Challenges and Solutions from an Expert PMO Leader

Henry Bennett

Welcome to 2021 and all the exciting opportunities that await! We have kicked off the new year with a focus on transformation and innovation in project and portfolio management. In our last article, “PMO and Organizational Transformation: Crossing the Digital Rubicon,” we explored how many organizations crossed the point of no return with regard to digital adoption in 2020, including making new strides in their approach to PMO transformation.

Of course, every transformation, no matter how necessary, comes with unique complications. That’s why we’re tapping into expert PMO advice on managing challenges and finding solutions in Part Two of “The 2021 Transformation Blueprint: Agile PM for an Adaptive World.”

In December, KeyedIn hosted an informative webinar titled Agile Portfolio Management in an Adaptive World. Several hundred attendees heard insights from top minds in multiple industries as they addressed digital adoption, PMO transformation and more. Below, we offer five of their best tips for change management to help you make the new year a fresh start in organizational growth and business transformation.

Tip #1: Set the Expectation that Change Takes Time

Many organizations make sweeping changes with a limited understanding of how long it can take for full implementation to take hold. That can be a real problem for successful transformation. “Most of the literature and research out there says, it's going to take you anywhere from 18 to 36 months,” says Traci Meineke, the director of program management at Pearson Education and a speaker at the recent KeyedIn webinar.

Meineke’s team executed an excellent adoption strategy for their PPM tool implementation that has yielded phenomenal results since they first launched their plan in 2016. Setting realistic expectations around the adoption timeline is important. If your teams think things should be quick and easy, they’ll ultimately balk when inevitable challenges and delays arise. Timelines for adoption should be thoughtful and should prepare adopters for potential problems.

Tip #2: Cultivate Buy-In

If you have read any of our recent articles on change management, you’ll see that we stress over and over just how critical it is to build your buy-in on the front end — before you begin implementation. You want to sell the benefits early and generate support so you have a solid foundation upon which to launch your change management strategy. Meineke advises people to embrace the enthusiastic early adopters and be aware of the doubts and concerns of your resistors. “We made sure that we were really cognizant and aware of our resistors and we listened to them and implemented things from them to help move forward, to get them off that resistor list and into the adoption bucket,” Meineke explains.

Tip #3: Amplify Your Positives and Quickly Resolve Your Negatives

As noted above, the process for adoption and transformation can take a while. In order to eliminate change fatigue, it’s vital that every win, no matter how small, is celebrated. The best way to find those quick wins is to set them up in the first place. “We chose projects that we knew would be successful and not have big churn,” says Meineke. “We were able to spotlight and say, ‘Hey, look at this great thing that happened over here with project A.’”

Just as you select and promote easy wins, so too should you resolve any easily fixable problems. Don’t allow tiny issues with reporting or logins or data collation to fester. Your team will feel frustrated and develop workarounds that may feel impossible to change later and your credibility as a change leader will take a hit. If it can be fixed fast and easy, there’s no reason not to get it done and prove your dedication to a smooth transition.

Tip #4: Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead

Far too many organizations stop trying when they should really just be getting started. It’s not enough to install a new PPM tool or take on some new Agile portfolio management methodologies. Lasting change is sustained by dedication to the process and ensuring that it is executed thoroughly and properly across the organization.

In the webinar, Meineke outlined where her organization refused to quit once their PPM tool was launched successfully, noting that dissent begins when people begin to deviate from the plan in minor ways, circumventing processes that were set in place for a specific purpose. “This is where we really dug in and we started to look at how are people actually using the tool,” says Meineke. “We started to find that we actually had more resistors at this point and realized we had another mountain to climb.” The solution? An increased focus on communication.

Tip #5: Communication Is Critical

People who resist change the hardest often feel like they are not being heard or that their needs don’t matter. This can be a particularly prevalent problem in larger organizations where it’s easy for someone to slip through the cracks. No one is inconsequential in change management, no matter how small their role. By actively engaging all members of every team, your organization can work to ensure those little seeds of doubt and frustration don’t grow into a forest of frustration and disruption. How do you stay engaged?
  • Mentorship sessions: One-on-one and group mentorship sessions allow people to feel heard and respected.
  • Surveys: Ask outright what people need to get on board with the process and give them an opportunity to speak freely.
  • Apply their suggestions where applicable: Every request cannot be honored (going back to the way things were, for example), but many of your employees will have solid requests that can actually make a positive overall impact.
  • Lead by example: Ensure leadership is not cultivating resistance from the top — that’s a more common problem than you might think.
  • Amplify your enthusiastic adopters: Let your adopters spread their good cheer and sell their co-workers on the benefits.
We hope these tips are useful in your change management journey and set you up for long-term success as the new year unfolds. Stay tuned for Part 3 in our Transformation Blueprint series titled, “Accurate Forecasting and Team Resourcing: Keys to PMO Success,” where we share new ways to support your team through Agile project and portfolio management strategies. Until then, stay informed by visiting our website at, where we offer a wealth of educational resources for all your project and portfolio management concerns.