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PMOs Supporting Modern Project Management – Coaching

We’ve talked about this a lot at PMO Flashmob – coaching skills.

Skills we could be using to better support those we work within the delivery organisation – skills we could be using within the PMO itself to increase performance and maturity.

We’ve talked about the differences between mentoring and coaching – we’ve also talked about being skilled to coach others.

There is one thing we’ve agreed on over the years, using different coaching skills is one way for the PMO to really help people deliver projects and programmes more successfully – yet equally, we’re perhaps not as qualified to do it as we should be.

You can check out some previous sessions like Coaching in All DirectionsCoaching Skills for PMO Professionals and Using a Coaching Model in the PMO.

Over the next few weeks we are going to cover several different frameworks, approaches and techniques that the modern project practitioner can utilise in their day-to-day work that make a difference to people and their performance levels. We also share ten different things your PMO can be thinking about to make a real difference to the performance of your PMO. We’re going to look at the following areas:

In this third article of our PMOs Supporting Modern Project Management series, we take a look at coaching.


First up, how is it defined: There are two types of coaching we are most interested in. The first is called content coaching. Content coaching is about helping managers learn about specific areas of knowledge or develop a certain skill. For example, the PMO can help project managers acquire knowledge on new methods, processes or techniques. The PMO can also use content coaching on PMO team members too. The second is developmental coaching which is about helping others enhance their skills or improve in a specific area. This will include assessment and creating a development plan to chart progress. This is very much a PMO team type of coaching. The PMO can also utilise a lot of different coaching techniques to help others solve problems and enable better decision-making. We’re not in a situation of coach and coaches, more a facilitator who is using some coaching techniques to help others overcome the blockers.

The Coaching Continuum

This figure gives a quick idea of where mentoring and coaching sit – and the PMO can also be anywhere on that continuum when it comes to providing support. I would argue that a lot of PMOs are to the left with tell, show and teach figuring highly:  

GROW Model

The GROW Model has long been a popular model which can be used in many different ways around goal-setting and problem-solving. You can see from the possible questions that can be asked how the GROW model could be used in many different circumstances. Establish a GOAL

  • Tell me about the problem / issue?
  • What will the situation look like when the problem is resolved?
  • What would you like to achieve?
  • Where would you like to be in your career 12 months from now?


  • How do you experience the situation right now?
  • What have you already done to try to progress?
  • What has worked well / not so well?
  • What obstacles are in your way?

Consider the OPTIONS

  • What could you do to resolve the problem? (Brainstorm options)
  • What have you seen work in similar situations?
  • What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
  • What can you do to move yourself just one step forward?

What is the WAY forward?

  • What are your next steps?
  • What actions will you commit to taking and by when?
  • What support will you need?
  • Is there anything else you need to consider?


The Why of Goals

Sometimes it’s the simplest of questions that help us get to the bottom of goals and problems:

The Listening Staircase

One of the best skills you can have in coaching is listening – and we mean really listening. It’s also one of the key skills in the PMO Competency Framework – active listening. The Listening Staircase is something we learnt from Bekka Prideaux when she did a session for us – she also covers this in the Coaching Skills for the PMO course. I think most of us hover around the middle but if we’re aware of what we’re doing we can learn to get better right?  

Structure of a Problem (SoaP)

Another example of a tool or technique that can be used is SoaP. Again from Bekka, we love the combination of having something which makes us really think about a problem – what really makes up the parts of the problem – having someone to own those parts of the problem. We start from the left-hand side – what’s the problem we’ve got and jump to the right, ideally where do we need to be. Each brick in the wall is something that is stopping us from getting there. Ideally, we’re looking to break that problem down into individual bricks so we can better work on them and fix them. Even better, we can allocate someone to own that brick. It’s simple and effective, why not try it out within the PMO team so you can get a feel for how it works before using it in the wide delivery organisation.   You can see this scribbled example of having
poor estimating as our problem. The individual bricks try to get into why we have poor estimating:  

The Emotional Bank Account

Finally, we take a look at the relationship side of coaching. To be able to coach, relationships and trust are obviously important. Taken from Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: An emotional bank account is a metaphor that describes the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship.  It’s the feeling of safeness you have with another human being.  When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective. The idea behind the trust account is that we often take more than we give when it comes to relationships so we shouldn’t be surprised when relationships suffer.The aim is you’re making more deposits than withdrawals and as a result you’ll see relationships strengthen. Can you think of a few people in your business you’d like to strengthen your relationship with?  

10 Things to Think About for the PMO

  1. Utilise the GROW Model with your PMO team to set new goals for the coming year – not only a great team exercise, it’ll be motivational too.
  2. Use the SoaP exercise when a project team is trying to solve a particular problem – why not ask if they’d like to see a different way of trying to solve it as a team, then walk them through it.
  3. A great exercise for the PMO team about the listening staircase is to set a podcast club! Like a book club, the team all listen to the same episode then come back together to discuss it – for the listening staircase, check out the podcast from Bekka –Why Active Listening Isn’t Enough
  4. Consider a coach for yourself – sometimes seeking out an external coach is the only way to get fresh perspectives on your career or solve particular PMO problems which your organisation just can’t do. Check out PMO Learning’s coaching for PMO people.
  5. Learn to ask powerful questions – these tend to start with what? and how? Be mindful that why? can lead people to become defensive.
  6. How can your PMO move across all parts of the coaching continuum? From telling to coaching – there should be different modes depending on the situation. Have a think about the different situations that happen in your organisation and how the PMO could respond to them differently next time.
  7. Start collecting a repository of useful tools, techniques and approaches the PMO could keep for the use by others in the organisation, why not consider creating a useful guide or ebook and send it out – a PMO Guide to Solving Problems perhaps?
  8. Think about three different people who are important in the business to the PMO’s success – now think about those relationships in relation to the trust account. Think about the times you’ve worked with them – did you find a balance between deposits and withdrawals? How could you do better?
  9. Think about how you can incorporate more of a coaching approach into your performance reviews and one-to-ones if you’re a manager of a PMO team – working together to set individual’s goals or using different questions to help draw out deeper insights.
  10. Finally, the new PMO Competency Framework, features key skills and behaviours aligned with coaching – for example; active listening, empathise, ask powerful questions, coach and mentor from the key skills. What other skills and behaviours could you and your team be using and modelling? How would we see those skills being used and the where would we see those behaviours?


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