Welcome to the PMO Strategies Podcast + Blog, where PMO leaders become IMPACT Drivers!
Today we are talking with Emma-Ruth Arnaz-Pemberton, a fellow of the Association for Project Management. She is an expert in PMO project, program, and portfolio management, with extensive experience in the change management industry, which, as you guys know by now, is near and dear to my heart. She has a particular focus and emphasis on collaboration and PMO conception and strategy, as well as method and capability development.
My favorite things about Emma are that she organizes two flagship events for Wellingtone, the organization that she works for, which are the future PMO Conference, which is a fantastic conference done over in the UK. And she brought the Project Management Day of Service, my little baby, all the way over to the UK. They have had some fantastic and successful PMDoS events over there. But today, we’re talking about a little bit, a little teaser of what Emma-Ruth is covering in the PMO IMPACT Summit. Emma is a part of our PMO Impact Summit and she’s going to be speaking about the PMO hierarchy of needs and effective learning.
Laura: I would love to start with, where we are today from a learning styles perspective, especially as it relates to our space, PMOs and project management? Where are we today and why are we talking about this now? What’s shifting that’s prompted this to be a really hot topic for you?
Emma-Ruth: From a PMO perspective, I’m very people-focused, so I’m all about collaboration and development of people and capability. That’s me on a professional level, but also on a very personal level. What I have found is that the world is changing and a lot of our systems, particularly learning systems don’t really seem to be changing. There’s a very well known concept around the different learning styles that everybody has. Some people are very visual. They prefer using pictures and images to learn.
If any of you have kids, if you’ve seen them revise, you’ll be able to see how they learn because some people draw, some people write, some people listen, and some people read. Some people are very oral, so it’s all about the auditory stuff. So they prefer using sound and music. Some people learn are more verbal, use more linguistic skills both in speech and in writing. They’re really looking for somebody to have a conversation. That’s how they remember stuff.
Other people are very physical. They’re very much about using their body, their hands, their sense of touch. These are the people that if you’re teaching them a system, they want to just get on and do it. They don’t want to listen to you. They just want to be left to press the buttons.
Even still, other people are more logical, more mathematical in nature. They tend to be quite analytical. They need to work through the logic, the reasoning. They need to understand the systems and the processes, whereas others are more social. They prefer to learn in groups as opposed to solitary people who prefer to learn on their own. That’s been around for a really long time and lots of training and trainers, they adapt the way that they teach in order to hit as many of those as they can in a session.
That’s how I was taught to train. Make sure you do something for each one of those kinds of learning styles. It still works to a point. But nowadays we live in this chaotic world where everything’s volatile. It’s uncertain. It’s complex and it’s ambiguous. There’s so much out there now that what we find is so much and so many people and particularly in our industry is kind of gone from quite niched to now everybody’s a project manager. Project management is a life skill for all.
The way that we learn typically is you go, you sit in a room, you get some presentation, you’ll do some exercises, you’ll do an assessment at the end and you fill in a feedback form and then it’s thank you very much, going back to your day job and apply what you can.
It just doesn’t work for me anymore. If I have a course, I want to see change. If I’m paying for somebody to go on a course, I want to see their behavior change. I just don’t see that the learning systems that we have at the moment really give us that return on investment anymore. I think when it was quite niched, it worked.
Once I was at PMO course and the average age of the entire team was 26. Even the manager. They were managing this multimillion pound business with a PMO. We did a SWOT with them. They put it down as one of their threats, the average age, they saw as a real threat. That really got me to thinking. What if its a strength?
I thought “if they do it right, they could actually change the business because they have no legacy because they have no experience from a long time ago that stopping them, they’re just going to see it.”
What you tend to find is a lot of young kids now are more worried about the planet than we’ve ever been. If you pick up a plastic water bottle, they’ll genuinely go, why aren’t you drinking out of a metal can or a glass or something? When I was in this environment with this team, I found that every exercise that we did that was building their PMO, the last question that they asked was, how will this impact people? How will this impact the organization? That’s the gap.
Laura: Wow. I mean, I’m so glad you brought that up. There’s so many things that are being triggered for me as I’m listening to you talk about the ways we’re learning. I think it’s important to point out that there are some really unique opportunities. I really like what you said about looking at those that don’t have the history and the historical knowledge. That means they also don’t have the baggage.
Sometimes when I’m going into organizations to help set up a PMO or implement project management best practices, or when I’m helping my students go through that process in their organizations, the fact that, if you don’t have people there that are saying, “Yeah, but.” All the things that are going to go wrong with it, I call that the ‘yeah, but’ monster. “Yeah, but that won’t work here because we tried that before.” Or, “Yeah, but we don’t do things that way.”
If you don’t have any of that noise and that baggage or if you can find a way to eliminate that, you can actually get right to my favorite word, IMPACT, right? You can get really laser-focused on the outcomes you’re trying to achieve as opposed to being so focused on the outputs and checking the boxes. I think that’s a huge opportunity. And for those of us that are in the role of PMO leader, we need to think about, how can we look for that kind of new way of thinking, an out of the box thinking or just newer generation way of thinking about how we solve problems and how we stay very outcome-focused.
Emma-Ruth: Exactly. It was a real wake up call for me. I started doing all this research and I’ve applied it to one of the things that we’re currently trialing at Wellingtone. We’ve developed to the next course for PMO leaders, which is the sequel if you like, to PMO Practitioner. We have a course, we have a public case study so that we base on everybody’s knowledge and that helps people to learn more.
We’re kind of forcing people to take a step back and reflect on their reality and reflect on what are the key challenges. We’re also making them do some critical thinking, which we don’t get time to take a step back and do quite often. We’re just so busy in the day job.
Then they get some help, some consulting style help from their peers in the room and then they go and they do a project for two months. Within those two months, not only have we now created a mini-community by itself, but they get mentoring with myself and my colleague Marissa, who’s also part of the IMPACT Summit. Every two weeks we do mentoring with them.
That brings with it and a number of benefits, if you like, that they’re either raving about it, they love it, because one of the key questions that we ask them is, how will you fit this in? How will you get back to your day job and carve out time to make a substantial change in a particular problem or opportunity that you’re trying to deal with? It’s made them accountable. They know they’ve got to pick up the phone to myself, as an example, every two weeks and tell me how far they’ve gone. Nobody wants to be seen to fail.
From project-based learning, that’s what companies are going to get a return on investment. And that’s what the younger people coming through want, they want to be able to make an IMPACT. Your favorite word, I mean at this time, if ever there was one. That’s how we see return on investment by actually getting people to change the business for the better.
Using people like myself and yourself to actually help them along the way. Who doesn’t want that? I wish I’d had that when I was first starting out. I had nobody. PMO was like, what is this thing that nobody really understands?
Laura: I’m really glad you said that because when I built my first PMO back in 1999, you didn’t have the ability to just Google how to set up a PMO. There weren’t a ton of books out there. I didn’t have any peers that I was aware of. I joined the PMI chapter, but that was mostly project managers and I felt like there was nobody that understood what I was going through and experiencing and it was very isolating.
Part of the reason that over time I’ve taken every opportunity I can to give back to the community and to reach out to PMO leaders and the whole reason I’m doing this PMO IMPACT Summit is to reach back to that person that was in that role of PMO leader, whether it was early when I had no idea what I was doing or further along when I was dealing with really complex organizations and challenges and all kinds of change resistance and stakeholder stuff and all the things, I would love to have had someone that I could just call or resources or ways that I could apply what I learned directly to my environment.
That’s why I do everything I do. I love hearing you say that and I love the fact that your program does that. It’s very unique. There are not a lot of programs, actually, as far as in-person courses, you’re the only one that I know that’s doing that. It’s very similar to what I’m doing with my IMPACT Engine PMO course online, which is, you learn the content, but then we also have this group coaching aspect where a group of PMO leaders get together and they’re talking about the challenges they’re facing.
All of that makes it real and I love how that approach has, it kind of takes on a world of its own because the people that are in that learning process are doing it together. There’s these social aspects as well as all of the different visual, aural, verbal, physical ways of learning that are being applied there. We’re not just listening, it’s not just one way and there’s not just about your certificate. Thank you on behalf of PMO leaders everywhere for doing these kind of courses.
From a trainer’s business model perspective, if you’re looking at it from what I call the outputs versus the outcome mindset. If you’re looking at it from an outputs perspective, you’re just trying to drive people through these courses and giving them certificates and move on. But if you’re looking at it from an outcomes perspective, the students that are in my PMO course are, my top and IMPACT Engine PMO course are more successful because they have that coaching and that community.
That to me is what matters most. Are we achieving the outcomes, which is, that they’re able to deliver IMPACT through the PMO? That’s where the IMPACT comes back, right? It’s IMPACT in the work that they’re able to do and it’s making an IMPACT on their lives. That’s what organizations like mine and yours are more interested in. And so, it’s definitely making the case that this is what we should be thinking about from an education perspective.
Emma-Ruth: And don’t be fooled. This isn’t just about learning, this is also about leadership. Everybody listening is probably a PMO leader or striving to be a PMO leader as far as their aspiration. This is the future of how we lead people.
If we’re working this way, if we’re able to coach people instead of, “why haven’t you done this for me,” instead of the mechanical. That’s going to be a real transition for a lot of existing leaders who might think, I don’t need to do this. Who’re very much on command and control. I think this is the future of leadership. I genuinely believe that.
Laura: We’re leaning towards self-organizing teams and the servant leadership and the way that we just make work happen, there’s so much more flexibility. We need to make sure as managers and leaders that we’re adapting our style. On that, what advice do you have for PMO leaders in how to meet the needs of their team from a learning and self-development perspective?
Emma-Ruth: I use the GROW Model, which is a really common practice coaching model, which will help you to ask the right questions. Rather than have a one-to-one where you’re reviewing people for specific objectives, there are some companies that have gotten rid of the annual review now completely because actually they assume if you’re a good manager that you speak to people every day, and actually talking to them about what they need in order to be better.
One of the things we talk about in the PMO Practitioner Course is the Peter Principle, where people get promoted to their level of incompetence. We always get promoted because of what we did. You are a very good project manager, go and be a program manager. You are a very good program manager, you can go to PMO. You’re very good PMO manager, go and be a director.
We never really look at it traditionally based on what they can achieve, we only look backwards. The Peter Principle basically says at some point you’re going to hit your ceiling of, this is not your natural space anymore. We need to focus on what people can achieve. For me, that’s where coaching comes in because it’s all about developing goals for the individual and supporting them through that, but in a way that kind of gets them to figure it out themselves and you’re just kind of leading them along the way. That’s how we make future leaders because we’re actually equipping them to be in that role. Not to say, “Well, it’s your turn. You were good at that, so you must be able to be good at that.”
I think, go and find out about the GROW Model, the GROW Coaching Model. It’s done wonders for me. I also read a book called Coaching for Performance, which really opened my eyes as to some of the pitfalls of coaching. Some of the real good ways, some real examples, which I found really, really interesting. My new thing is, be human first, PMO second. Some PMOs are so focused on the mechanics, on the technical aspects of delivery. We must deliver, we must deliver, we must deliver reports, et cetera, et cetera.
Laura: Right. All those outputs.
Emma-Ruth: Yeah, we lose the human element. We need to bring that back, people. Your human first, PMO second. Grab a cup of coffee and say how’s your day going. Is there anything that we can do to make your life easier? Actually engage, interact with people. One of our PMO principles that we teach is the PMO integrators. Integrate, build that network internally.
Laura: Oh, I love that. One more question I want to ask you before we wrap up today because I can almost hear the ‘yeah, but’ monster in the minds of some of the folks listening today. We’ve talked about these different learning styles. We’ve talked about the fact that learning is changing and now I want to tackle head-on the one thing that I think stops a lot of folks and that I really push back on with my students and clients is, “Yeah, but I don’t really have time to develop myself.”
You touched on that when we talked about the course that you’re teaching in the mentoring approach. People go back to work and they’re busy and they don’t have time. I personally say, “Listen. We all have the same amount of time in the day. It’s how we’re choosing to use it.” But what advice do you have for PMO leaders when they’re saying, “I just really don’t have time for my own self-development and career development.” What do you recommend to them?
Emma Ruth: A couple of things. One, read How to be a Productivity Ninja. We know that I like Ninjas. This is not anything new. It changed the way that I work. I’m already quite organized, but it fundamentally changed the way that I attack work, from the way that I deal with emails and all of that stuff right through to how I plan for all of my next work to happen. And even literally stopped me staying up at night because I would wake up thinking, “Oh, I must do that tomorrow.” I don’t get that anymore. That would be my first thing. And it buys you time. It’s a book. You can buy it from Amazon or any other book place.
It genuinely changed the way that I work. Like you say, I’m already quite organized. But you’re right. Everybody has the same amount of time, it’s how you cover that time. For me, if you love it, it doesn’t feel like work and you don’t mind finding the time. I’m very lucky. Lots of people fell into PMO, I chose PMO. It was a conscious choice. I was sober and everything.
The fact is, yes, you’re working for somebody else. But if you don’t take time for yourself, what’s the point? We’re all human. We all have curiosity. Most of us want to learn. Few people in PMO are in it for the nine-to-five job. None of us are that. Stay curious, find stuff that you’re passionate about and just make the time. Have your Ninja hour or Ninja half an hour every day and don’t let it move for anything.
Laura: Right. It’s also about being creative about how you do it, right? You’ve talked about, you learn a lot from listening. Well, podcasts are a great way to get some quick learning. I’ve found, and that’s part of the reason I started this podcast is, when I think about the programs that I create in the work that I do, I’m always thinking about the former me, the one that was busy and overwhelmed and overworked and all of those things in the role of PMO leader for 15 years inside organizations.
I’m always going back to that person and what did she need, right? I had a really long commute for part of that time where I was in the car for three hours a day. I listened to all the great books, and learned… and this was back when I was an employee. I listened to all of those kinds of books way back before podcasts were a thing.
Now I listen to podcasts constantly. I drive my family crazy. I’m listening to a podcast in the shower. I’m listening to a podcast on a drive. I’m listening to podcasts while I’m cleaning. But it’s a great way to sneak it in and it sparks all these great ideas.
You can listen to these summit episodes. If you have lifetime access, you can just download the audios and listen to that instead of watching them live. There’s a lot of ways that we can be creative and kind of let go of those excuses of not being able to learn. I’m really glad that you brought that up.
Emma-Ruth: Yeah. I think it’s very simple. It’s your life, it’s your development. No one else can do it for you. Grab it. You only get one shot.
Laura: Exactly. Make the best of it. Make an IMPACT.
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