December 17, 2017


Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

Challenges faced by new Project Managers and how to overcome them

By Liz Dewing

pm challengesLooking back at being a “new” Project Manager (about 27 years ago!!), what I’m most conscious of, is that back then there was very little available to me in the way of established wisdom about how to BE a Project Manager. It was something I needed to work out as I went along.

In some respects that was useful: it certainly meant I learned an awful lot the hard way – by getting it wrong – and believe me, that kind of learning sticks!! On the other hand, it was a very inefficient way of operating because it took me longer than necessary to acquire a well-rounded toolkit.

Guides and Best Practices

Nowadays we are almost at the opposite extreme – where there is very little opportunity for the school of hard knocks, and almost every aspect has an associated operating manual or set of best practices. The challenge now is to filter, out of the plethora of guides and documented frameworks, that which is most relevant to your situation.

The reality is that having too much at your disposal is almost as bad as having too little!

One of the worst mistakes a new Project Manager can make in my opinion is to fall in love with theory and to try to impose the “ideal model” on real world projects without the filter of pragmatism and context.  There is nothing guaranteed to create frustration and animosity between PM and Stakeholders faster than a situation where the PM is trying to impose an inappropriate level of control or making excessive demands for governance.


If there is no Project Office in place, providing a rational set of guidelines about governance relative to the project, then the next best way to tackle this as a new PM, is to make sure that you take the time to sit down with your Sponsor / Key Stakeholders. You need to negotiate and agree on the project approach, including which processes will be applied to what level of detail, and what management documentation is to be produced. Raise your concerns and express your wishes – but let them determine the level of governance that they believe is best suited to what is, after all, their delivery.

I have found that creating a Sign-off Matrix (click for sample) which details who will be required to approve what artefact or deliverable, in what capacity, is a really useful way of sensitizing people to what is coming, helping them ensure that they:

  1. Understand the process to create artefacts
  2. Make time for the necessary reading and reviews
  3. Understand what their signature actually means when they are asked to approve something (i.e. correctness of content / correctness of process / ownership etc.

I also find that getting the main decisions forums established quickly, with clarity about mandate, frequency and agenda, really helps a new PM because it creates an “advisory panel” that is intrinsically balanced by the presence of both high-control stakeholders and those who are comfortable with higher levels of risk.  Taking governance decisions to these panels can help a new PM navigate and acquire an understanding as to the organisation’s culture and appetite for controls.


Liz Dewing-Magnetic NorthAbout the Author: Liz Dewing has an extensive career in IT, Project and Project Office Management with various organisations, including 13 years with Old Mutual South Africa. After 8 years running a Strategy Delivery Project Office, Liz left to focus on Magnetic North – a Consultancy through which she helps people to use their powers of speech more effectively in business and career.

Project Management: How a PMO Can Make a Difference

PMORecently I attended a Virtual Conference hosted by the International Institute of Learning (IIL). A presentation by James C. Brown about how a PMO can make a difference was very insightful. Today I want to share some of what I have learned from him about Project Offices and the value that they bring.

PMO Perceptions

Often there are many perceptions about Project Management Offices (PMO’s) in organisations. They are considered to be ‘Report Generators’, ‘Process Creators’, ‘Infastructure builders – building and maintaining costing, time-keeping and scheduling tools etc’, ‘Dashboard/Scorecard experts’, ‘Organisational home of Project/Program managers’, ‘process police’ and so on.

In reality a PMO is and should be much more than any of the above. Let’s take a closer look at what the goal of the PMO should be.

Goal of a PMO

According to James Brown and the research that he has done, the goal of a PMO is the following:

“The right information at the right time in the right hands.”

For a PMO the commodity is information. How a PMO manages and communicates that information to others so that they know where it is, have it at the right time, and it’s pertinent to them to use it, interact with it, and make decisions with it, is the key to success.

When you want your PMO to deliver real value, you need to make Portfolio Management your goal. This would include:

  • Strategy development
  • Revenue planning and budget development
  • Functional resource management
  • Project execution

And how all of the above relate to one another.

James Brown states that for a PMO to be successful, the PMO needs to make life easier for the stakeholders by providing data that they need for decision making and making visible what projects have done for the organisation at any given time.

Types of PMO’s

Traditionally there are 3 types of PMO’s:

  1. Auditing – responsible for auditing methodologies and compliance with quality and standards.
  2. Enabling – to improve the maturity and effectiveness of project leaders
  3. Executing – actively engaged in implementations, responsible for facilitating and doing project work.

The ultimate vision, according to Brown, is to be a bit of all these types, but being flexible depending on the needs of the organisation.  For a PMO to survive it should become agile, which means it must learn to adapt and overcome challenges.

Some critical success factors for successful PMO’s are:

  • To support the vision of the Leadership team (innovation, cost savings, growth etc)
  • Focus on value delivered from a stakeholders point of view
  • Support decision management with data that matters to stakeholders
  • To improve forecast capabilities
  • To provide near real-time data that is always accessable

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Please share in the comments section if your organisation has a PMO and what your perception is of the value that your PMO delivers.

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