is better qualified to lead the project, have conversations with the HR team, identify specific risks, and build a specialized project plan. Likewise, when a sales project comes down the pipeline, the PMO has one or more dedicated sales project managers who speak that language and understand the go-to-market strategy.
  • For decentralized PMOs, where PMs report directly to other departments and “dotted-line” report to the PMO, the challenge is capturing data like key milestones and the “go-live” milestone in addition to other key data to enable aggregated reporting. Additionally, PMOs need to collect lessons learned and stakeholder surveys to ensure quality project delivery.

Regardless of your PMO model, PMs need to become familiar with the functions in which they work and a strategic PMO can help foster this specialization

Step 2: Align every project with the right metrics. 

Whether centralized or decentralized, PMs need the right data to identify efficiencies and tell the story of how well the project is going. Data that is not tied to the sponsoring department’s KPIs prevents PMs from providing analytics and insights that are relevant and actionable to help inform strategic decisions. 

Dashboard with data visualization of project portfolio
The best PPM tools will enable customized views of KPIs

Tools like WorkOtter PPM show the portfolio of all projects in each department so PMs can easily drill down or identify problems common across projects (and avoid similar issues). Traditional project data points – timelines, budget, resources – can also be augmented with information critical to the specific project.

For example, a strategic PMO in a state health department might track telehealth initiatives, with key measures including:

  • How many rural customers have been reached this month through these telehealth initiatives?
  • How many customers were served last month during the pilot?
  • How do these numbers compare to next month’s projections?
  • How much time was spent serving those customers?
  • Is this project having the expected impact?

Through these questions, the PM showcases the real-world way that data, specific to a department, in the context of the project, can inform stakeholders and quantify progress and success.

Step 3: Think about the business as a whole. 

Resist the impulse to merely do the tactical job. As AI and emerging technologies continue to change how business is done, project-driven companies require strategic thinkers who do more than crunch numbers and check off tasks (things that machines do exceedingly well). 

Adding strategic value is about asking questions others at the table may not ask. With their perspective and experience, PMs can identify leading and lagging indicators and differentiate an average milestone from a key milestone to a go-live milestone.

Ask questions that showcase strategic thinking:

  • How does this project fit in with the other projects we’re working on? 
  • What are the priorities and dependencies? 
  • What are the contingency plans for missing key milestones?
  • Are other projects dependent on this project?

Consider ways you can use data to connect your project to larger business outcomes:

  • Were you able to mitigate some of the risks of the project – beyond merely monitoring them – by actually preventing them from becoming larger problems?
  • Did you help measure a strategic business outcome? 
  • Did you help define and analyze metrics that tell a story of larger business success?

Take, for example, a project in the retail sector. A new point-of-sale system across all stores should not only measure the technical rollout but also how the new system will improve customer checkout times and overall satisfaction. Other considerations might be:

  • What training will store employees need
  • How will that impact the timeline?
  • Are there dependencies on other ongoing projects, such as a concurrent inventory management system upgrade?
a dashboard showing company-wide project staff assignments
Understanding resource planning across the project portfolio can help build a bigger picture of a given project’s impact

By identifying and analyzing leading and lagging indicators, the PM connects the project to larger business outcomes. And by asking contingency questions such as, “What are the fallback options if the new system encounters significant issues during rollout?” and “How will these affect other strategic initiatives?” the PM actively involves all stakeholders in the success of the project.

Step 4. Demonstrate leadership. 

PMs need to lean into a leadership role, rather than simply managing their projects and delivering status updates. Algorithms today can predict when a project will go from yellow to red, but a human still needs to lead the team, manage the issues, document decisions, and follow up on action items.

Human insight helps to identify gaps and problems and to read people. Understanding what’s important to each stakeholder will never be a machine’s job.

In the healthcare industry, for example, demonstrating leadership as a project manager involves a deep understanding of both the technical and human elements required for success.

Consider an electronic health record (EHR) system implementation across a network of hospitals. The PM must manage the technical aspects of the implementation but also has to lead the team through the significant changes it will bring. The PM should ensure that a wide range of stakeholders, including doctors, nurses, administrative staff, and IT professionals, are heard and that there is a clear understanding of the project’s goals and timelines. Furthermore, the PM must anticipate and manage resistance to change, which is common in such large-scale projects. This involves not only addressing technical issues but also understanding and alleviating fears about job security, workflow disruptions, and the impact on patient care. For instance, the PM might ask, “How can we ensure that the new system enhances patient care rather than disrupting it?” and “What support do our healthcare providers need to adapt to this change?” With empathy and insight, the PM can guide the team through the implementation process to more easily meet strategic objectives.

Step 5. Showcase meaningful quick wins.

In any project, PMs should identify and plan to showcase quick wins with quantified information. To really gain a seat at the strategic table, project managers should also pick the most meaningful qualitative data to highlight.

PPM tools like WorkOtter make it easy to get real-time reporting and customized dashes for project and portfolio metrics.

Additionally, a PM can offer valuable summaries of

  • what was completed recently
  • what’s tracking to finish in the following week
  • how he or she is mitigating the risks they’ve identified
  • positive feedback from frontline teams or customers

By presenting these early successes, the PM can demonstrate the tangible benefits of the project, thereby gaining the trust and support of stakeholders. Moreover, discussing how these quick wins contribute to broader business objectives—such as improved customer retention rates or enhanced operational efficiency—reinforces the strategic value of the project.

The Future of the Strategic PMO.

The most successful project management organizations will be the ones with visibility across their portfolio of projects and alignment with company goals. WorkOtter was built for just this need. Our approach to adaptable project management and reporting, ease of use, and robust reporting are all reasons thousands of PMs and strategic PMOs use WorkOtter. If you’d like to see how we can help your business, book a demo with us today!
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