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PMO Conference 2021 \\ An Award Winning PMO: One PMO – GCHQ

Back in 2019, the PMO at GCHQ was awarded the APM PMO of the Year award. Fast forward through the pandemic and we finally managed to hear their story at the PMO Conference in 2021.

The session wasn’t recorded due to the nature of what GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) does but we were on hand to take some decent notes and share some of the insights from the session.

Here’s the synopsis from the conference programme:

The last 6 years Chris and Dawn have spent working together to implement a blended PMO service. Staff and industry working together to deliver an enterprise wide PMO service. Not just a service, but a seamless one; our slogan being One PMO! Once established along came Transformation of our PMO; how do we modernise and become even more efficient? Very challenging and tricky to get right. In fact, in some cases they didn’t; but they did learn along the way. Then the added challenge of CV19 and distributed working, against the organisation and industry partner challenges. A rollercoaster ride!

Chris and Dawn’s PMO won the PMO of the Year Award in 2019, it’s only now, post-pandemic that we get to hear the story of their journey.

The Challenges Facing the Organisation

Understanding what the business needs means the PMO was able to start understanding what they could offer to help overcome some of these challenges.

Do you know what the main challenges are for your business? Are your insights likely to be the same as your senior executives?

Getting Started – Collective Ideas

They needed a vision that everyone in project delivery could get behind – instead of loads of words in a document that is likely to inspire no one – they decided to bring it to life and found their mission very quickly – One Team.

If your PMO team came together to try and produce something visual like this – what do you think it would look like?

The 24 Month PMO Plan

Pulling the plan together and making it visible means everyone works together – as One PMO team. The plan was crucial if they were going to be able to hold people to account and make the changes.

Does your PMO plan what it wants to achieve in the coming year?

What the PMO Wanted to Deliver

The strategic benefits are the outcomes that the PMO wanted to see as it began to transform. The biggest challenge they had out of all of these benefits was providing the services across the business.

What They Wanted to Achieve

These are just some of the things they wanted to achieve through their transformation.

The Focus on PMO Staff

How did manage to make their PMO transformation effective? One of the ways was to make the transformation personal to everyone in the team – to bring everyone together, to boost morale and performance, to do something which would make all of them proud of the work they do.

They created a brand – a great way to bring people together – which included the name, the logo, the statement, “mission, delivery together”. They used it in the office, even included branded jaffa cakes to match that orange! They had lanyards and got coffee mugs printed up.

Does your PMO have a brand? What colour did you go for? What about the strapline? Any nice freebies to hand out? Mugs, pens?

Measuring the Impact

They did some work to make sure they could capture the metrics before, during and after – crucial for them to understand if the transformation was on the right track to deliver the benefits.

Do you use metrics and measures to see how effective your PMO is?

Values and Behaviours

The PMO used business change experts to help them make the transformation effective. There will always be some resistance to change and the PMO utilised the different approaches and techniques from change management colleagues. They had to stand firm when there was resistance to some of the services no longer being offered by the PMO – especially the ‘low value’ parts of the job and utilised ‘resistance management’ approaches.

They made sure they had their own charter which they could all sign up to – focusing on what values the PMO has and what behaviours they should be demonstrating.

Do you have a charter? What kind of values and behaviours would you include?

People and Skills

They utilised a skills framework that helped in recruiting a diverse workforce and also developed a learning and development portal.

They also formed communities of interest or practice so people could come together to learn and share – the groups are shown in the image on the right hand side.

Do you have communities of practice? Does the PMO help out in getting people together?

Customer Focus – What Do They Want from the PMO?

All good PMOs should be providing the services that their customers really want. One key learning they had was they should have focused on an outcome-based model earlier and shared the benefits (outcomes) of what they were doing. Customers were then able to choose the outcomes they wanted.

The PMO also pulled together a roadshow to get out there and find out what their customers really wanted. The top five are highlighted below, which then led to the formation of the service menu.

In terms of costs, the PMO operates at 1% of the whole portfolio value – the industry standard tends to be 5%.

Do you know how much your PMO costs the business?


PMO Service Delivery

They found that building relationships is key to their success – as is looking for the simple but effective things you can focus on which make a big difference.

Focus on Agile Capability

Like a lot of PMOs today, multiple approaches to delivery is becoming the norm. The business wanted to adopt more agile approaches to delivering certain types of projects and the PMO became the Centre of Excellence, a focus and a hub for helping the business make the change.

Not only were they helping the wider delivery organisation – they also had to practice what they were preaching and utilised more agile approaches in their own transformation. They used the roadmap as their basis, every six weeks they showcased and made a recommitment for the next six weeks.

It was the combination of all the work they had done to help the business change by transforming themselves and the services they offer that led them to apply for the PMO of the Year award which they won in 2019.

Outcomes to the Agile Approach

PMO Vision

Throughout the PMO transformation, they have adopted different approaches to making sure it was on track and people were coming along with them. Just like most other organisations, when the pandemic hit, they were in a position to reprioritise and replan.

They were able to quickly mobilise online and keep lines of communication open. They were able to keep a regular heartbeat going – keep the team together and check well-being. The transformation has made a ‘well-gelled team’, just what they needed as they switched to virtual working.

They have used creativity throughout their transformation as well as focusing heavily on how to make change stick. They’ve delivered on plans that are fit for purpose against rapidly changing requirements. They have aligned with what the business and their customers need by going out to the business and listening. They have shared their highly visible and visual plans and shown commitment to delivering against those. Ultimately they are delivering a service with a strong vision at the heart of it and the skills, knowledge and behaviours required to deliver against it.

Most of all, they seem to have lots of fun doing it which must be the icing on the cake.


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