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Would You Do Business With You?

It’s time to pivot your thinking.

Rather than considering the processes and systems you have in place as ‘what your PMO does’, try considering them as ‘services’ you are offering your internal clients.

Then ask yourself — would you choose your offering over competing services on the open market?

Be honest here.

If yes, great. If no, also great.

Either way – you are now thinking with the new frame of mind that you need to truly create a High Value PMO and embed it within your organisation.

…And, whether you mean to or not, you are now considering the Value Equation. Shown below, getting the Value Equation right underpins your success in creating sustainable and self-propagating processes and systems.

Thankfully, the Value Equation is nice and simple. It’s 2 columns:

  • What your customers get (reward), and
  • How painful it is to get it (pain).


Clearly you want more pluses and less negatives, but there’s some interesting science behind it…

The Interesting Science Behind It

Over the last half century behavioural studies of those suffering from chronic pain have found that we humans will actively avoid any activity that we fear will result in a painful experience.

No surprises there.

However, in 2012 a group of behavioural scientists at Ghent University in Belgium felt that the current pain-avoidance thinking was too narrow. They hypothesised that the findings to date on pain-avoidance were sorely[1] one sided; and that the decision to avoid or persist with a painful activity is likely affected by the level of motivational conflict at the point of decision.

In short – they wondered if we only avoid pain when we don’t have a good enough reason to endure it.

So, they put together an experiment[2], and like all good experiments, it included zapping people with electricity. After gaining approval from the Ghent University’s ethical committee – they were good to go.

The 56 undergraduate students that volunteered to participate in the experiment were promptly split into two groups.

The first group of poor souls were the ‘control’ group. Their job was to demonstrate that undergraduate students were also pain adverse. They were strapped into a device that asked them to complete a series of simple number and letter based tasks. The catch was that on completion of 50% of these tasks, the participant received a mildly painful electro-shock. As you would expect, the group completed very few of these tasks.

The second group were deemed the ‘competition’ group. This group were provided a slightly different proposition – they were offered a monetary reward. After being strapped into the same device as the control group, this group were provided an incentive. Each time participants in this group were shocked, their input screen showed an increasing point score. The higher the point score, the higher the monetary reward they received.

The result: The second group willingly completed far more of the pain-inducing tasks.

If we translate this experiment into our Value Equation, the reason for this result becomes obvious. We end up with a Value Equation that looks something like this:


Simply put – there was a high task completion rate by the competition group because the value equation was balanced back towards the Reward Column. Completing the tasks and enduring the pain became ‘worth it’.

Let’s bring this back to PMOs.

Why PMOs Suffer from Adherence Issues

Almost every PMO I’ve worked with has suffered with adherence issues at one stage or another. The good news is I can tell you exactly what’s going wrong.

As you might have already guessed, it’s got to do with the Value Equation. Most PMOs build processes that look something like this:


Or perhaps we should look at one of the most ignored aspects of project management I’ve ever come across – Lessons Learned. Most organisations just shove ‘Lessons Learned’ into their project closure reports – which then get filed away and forgotten about.

What are the chances we are getting good adherence or high-quality content in there? Let’s look at the Value Equation for it.


Looking at the Value Equation – we start to see why most projects just tend to fade away rather than close and reflect. The value proposition is usually a deep negative.

So, What Can We Do?

We can use the information from our client clarity work to stack our Value Equations towards our clients. Your aim here is to create a balanced and more rewarding solution for them.

Let’s have another look at the project reporting example we used earlier. Except, this time, let’s assume this PMO has entered the High Value Service cycle (and is therefore continually improving their service offering), while ensuring ongoing focus on their Clients’ success.

Their Project Reporting Value Offering may look something like the following. For the Executives, the Value Equation is nice and strong.


For the Project Managers, the Value Equation is similarly net Positive.


There are a few things you may notice here.

First, the process was renamed. It’s now called the Project Reporting Service. The PMO in this example has shifted its focus from ‘command & control’ to service-centred. It now views reporting as one of the many ways it serves its client base. Like a vendor, it is therefore continually looking for ways to:

  • increase the quality of its service,
  • decrease the pain its clients feel in accessing the service, and,
  • reduce PMO effort to offer the service.

For this PMO, this focus led to the purchase of an off-the-shelf project reporting toolset. The off-the-shelf solution automatically pulled information from disparate project sources so that the Project Manager and PMO didn’t have to.

Second, the ‘Reward’ columns now outweigh the ‘Pain’ columns. This is because the PMO designed this service offering with the Value Equation in mind. It also focused on approaching the projects with a ‘high trust’ viewpoint. This changed the relationships with their project managers. It also reduced cumulative workload as it reduced the time it took to follow up reports.

Ultimately – this PMO shifted the tables from a net negative to a net positive. Any guesses on what this did for its adherence?

…If you guessed that it improved, then you would be correct.

So, how do your PMO services stack up?

[1] Excuse the pun, I couldn’t help myself

[2] Van Damme S, Van Ryckeghem DM, Wyffels F, Van Hulle L, & Crombez G (2012). No pain no gain? Pursuing a competing goal inhibits avoidance behavior. Pain, 153 (4)

Creating High Value PMOs

This is a excerpt from Creating High Value PMOs: Your Essential Guide.

Order Your Copy Here:

Brendon Baker

Brendon is a leading expert in strategic framing and inside-out change. He has led and guided over $11 Billion in transformative projects and programs, from transformations to teddy bears. He is the author of the best-seller Valuable Change, and niche top seller Creating High Value PMOs. Brendon now spends his time helping leaders cut through the noise to focus on what matters; working with them to create new realities.

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