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PMO Problem Solved – Too Much Admin!

Each month we focus on a real PMO problem which has been shared by a member. You can also submit a question too here.
The question is shared through different events we do, social media and requests to the members to add their thoughts. It’s crowdsourced answers from PMO practitioners who are also facing the same challenges – some have tried and tested different approaches, some have even overcomed them.
In this article, we share the different answers and ideas that were contributed, we’ve separated them into different themes.
Have a read through and jot down the ones you like – how about leaving your own advice in the comments below too?

Admin Heavy

  • Make sure people feel there is value in what they are doing. Compiling a pack which everyone complains about is going to be a bit demotivating.
  • The bit that breaks my heart is why is a PMO Analyst burdened with so much admin? Why does it take an Analyst to chase people on their actions? Surely they are intelligent people who should be accountable for their own actions, especially in what sounds like a cost-pressured environment? PMO Analysts should be spending more of their time analysing data, processes and information to help more projects deliver efficiently and effectively. That where the true value lies.
  • Agree the following with your teams:
    • Stop taking / writing up minutes 
    • Make a new decision and action log 
    • Review and agree actions and owners as standing agenda item
    • Within the *new* action log agree an action that owners/leads will update their actions themselves directly in the action log according to dates / frequency
    • Make the action log a Google doc or something similar and give all action owners / leads access
  • For reporting if you cannot budget for a tool, create one template that the PMs use that covers all data requirements- make it visually useful and then you can collate for reporting or extract for other reports rather than duplicating.
  • I have been in this position with too many admin tasks creeping into the analyst role, stops you actually doing the value add activities. Sometimes this will require a conversation with leadership to get their understanding on what the PMO function shoukd be doing because collating packs and chasing actions won’t assist in delivery of projects!!
  • At the risk of being the flippant rebel in the corner. I’d just reduce the amount of work (if the automation dream is still a dream):
    1) change minutes to highlights and actions
    2) create a template for the pack you use and task the PMs (or others) to do their bit
    3) 70% is good enough
    4) remove the stuff you know isn’t used, or share it once a quarter (tenner says nobody will notice)
    5) do a build pack I.e. always start from the first pack and build on it across the cadence so you never have to start again
    6) conveniently forget/the system broke… see what a really happens, I reckon you’ll be fine; the world is more pragmatic now


High Staff Turnover

  • Is the high staff turnover actually a recuitment issue – what does the job description and advertisement look like – does it set the right expectations of what the role entails? Analyst does sound like the wrong job title given the responsibilities listed
  • How about in the interview – are expectations being set correctly here? Some adverts do dress up the role wrongly. Using standard role terms will help on recruitment I think. And don’t dress it up in the interview!
  • Maybe there is a cultural issue here – what is really causing the high staff turnover? It might not be the tasks in the role. It could be a problem with the team dynamics or remuneration.
  • I’m not clear if it’s the PMO analysts leaving or others in the PMO function. If the analyst role is admin heavy I’d suggest it needs some variety added to it and make sure it offers a career path; anyone would lose their mind from doing just admin.

The Main Issue

  • Wondering if any actions/decisions are ever taken from the packs or is the pack that comfort blanket.
  • Its not the size of your pack, its what you do with it that matters!Refresh the packs and determine which content slides need to be reviewed and updated weekly, monthly, etc. In some situations this may mean that only one or two slides (one page highlight report) changes regularly.  
  • Review the content and make sure what is in there enables a question to be answered or an insight to be provided. Repackage with a focus on what an audience really needs to know. Lose the rest, even if it’s heavy with what’s always been done.
  • I think there’s a piece here around understanding who your stakeholders are, what they want (and of course what you think they should have which isnt always the same thing!) then using that to think about the services you offer. It isn’t always about doing the same things in a more efficient way, sometimes it’s about rethinking where you can add most value.
  • I would suggest doing a quick survey on how many leaders are reading those minutes and PMO report packs. Assess whether it’s wasteful or not.

Reduce Load

  • Look at what can be reduced – my favourite saying – making a conscience choice to drop some balls, but making sure you drop the rubber balls, not the glass ones.
  • Make the reduction – there can definitely be an element of seeking forgiveness afterwards rather than permission in the first place
  • For taking minutes can you change it to just actions & decisions being recorded
  • Understand your core reporting elements and be clear on a sensible refresh cadence that works. Status updates and finances can be classic examples of continually moving targets. Ideas would have include monthly status updates with the option to put a call out if a focus programme / project has a significant update outside what can be voiced over from the latest monthly update.
  • Have the minute taking be responsibility of the meeting attendees.
  • How about people take their own actions (how novel hey!) so they take responsibility for completing them. More than one person can update in a meeting on sharing platforms that can be visable at the end.
  • I would review all your packs and the cadence of your meetings to see if you can use the same pack at multiple meetings. Whilst my team capture actions and decisions at governance forums, record the meeting and circulate that rather than producing minutes. However the ultimate goal should be to invest in a PPM tool. Good luck.
  • I would also invest in a tool to capture one version of the truth and enable dashboards, self service reports etc. Work out time spent on creating, reviewing, presenting and reading packs to establish cost as a basis for change. I would also question exactly what is being reported, to whom and how frequently.
  • That sounds exhausting for the team, for the people consuming the information and the people being chased. Perhaps collaboratively testing the need to make as much of that work value added and impactful could help all involved. A model to scale and prioritise (again probably in terms of value) might help.
  • See if the meeting frequency can be changed; is there any crossover in meeting content – thinking one pack that can be cut into different ways for various audiences; stop taking minutes and only capture decisions, actions etc; use or utilise a tool like Jira (or PPM tool) which the PMs update and you can pull data from; look at the content going into the decks – can this be streamlined? 2 or 3 key points, plus key call outs for instance.

Make it Quicker

  • For chasing actions there must be a way to automate some of it with reminders.
  • Chasing actions Vs Trusting people. Could this balance be experimented with? The PMOs job may be to record the information, but PMs and others need to take accountability for producing the information in a timely manner.
  • Automation is great if you’ve got the tools to do it. Even simple things like using Sharepoint to create action logs and set alerts off the action date due to remind the action owner.
  • Automation is great, but not if you’re just churning out the same old stuff quicker
  • Look for someone interested in developing their Excel skills and use them to automate.
  • Challenge the ‘why’. What is this trying to achieve? Then use automation to remove the mundane and analytics to extract insights. Extract actions and put them into workflows. Use dashboards to track action achievement and impact of delayed actions. Then start to connect the data. Get involved with the Project Data Analytics Community to find out more.
  • Automation is the best way to deal with it, especially if they are using Microsoft tools i.e PowerApps, Power Bi, SharePoint and Teams. It’s much easier to create various dashboards which can be presented & published daily/weekly/monthly. I have saved so much time automating everything. Now I helping other teams to create various tool and report which I enjoy.
  • With regards to reporting packs if you have access to power bi and bi reporting it is a game changer. Good luck!
  • A PM software tool can help enable automation of workflows ie. Automatically chasing task owners for progress updates according to preset criteria, such as target date in 2 days or overdue. It can also enable reporting through the creation of dashboards, you’d have to put in the work at the beginning and after that you get live reports whenever you need them. I use smartsheet.
  • I would definitely look at automation for some of these tasks, also aligning packs to reporting templates so that data is relays transferable should reduce some of the burden.
  • Automation is the answer, there are so many tools that will help, for actions etc Tasks in MS Teams is an undervalued tool.
  • I would also invest in a tool to capture one version of the truth and enable dashboards, self service reports etc. Work out time spent on creating, reviewing, presenting and reading packs to establish cost as a basis for change. I would also question exactly what is being reported, to whom and how frequently.


Building a Case for a Tool

Time spent in production/read/review etc multiplied by a standard blended day/hourly rate to highlight wasted time spent. I would also expand to the time saved for PMs not creating weekly decks etc if the right system is used. Add in to the mix the expansion of quality offerings that PMO resources can engage in, supporting projects and programmes. Any team under pressure can answer the question what are you not doing that you want to, that adds value.
If you’d like to share a problem, just complete the form and we’ll feature it and get some great answers from the PMO crowd.

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1 Comment

  1. Lain Burgos-Lovece

    This is one of the most common obstacles faced by the people I coach. It is a serious problem and its solution is complex because it depends almost totally on your context – there are no canned solutions that work, other than in the very short term.
    The question was about reducing the admin load or making it less time-consuming. Presumably, that would help to mitigate the high turnover. There are some great insights in the article and I agree that the two general solutions are to find a way to cut back or automate. To go beyond a quick fix that doesn’t last, you will need to be bolder than that and more patient. Let me explain.
    Tooling works in the short term mainly because it is a change, it’s a way of forcing an evaluation of the existing process and streamlining a few things. The tool acts as an excuse, even if your stakeholders insist on the same rubbish (technical term) on a shiny new view.
    The thing is, automation slowly leads to more work, even in the best case. It’s like building a new motorway, or widening an old one: increased use leads to the same traffic jams. So if you can make the case for a tool or if you can automate piecemeal it will give you a welcome breather, but not for long. Your headaches will have a slightly different flavour.
    The longer-lasting solution relies on challenging and replacing the admin/compliance culture with a culture that is focused on value generated and the management of the flow that generates it. Use dynamic dashboards rather than proxy metrics of time, cost, quality, RAIDs and massive decks.
    However, both for tool automation and for the longer-term solution, the first step is to create some headroom. Because if you don’t have time to manage your current load, you don’t have time to make it better. That is why finding sensible ways of carving out some free time are the vital first step.
    What works will depend on your context. The basic three steps are:
    1) Reduce the load to get some headroom
    2) Automate, if possible, what can be automated
    3) Make the case for more valuable governance (easy to say…)
    I really doubt that this would be a one-shot exercise. Those three steps are a loop, a set of small improvement iterations, with a learning/planning step in between. Use the ideas in the article for your first loop. Amend the loop with what you learn from that experiment, for the next round.
    Good luck! It’s not easy, but it’s definitely worth doing. And if you fancy swapping stories on this, just let me know.

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