What's In a Name?

By Alan Ferguson   |   Approved Trainer for PRINCE2®, MSP®, M_o_R®, MoP®, P3O®, Change Management™, Managing Benefits™, AgilePM™, APM IC & APMP

In a portfolio, programme or project office we do much more than provide administrative support.

But how can we describe our work in a compelling and accurate way?

When I first came across an “office” (See? I’m already having problems describing who we are and what we do) it was called a Project Support Office – PSO. A colleague of mine had been drafted in to set it up at the same time as I arrived in the organization and frankly neither of us knew very much about project management. Mind you, that was the 1980s and I don’t think anybody really knew much about project management then. He ended up with a couple of admin assistants working for him.

If I recall correctly one was, frankly, not very helpful. The other was best described as a velvet hammer. Her job was to make sure us project managers did a weekly progress report. Of course we were all far too busy and important to do that. But she would arrive in my office at the same time every week and it didn’t matter what else I was doing, by the time she left she had the information to type up a progress report.

Things have moved on enormously since then and the range of names of offices has grown exponentially: PPSO, PMO, EPMO, even Change Delivery Office. I’ve seen them all.

I’ve been heavily involved with a publication called P3O – portfolio, programme and project offices. I’ll use the title of this guidance manual to help us think about naming and describing what we do.

What does “P” stand for?

When I meet someone from a PMO, I ask them what the “P” stands for. That often tell me that it stands for, say, project and programme. My response is: “Well isn’t that two ‘P’s?” There is our first hurdle. We have to understand the difference between a portfolio, programme and project, as defined in the organization, and take a view on which if any of those change delivery practices we are supporting.

“M”. Really?

OK, we do a lot more than support – that’s agreed. But are we really managing? Surely if the project manager manages the project, what does the project management office manage? In some circumstances the PMO is genuinely a decision-making body. That’s a very centralized model. In other circumstances there is a balance of power between the PMO and project managers. However, at times the PMO is suffering from “grade inflation”. It’s really a support office but it calls itself a management office.

I don’t mind if the organization is using a centralized or a decentralized model; there are pros and cons to both. Although I do think there needs to be clarity about who does what.

What do I do? I Office!

Most job titles link to a verb. Going back to my old friend the project manager, he or she manages. A portfolio director…well, directs. Someone who works in an office….offices? Oh, we don’t have a verb for what we do in our office.

Here’s my elevator pitch.

It would be wrong of me to share these problems with you if I didn’t have a solution. The elevator pitch I’ve come up with is:

 “My team and I enable and restrain change.”


How do you describe your work?

[trx_infobox style=”regular” closeable=”no” icon=”icon-desktop”]Visit our website to learn more about IIL’s P3O certification courses. [/trx_infobox]

Alan Ferguson is a consultant and trainer in Agile Project Management, PRINCE2, MSP, P30, M_o_R, MoP and Project, Programme and Portfolio Management with hands on knowledge of managing in governmental, IT and engineering fields as well as extensive experience in training, consulting and coaching.

Do You Feel Lucky?

By Alan Ferguson – Approved Trainer for PRINCE2®, MSP®, M_o_R®, MoP®, P3O®, Change Management™, Managing Benefits™, AgilePM™, APM IC & APMP

Mature risk management is about culture as well as process.

In the 1971 movie, Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood says the following lines:

“Uh uh. I know what you’re thinking. ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

Although this is a rather violent film, this is a perfect illustration of risk appetite. When the police officer, Harry Callahan, asked the bad guy if he felt lucky, he was only assessing that individual’s risk appetite.

So what’s your risk appetite? Are you risk averse – avoiding risks if at all possible? Or you could be risk seeking – looking for risks, thrills, when they are available. Then of course the balance in the middle would be risk neutral.

Now it’s interesting to think about one’s personal risk appetite but the concept also applies to an organization. Risk appetite can be defined as ‘the amount and type of risk that an organization is willing to take in order to meet their strategic objectives.’

Like everything else there are stereotypes – the risk averse local authority that goes from striving to provide us with services reliably, every day to failing to innovate or the financial institution that goes from sensible speculation to taking unwarranted investment risks.

When implementing, assessing, or improving risk management across an organization we can all too easily focus on the process. We put in place more precise guidance or more sophisticated risk management tools.

We often overlook the culture of risk management.

We fail to properly understand the organization’s risk appetite. Very often the organization’s risk appetite is either not written down, or if it is written down the words on paper do not truly reflect the behaviors of the people in the organization. We need to understand the organization’s risk appetite and reflect it in the way the organization manages risk.

But I think you can take this discussion a little further. If we’re talking about changing an organization’s behaviors, its culture, then we are moving into the world of change management. We can’t simply alter behaviors across your organization by publishing a new set of procedures, guidelines, or standards. If the organization is resistant to change, it is likely to have a low risk appetite. This type of organization has a very deep-seated reluctance to change.

I can play this linkage in both directions. If as a change manager, I see there is a risk averse culture, then I’m going to have to work more slowly, carefully, and sensitively on my change management initiatives.

On the other hand if as a risk manager I see that there is a low risk appetite, then I may have to use change management techniques in order to improve risk management in the organization.