Rupert Taylor

Rupert Taylor

October 2022

Blog| Effective PMOs| Portfolio Optimisation| Change Leadership| Sponsors| PMO reporting

Tough Economic Times are Looming: Keep Calm and Get your PMO Ready

Maintaining portfolio delivery when you don’t know what’s round the corner is a real challenge. That was the case even before COVID turned the world upside down overnight. Then, just as we started to recover from that particularly brutal sledgehammer, new global and local emergencies hit the headlines. Even as I write this blog, the UK has teetered on the brink of a catastrophic economic crisis and clawed its way back – all in the space of a few days! Faced with the challenge of delivering portfolio outcomes with certainty in a world that is bewilderingly uncertain – what’s a PMO to do?

STOP!...Let’s take a breath.

First up, make sure you register for my next live webinar, where I'll be joined by Claire Shuter, Portfolio Sponsor at Essex Cares Limited - who knows all about delivering transformative portfolio success even in the midst of a crisis scenario!

Getting - and Keeping - Portfolio Control in a Crisis: Lessons from the Pandemic


Plus, if you haven't done so already, join our PMO Learning Community to be the first to hear about new expert resources, tools, tutorials and webinars to support your PMO.

I have been at the sharp end of managing portfolios for more than twenty years now. The experience has taught me that, although the nature of crises changes, there will always be another looming somewhere on the horizon. But, if there’s one thing COVID showed us, it’s the extraordinary capacity of humans to dig deep, press on and find solutions to achieve what we thought was unachievable.

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PMOs face choppy portfolio waters ahead – but it is possible to prepare

Right now, the headline is economic uncertainty. Especially in the UK, it’s a challenge that we need to get to grips with – fast. As fiscal turbulence starts to bite, your sponsors will come knocking, in urgent need of portfolio data addressing the specific concerns they have. Especially for the less mature PMO, if you can’t turn that around, you’re in a very tricky position indeed.

It’s not your fault! You may well be halfway along a really well thought out maturity roadmap. You can’t suddenly complete that in 48 hours. As practitioners, we all understand that – but here’s the rub. When the chips are down, your sponsors won’t care about your roadmap or your process. All they know is that they need to make difficult decisions – right now – with insight and confidence.

No PMO wants to be involved in this conversation:

Sponsor: “I need to cut £10 million from Programme A, and I need to decide how to do that by Wednesday morning. What can I stop now without impacting on anything business critical?”

PMO: “Errrrrr….it’s going to take us at least a week to work the options out for you.”

Sponsor: “What? Why?”

PMO: “Well, we don’t have a central PPM tool yet, so we’ll have to collate the info manually. This won’t be an issue longer term, we’ve got a six-month plan to improve data visibility, but we’re only a month into that process so…”

Sponsor: “But I need this information by Tuesday! I’m paying you to manage the portfolio – why can’t you give me what I need?”

PMO: “…..”

Take the pain out of portfolio reporting Kivue webinar July 2022

It’s a very unpleasant place to be. The good news is that there are strategies you can employ right now to get ahead of the curve and make sure that, if this scenario occurs, you’re ready to deliver the headlines your sponsors need.

Five simple, pre-emptive PMO strategies to support sponsors through crisis decisions.

1: Take an honest look in the mirror

When a crisis hits, you’ll have no choice but to work with what you’ve got. So, be pro-active and get ahead of the situation.

Sit down – now - and take some time to map out what’s already in place. What visibility do you currently have over resources, dependencies and financials? What information could you produce, on-demand, for a sponsor, tomorrow? Then, ask your sponsors for a conversation and lay these cards on the table. Set expectations around what your PMO could and couldn’t realistically deliver should the proverbial hit the fan tomorrow. Establish their key concerns so that you know what to focus on to address any business-critical blind spots. They will appreciate your efforts to proactively look ahead, and it avoids the one thing sponsors hate more than anything – surprises!

2: Prepare your SteerCo presentation strategy

If your SteerCo meetings usually start with a 20-page PowerPoint presentation on “what our PMO did last month”, you need to change that. Even if your sponsors are tolerating this right now, the chances are it’s frustrating them. It certainly won’t go down well when they’re in crisis mode and losing sleep over how to reassure the shareholders!

Again, sit down now, identify what the key headlines are likely to be in a crisis, and realistically how you’re going to get to that information quickly when you need to. Not sure what your sponsors would want to know? Simple - ask them! Their input will streamline this work and ensure you’re aligning to their expectations. By and large, though, the questions will typically be:

  • What are the business-critical, in-flight programmes we need to preserve right now?
  • What have we not yet started that we put on hold without affecting the bottom line?
  • Where can I cut this amount of budget without affecting our revenue?
  • What are the cost and resource implications of your PMO’s recommendations?

For a closer look at this area, you can also download our free eBook: Take the Pain out of Portfolio Reporting.

Pain Free Portfolio Reporting ebook from Kivue Perform excerpt


3: Present the SteerCo with a Single Portfolio View

Once you’ve established what your sponsors might need to prioritise in a crisis – and how you’re going to deliver that information, map out how you could present that in a short, sharp, device-accessible format. Most sponsors will have around 5 minutes to look at your pre-read, so a single page featuring key headlines, RAG statuses and a couple of bullets on each point is ample.

When change and challenge happens, your sponsors won’t care how you’ve produced the pre-read, as long as they can access and understand it, fast. Run your draft format past an approachable sponsor and take feedback. Remember, you are producing pre-reads for their benefit – so do some market research and make sure your product (the pre-read) works for your customer (the sponsor).

You don’t need sophisticated tooling to do this! You could use Office apps if they’re all you have available. However, if you do want to explore a more robust solution, contact Kivue for a free demo of Perform, the powerful PPM platform with the capability to accelerate portfolio insights, escalations and benefits in as little as ten days!

4: Remember…It’s the Debate that Matters

In a crisis situation, what sponsors need, more than anything, is enough information to drive a credible, informed debate. So, when you’re planning your “let’s be ready” crisis strategy, remember that the information you provide needs to fuel questions like these (and help your sponsors to answer them):

  • What are the options we have available to us right now?
  • What are the likely consequences of taking these options – at a top-line level?
  • What are the likely consequences of not taking these options?
  • Broadly, what resources and tools do we need put these options into action?
  • What might the fallout be from this plan of action and how can we mitigate that?

5: Come at this from your sponsor’s perspective

Portfolio crisis conversations are always potentially difficult, but it helps to remember that your sponsor will be under even more pressure than you are! They will be stretched to the max, carrying the responsibility for staff, customers, and shareholders alike. So, take time now to make sure your PMO is ready to support them. They will appreciate your foresight and, most importantly, you will equip them to do everything they can to protect the portfolio so that the business can weather financial storms and emerge stronger than ever.

If you enjoyed this article by Rupert, we're preparing to release more free thought leadership resources very soon. So, become a part of our PMO Learning Community and we'll make sure you’re the first to know about new free resources, tools, tutorials and events, designed to support your PMO through turbulent times ahead.

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