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Why Did I Become a PMO Manager? – Emma-Ruth Arnaz-Pemberton

Emma-Ruth Arnaz-Pemberton is a member of the ProjectDirectors.Org community. She shares hes story on why she became a PMO Manager in the following interview:

Why did you become a PMO Manager?

Like a lot of people in the early 2000’s I fell into project management. I was asked to go and setup an international arm of an organisation; no-one called it a project but that’s what I was doing for sure. Since then, I worked in project and programmes until the term PMO turned up at an industry conference – that’s when I realised that was what I wanted to do when I grew up!

What work were you doing previously?

I worked in training and quality for an insurance company. Managing a team of coaches and trainers with particular focus on the quality of the customer experience.

What are you doing now?

I run my own consultancy firm. ERAP Consulting Ltd offers services across the Project, Programme and Portfolio spectrum with a particular focus on PMO conception, strategy, methods, technology and capability development.

Often though in recent times, the mechanics of how organisations run projects are not the problem; so I utilise my experience in change management and training to spend a significant portion of my time with teams coaching, and focusing on collaboration & engagement models. It always comes down to people in the end!

As an aside to my own business I Chair the Association for Project Management (APM) PMO Specific Interest Group. The committee and I try to take the PMO industry to the next level with research, events, and publishing material. This year our themes are around taking the PMO back to basics and the Value of the PMO in organisations.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

I suppose I have had two – firstly when I decided to move into PMO which was a decision based on my interest in the possibility of making project and programme management better for the organisation I was working for; and the second being when I left permanent employment to start my own business.

The second is most significant.

I strongly believe that a good PMO can be a game changer for any organisation. I was quite frustrated a few years ago when the articles, events, and consultants that I had worked with were all saying the same thing – I always joked that my consultancy firm could be different.

I like to innovate; the last PMO that I worked in as a permanent employee was ahead of its curve, a true innovator in the way it operated and I decided to try and give the same to other organisations. So, I woke up brave one morning, handed in my notice and haven’t looked back since!

Are you happy with the change?

Definitely. Having my own business gives me flexibility to come away and do work with the APM – for the second year running, I am judging the APM Awards which provides a wonderful view into the wider industry. I also can ‘choose’ the type of work I do and the direction I want to take the business in.

When I started, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to ‘be’ – interestingly, I have actually changed that viewpoint twice in two years already!

The first is that I started to take a long hard look at technology and am now working in a PMO role with a particular focus on implementing Microsoft Office 365 and SharePoint. Together the technology and the PMO processes can be exceptionally powerful.

The second relates to my comment earlier about coaching and mentoring. One thing that is clear is that often when things go a bit awry, we focus on the ‘broken processes’ and ways of working (the mechanics) of whatever we do. It’s ok and human nature to react that way. As a consultant, I can come in and fix those no problem.

My experience has taught me however that the ‘broken processes’; although annoying and not fit for purpose, generally work, are recognised, and sort of get the job done. If I spend a little more time and dig a little deeper, I bet I can find more important things that need fixing like relationships, understanding of the value, and clarity on what a PMO exists to do. By focusing on a mixture of the mechanics and the collaboration/engagement I can provide a more personalised service to organisations, give them a toolkit that works for THEIR organisation, and a roadmap for sustained success.

What do you miss and what don’t you miss?

I think the great people I get to work with along the way – it’s hard to leave colleagues no matter how short a time span I was

And that’s because I still find it hard to not be an employee – if I’m with a client for four weeks I ‘work there’ for four weeks, I try to immerse myself into the values of the organisation to truly understand what makes it tick and get a proper feel for what will or won’t work. This means I get emotionally attached, but I think that’s what makes me unique and helps me to provide a real solution!

I recently completed a short assignment at a fire service – this photo shows the extent I will go to in order to get a feel for the organisation (or a fire truck)!

How did you go about making this career move?

Believe it or not, I read a book “We bought a zoo”. There is a scene in the book that changed the way I looked at everything, really! The short version: the little boy wants to do something but is scared, and his father says to him “sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage… and something great will come of it”.

It stuck with me, so I wrote my resignation letter, breathed, pressed send, and that was that. 20 seconds of fear actually changed my world! I now have that quote on my wall and I try to live my life that way – it has led to many interesting situations!

What didn’t go well? What ‘wrong turns’ did you take?

I believe that we make all the decisions that are right for us at the time, so I don’t have any regrets really on making the career move. Personally I think we are all constantly evolving so I’ve definitely dropped a few clangers along the way – but the important thing is that you learn from them.

How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?

I am a bit of an excel geek so my spreadsheet ruled my life – it tells me how much to pay myself, what I need to save for my taxes and helps track my invoices. It also keeps my accountant VERY happy.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

I am quite adaptable naturally, but I think the biggest is trying to go into an organisation and change the way I work, talk, even dress sometimes to match the culture. It’s a work in progress, and it means I am usually a little quiet for the first few days, once I get to grips with it all I revert back to my slightly mad, very talkative self!

What were other difficulties and how did you overcome them?

Anyone who starts up a business will say the same thing. Building a buffer is the hardest thing, getting used to the new financial situation is tough, the first few invoices may mean you don’t get paid for 3 months, so it’s about being smart – and in my case, have a spreadsheet!

What help did you get?

I have a good accountant who talks to me like a human and not a finance person, great mentors who I could call on for advice on how to write my first quote, how to decide on my terms of business, etc. I work hard to bridge gaps in geography to keep in touch with people who have inspired and taught me over the years.

What have you learnt in the process?

Networking is key! That’s true if you are talking about being a business owner, a project manager or a PMO. Be present, and make yourself known to whoever your audience, customers, and stakeholders are. Stick your head up above the parapet and opportunities will find their way to you.

What do you wish you’d done differently?

Done it earlier! It’s a big leap, and my personal circumstances at the time meant I didn’t have to worry too much about the consequences if it all went wrong so I was lucky. Some people are not as fortunate.

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

Personally, if you are passionate about it, no matter what it is, try.

From a PMO perspective, my advice is to stay current, adapt to the organisation, sell what you stand for as well as what you offer, and demonstrate the value you add in a clear and simple way.