PMO Leader Interview: John Kocon, Guest Speaker - Colorado PMO Forum

Posted by Amy Dingle on 9/22/16 2:31 PM


As we get closer to the Colorado PMO Forum next week on September 29th, get to know our guest speaker John Kocon!

What was your professional journey to becoming a PMO leader?

I began my career in the Aerospace Industry as a Financial Analyst supporting Engineering and Manufacturing organizations.  My responsibilities initially centered around Financial planning and management, but expanded to include resource management and earned value reporting.  As the company was awarded additional and larger Department of Defense contracts, my responsibilities increased to include the implementation of a Project Management Information System (PMIS).  This became my first role as a Project Support Office (PSO) leader.  In order to improve collaboration, communication and performance across multiple business units, I established project management standards that were awarded company best practice.  This experience formed the foundation that I built upon and led to a series of PMO leadership roles across a wide range of industries.


What was the biggest challenge you faced as a PMO leader in your career? How did you overcome that challenge? 

The biggest, and most consistent, challenge I have faced is resistance to change by individuals and groups.  This may be due to a variety of reasons - from people just not feeling comfortable with change to those who perceive a change as a threat.  One PMO initiative where I have routinely encountered resistance to change is that of project portfolio management.

This example takes place at a large, complex organization that had a big appetite for projects, little project governance and a difficult time saying “no”.  As a result, the project request process was more of a “fire hose” where all projects requested were approved.  There was limited transparency of the project portfolio, too many projects to track and poor project performance.  Although some in the organization were receptive to process improvement, most were comfortable with legacy processes, responsibilities, culture and results.

My first step was to create awareness and a sense of urgency regarding the Information Technology (IT) project portfolio composition and performance.  This was accomplished through ad-hoc project portfolio reviews.  I also shared my PMO vision, and as part of this vision, formed a project portfolio governance steering committee and sub-committees.  Through cross functional collaboration, we implemented a demand management system and a governance model based on Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies (COBIT).      

The first series of IT project portfolio reviews focused on reviewing each of the 800+ project requests and in-flight projects for strategic alignment, duplication and performance.  This was an initial effort that resulted in the elimination of 600 projects and established a simple list of priority projects.  Next, I moved the organization towards project portfolio prioritization by working with IT leaders to force rank the top 10 projects within each region and function.  This resulted not only in the first list of prioritized projects within a region, but also across all of IT.  Now that the project portfolio was more focused and manageable by region/function, executive level reports were provided to facilitate discussion between business and IT leaders.  

As the scope of the PMO expanded to include non-IT projects, so did the scope of project portfolio management.  In order to expand project portfolio management across the enterprise, I formed a Project Executive Steering Committee.  This provided the opportunity to move to the next level of project portfolio management maturity.  After leading several discussions regarding the importance of project investment selection and performance, the decision was made to improve our project portfolio prioritization methodology.  This was accomplished through a combination of cross functional meetings and by reviewing project prioritization methodology good practices.   We implemented the methodology and displayed the “calculated” prioritization results using a two by two matrix – on one axis a project complexity score and on the other axis a strategic alignment score.  This calculated representation was the starting point to discuss and establish project priorities.  This approach provided guidance for resource allocation and increased the strategic alignment of the project portfolio from 30% to 96%.

These actions transformed the project portfolio management culture from a “fire hose” to a “funnel”, from an unmanageable to manageable portfolio size, from limited to full project portfolio transparency and from below to above average project portfolio performance. 


What key competencies and/or skills make a great PMO leader?

Like other leaders, PMO leaders develop skills over time based on their experiences and learnings.  Just as there are many threads woven into a tapestry, there are many qualities intertwined in a great PMO leader.  These qualities will not be exactly that same from PMO leader to PMO leader.  Rather, the blend of qualities will be driven by a variety of factors such as corporate culture, organizational business process maturity, PMO scope, business needs and stakeholder personalities.  However, a few key qualities include:

  • Project Management: experienced practitioner, business acumen, talk-the-talk having walked-the-walk
  • Vision: setting and communicating vision, adjusting by collecting feedback
  • Anticipation: identify, communicate and solve potential problems; identify the needs of others
  • Communication: knowing what, when, how and to whom to communicate
  • Organization: structure, process, discipline; don’t let things fall through the cracks
  • Leadership: interact, influence, negotiate, motivate, teambuilding; set an example
  • Balance: analytical but practical, focused on the big picture but understand the supporting detail


What organizational and/or cultural characteristics allow PMOs to succeed and thrive?

The definition of PMO success may vary from one organization to another.  However, I have encountered several corporate characteristics that I believe enable PMO success: 

  • Project driven organization
  • A culture that supports change and continuous improvement
  • Strong sponsorship that is knowledgeable and supportive
  • Fact-based decision making
  • Commitment, discipline, follow through


How do you exhibit and measure the value the PMO brings to your organization?

PMO value can be measured differently from organization to organization.  This is partly driven by a number of factors including PMO maturity, business needs and corporate culture.  In order to demonstrate value, PMOs not only need to understand business drivers, but also how best to communicate with stakeholders.  PMO metrics can be pushed or pulled, in electronic or hard copy format, by executive summary or bottoms up detail and published via e-mail, newsletters, meetings, web sites, public display areas and communication center.

PMO value can be quantitatively measured, e.g., cost savings hitting the bottom line, or qualitatively measured, e.g., improving communication.  PMO value can be measured as a snapshot in time or as a trend over a period of time.  PMO value is in the eye of the beholder.  A few examples include:

  • Project management standards effectiveness and adoption level
  • Project customer satisfaction level
  • Project portfolio decision support information
  • Cost savings, cost performance index
  • Time to market, schedule performance index
  • Project portfolio performance: reduction of at-risk and failed projects


Have you registered for the Colorado PMO Forum? If not, there is still time! 

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Topics: PMO