Sabotage The PMO

Sabotage the PMO… with Packs

It was after the third time of asking that I realised I was screwed.  I’d said to the Programme Manager “Are you sure you don’t want me to demonstrate the alignment of programme objectives to the business strategy?” and was told, “No, just focus on the pack.”  I replied, “It can go in the pack, we’ll look great – no one else in the portfolio is doing this.”

“No, just pull the pack together.”

The meeting was over a week out and I had plenty of capacity, but it was deemed necessary to get started on the pack.  Not that I had any content to create – all the pack consisted of was project status reports, change requests being escalated, some adhoc content from the programme manager and a RAID that would be extracted from the system a few days later.  So I’d start sending the reminders to the project managers (who can deliver all sorts of products based on incredibly complex plans, yet need a reminder that every other Thursday they need to send in a report) and begin to work on the pack.  The template was the third version in four months as the consensus was never reached that it was fit for purpose.  I think it was the Calibri font that was upsetting everyone this time.

The meeting was to take place under the shadow of a corporate wide cost cutting exercise.  The programme itself was in the clear – it was delivering a mandatory, regulatory deliverable in the Banking sector.  Kill this and you kill yourself at the feet of the regulator.  But the resources within the programme – they were up for grabs.  The average day rate of the predominantly contractor workforce was around £500.  Could this be defended?  Was every workstream essential?  Where was the lowest value resource?  I scanned the room and wondered which of the PMs or BAs were going to get tapped on the shoulder, given their one day notice and watched like hawks to make sure they didn’t start printing reams of sensitive data that could somehow reach a competitor.

I had time to do so as I only had to pull together the pack and wasn’t really stretched.

Don’t get me wrong, it was tricky in the first few weeks – having to learn who to approach for content, when and – most importantly – how.  Trying to bundle the varying quality returns into a pack, removing spelling errors, standardising the content in the right way, etc.  After a couple of meetings I was in the swing of it and the process was running smoothly.  I asked for more to do, but nothing was offered.  Out of a mixture of guilt over taking money for such small return and sheer boredom,  I went hunting for extra tasks.  The RAID was a mess.  I didn’t meet the internal standards so I got to work on cleansing it and training the project managers to create more useful contributions.  The plan was fine, but the approach to reporting on the plan was not.  Everything on a milestone would report Green, Green, Green… RED on the week of delivery.  So I got the PM’s to be a little more honest and realistic about what they were reporting, and to make change requests – as much as possible – before the slip rather than after it.  More small improvements as I went, and a greater sense of control was felt by the programme manager, who seemed oblivious to how this was occurring.

And then it occurred to me.  When they ask what I do, I reply “I do the pack.”  And they take a look at the day rate which could pay for a CEO in many industries.  And then I’m screwed.

So who had sabotaged me?

Was it the previous PMO that had made pack creation appear to be a full time job?  It had seemed to me that they’d been scamming the team by suggesting the pack creation took all of their time, leaving them time to just be idle.  Whenever I walked past their desk, they were looking at a pack, maybe a previous one, but not doing anything.  Just staring – like how people did with those Magic Eye posters.

Was it the Programme Manager who believed that pack creation is what PMOs do (and that anything else is unnatural)?  It’s necessary, I get that and I’m happy to do my part to help the team – but nobody ever signed up for the exciting career of pack creation.  And if admin was really all he thought the job was about, why were PRINCE2 and MSP qualifications listed as requisites for the job.  Why was my previous experience as a project manager deemed so helpful at the interview?

Maybe it’s my own failure to attract additional tasks?  Sure, I sneaked around helping out the team – but maybe I should have been more proactive?

Or could it be that just too many people see the PMO as a purely admin function and not a key partner in the change process?  It was considering this last possibility that got me unscrewed when asked what I do.

“I do the pack,” I replied, “aaaaaand the minutes!”  No one on Earth would want to add that to their task list.  So, in the midst of the cost challenge, I earned a 6 month extension.


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