In the PMO Competency Framework by the House of PMO and the PMO Flashmob community, one of the frequent indicators raised for those working in a PMO is the ability to challenge, and one of the skills needed to successfully challenge, is being able to ask powerful questions.
The PMO has three different directions of questions.
People within the organisation ask questions of the PMO – often simple direct answers needed for questions such as ‘where can I find this template?’ or ‘how do I better manage the risks on this project?’
A great PMO also asks lots of questions of itself – and between PMO colleagues such as, ‘do we need to change this lessons learnt process?‘ or ‘what’s the best way to approach this tricky stakeholder?’
The PMO will be able to find a lot of value in asking insightful questions at the right time in order to get everyone within the delivery organisation, from Project Managers, to Project Teams, to even those more senior within the organisation such as Sponsors and Executives to think through the decisions they have or are about to make.
By asking challenging questions, whilst we may be disagreeing with those within our organisation, we are able to maintain a positive relationship without creating conflict or judgement.
The Six Honest Serving Men
You might have heard of Rudyard Kipling’s Six Honest Serving Men, and memorising the first four lines is very helpful.
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
Using ‘Why’ questions may come across as a little judgemental, so practice changing questions that use ‘What’, ‘When’, ‘Who’ and ‘How’ to get everyone thinking and approaching these challenging questions in a different way.
For example, instead of asking ‘Why did you do that?‘, try asking ‘What are the outcomes of that choice compared to your other options?‘
Let’s take a look at an example you may come across within the context of the PMO.
If we were looking at project prioritisation, we might typically ask: “Why have you chosen Project A over Project B?”
Instead, we could ask “What characteristics of each project are important?”
If we were behind schedule for a project, we might ask “Why hasn’t this been done yet?”
Alternatively, we could ask “Do we have an alternative approach if we need to deliver the project quicker?”
By rephrasing “Why” questions we take away any confrontation, and instead challenge those within the PMO to not only think about their answer, but also help them contemplate alternative approaches that a one word answer would perhaps not allow them to consider. In doing so, we are also able to develop stronger relationships and establish credibility for our PMOs.
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