Getting in Shape – You and the PMO

It’s sad to think of the shape we can allow ourselves to get into.  Slow moving, over laden and lacking confidence.  We see aspirational goals of how we can get leaner, faster, more focused and respected, but rather than inspiring us these images can cause paralysis.

Hang on…I’m talking about PMOs here, not physical fitness.  Or am I?  Consider yourselves lucky, folks – this is a two-for-one blog.  It’s PMO focused and it’s fitness focused.

There is much in common between getting ourselves into good physical condition and reenergising a mediocre PMO.   Here are a few areas where the aspirations of  physical fitness and improving PMOs are surprisingly similar.

The Psychological Effect of the Gap Between the Present State and Excellence

It helps to have something to aspire to.  Every generation is faced with an idea of what is considered physically desirable, and for guys a few years back it may have been movie stars like Brad Pitt or Jason Statham who managed to get themselves into incredible shape for their action movies.  These days it’s likely to be the superstars of CrossFit that are our aspirational models of physical perfection.  Looking at these athletes, it is easy to look ourselves and feel we are lacking.

Equally, change teams find themselves in comparison with others.  The frequency with which senior managers move between companies means more PMO teams are being compared unfavourably with other companies where the approach, the delivery and the ethos are very different.  Thanks to organisations like APM, we get better visibility through articles and awards of what good can – in the real world – look like.

Whilst if can be incredibly inspiring to have role models to aspire to, it can be cause crippling mental paralysis if the aspiration seems unrealistic.  How does the average couch potato get from where they are now to a state of fitness having been inspired by a bodybuilding champion?  How does an independent PMO in budget squeezed public sector environment get to compete with the Deloitte and PWC’s of the world?

It’s important to be realistic with yourself about what you need.  Do you have to be a world class PMO?  Do you have to be a contender for the World’s Fittest Man/Woman?  Or could you be satisfied if you are closer to that target than where you are now?  By all means, use these role models as inspiration but don’t let them overwhelm you and cause you to give up before you get started.

Small Changes = Big Results

It’s easy to get down on yourself for not being where you want to be already, and this attitude can stifle the motivation to make the small improvements you need to improve.  Instead, focus positively on small goals that can be achieved that create a journey to excellence.   For example:

  • This week you could increase your step count to 10,000 steps per day.
  • This week you could create some guidance that helps your project managers to make consistent styled plans.

When you’ve done that, you’ll feel that you have accomplished something and the next step will be even easier:

  • Next week you could include a doing stretches when you wake up.
  • Next week you could identify the gaps in your colleagues understanding of risk management, and publish some simple tips.

As you progress you’ll feel like you can accomplish more and more each week, and if you doubt your ability to reach your goal all you have to do is look at where you started compared with where you are now.

Unrealistic Expectations

When looking at the images of our role models in magazines or billboards, it’s easy to forget that these people do not look like this all of the time.  Besides the effects of Photoshop and digital reimaging, many performers make an extra effort to achieve perfection at the right time.  Bodybuilders make efforts to drop carbs and reduce their water mass in the days leading into competition as this creates a more defined shape.  They don’t look like this all year round.

Equally, even the best PMOs and change teams have periods where things don’t work as well as they’d like.  Team changes, seasonal breaks and unexpected incidents will affect the performance of even the best teams.

Keep in mind, excellence is achievable but in practice very hard to maintain all of the time.  Don’t beat yourself up for slipping occasionally and don’t let it convince you that you are failing.


Without measurement, how do we know we are improving?  We may feel better and more in control, but to be absolutely sure we should invest some time in taking the proper measures:

  • Get some feedback from colleagues on how the PMO is working before you make any changes, use that as a baseline and keep checking in with them to compare how well the changes have been received and if improvements are being felt.
  • Check how your clothes feel.  Are they starting to feel looser round the waist?  Are they feeling tighter round the chest and shoulders?  Do buttons fly off your shirt when you inhale?
  • Are projects delivering quicker?  Are there fewer issues, but more risks being actively managed?  Are the days of unannounced changes over?
  • Get some scales.  Not just normal bathroom scales that tell you how heavy you are – too many things can influence that (eg water, muscle mass increases).  Get body composition scales that tell you your weight, muscle mass, fat content and BMI.  Then you will be able judge if your efforts are hitting the right areas.

It Gets Easier…

As you progress, you will find that your new behaviours are actually habit forming.  Eventually you won’t have to convince yourself to go for a run on a rainy day, or to look ahead at the risks that are due in the next month and highlight where action is needed.  It will just be habit and you’ll feel stranger not doing them than actually doing the work.  It’s a great state to be in.  Your changes have become a lifestyle.

…But It Also Gets Tougher

The rapid gains you notice early on are difficult to repeat.  The first 10% of your journey is so much easier than the last 10%.  The easy wins will be a thing of the past and you have to work even harder for every little improvement.   This is evident in runners who  will see regular improvements as they run, sometimes improving personal bests by minutes at a time, but then they reach what appears to be a peak and they plateau.  The intervention of a coach or personal trainer will be felt here as they change the technique, exercise regime and diet of the runner which finds additional seconds of improvements.  When they reach their very upper levels of ability, the difference can be measured in milliseconds.

With the PMO this is also true.  In the early stages you applied best practice principles, brought about more control, improved quality of information flows and reporting.  But where do you go from there?  Again it can be advantageous to get a coach (fine, call them a consultant) or any independent observer who can take another look at your operations and find areas of improvement.  Maybe change in the PMO can be accomplished by addressing behaviours rather than processes?  Maybe your improved processes can be refined a little further?  At this stage you will not see the leaps in improvements that you experienced previously and it will take a lot of effort to continue to improve.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!

In Conclusion

I hope my mixed blog here has inspired you, and maybe in ways that you didn’t expect.  PMOs often have long days sitting at desks and would benefit from being inspired into a little physical activity.  Maybe some fitness focused readers can now feel inspired with ideas of how to improve their business and change approaches.  But whatever your goals are – physical or business – just remember to not be intimidated by the size of your aspirations.  Whatever improvement you can make today is more than you had yesterday.  Good luck.



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