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Dione Miller18-Feb-2022 14:14:1913 min read

SAP Project Poker: 5 Cards your PMO must have up their sleeve

I don’t know about you, but the first time I saw a professional poker game on TV, something just didn’t look right.

As I watched the players throw in their chips, peer over their sunglasses, and play their hands, I couldn’t shake the feeling that despite the thousands of pounds at stake, it was all just a bit dry.

Then it hit me - this wasn’t the same game of poker I’d grown up watching in the movies.

You see, in real poker tournaments people play texas hold’em - a game where the players combine their 2 hole cards with cards lying face up on the table to make their hand.

In the movies though - at least in all the classic cowboy films - they play 5 card draw.

In 5 card draw each player has 5 cards, known only by them, played close to their chest.

Betting takes place, the tension rises, and a single bead of sweat rolls down a plucky underdog’s face as he plays the con of the century.

Finally, the hands are played and the saloon erupts. Glasses are thrown, tables are flipped and shots are fired.

Turns out he had an ace up his sleeve all along. Now that’s a game of poker.

But what about you in the PMO. What if there wasn’t just one, but 5 aces you could keep up your sleeve to win any boardroom face off?

Well luckily, there is - so let’s get started.

The 5 cards of the Perfect SAP PMO Poker hand

If you’re a Project Manager or if you’ve worked on a few big projects in your time, you probably know what PMO best practice looks like.

However, best practice can seem like a distant memory when you’re 6 months deep into a project.

So let me ask you this:

If we all know what PMO best practice looks like why do we keep finding ourselves stuck with a PMO that isn’t up to scratch?

Is best practice just a myth?

Is it some kind of conspiracy?

Maybe the truth is out there, the world is flat, and PMO best practice is just something the CIA invented to keep the IT industry under control, man.

Or maybe not.

The PMO should be everything you’ve dreamed of and more, and - with just a few simple steps - you can have a highly effectively PMO that provides the support you need on your project.

Stick with us as we show you how to create a PMO that is:

  • Taking charge of delivery and processes
  • A connected and trusted advisor
  • Insightful, providing intelligence about the initiative
  • Challenging the PM and Execs
  • Constantly striving for improvement

Let’s get started

Card 1. Taking charge of delivery and processes

When you think of a PMO this is likely the first thing that springs to mind.

So why are we wasting time talking about something so obvious?

There are things in delivery that should just work, that you should be able to take for granted, and that are at the core of what a PMO is responsible for.

Administering project delivery and creating reliable and easy to use processes are the foundation on which the rest of a PMO’s performance can be built.

Get these two things right and the rest will follow - so they’re worth doing properly.

If you want a PMO that can effectively administer project delivery you need to make sure they’re rock solid in the following areas:

  • Ensuring that information flows between workstreams, from management to execs, from execs to management and project resources.
  • Great communication, a common understanding of status, and shared detail, ensuring decisions can be made effectively
  • Having the right measures of success.
  • Having realistic plans at the right level, with the right ownership and inputs.
  • Identifying people, onboarding them, and ensuring there is a balanced capacity through all phases and projects.
  • Making sure risks are identified and avoided, and that the right people focus on the right issues.
  • Checking that deliverables are produced on time and to the right quality.
  • Having well managed suppliers.
  • Managing the budget.
  • Understanding and controlling change

These are fundamental things that any PMO should be doing. However, it is often the case that they’re doing them inefficiently, ineffectively, or just failing altogether.

So what can you do it about it?

Why do SAP PMOs fail?

If the PMO is underperforming in these key areas it is likely because they don’t fully own their processes.

You’ll often find this is the case with a PMO that is struggling to establish itself and isn’t empowered to make improvements.

So what can you do?

What can you do to empower your SAP PMO?

The PMO exists to administer project delivery and implement vital processes. 

So what is the point of not giving them total ownership of said processes?

Why have a dog and bark yourself?

All too often company politics and bad project management stop a PMO from being effective. And it’s something you must remedy straight away. 

Here’s how you empower your PMO to own their processes and project administration.

  • Look at the wider IT/Delivery operating model and map out where the PMO sits within it.
  • Establish a PMO terms of reference. Understand where responsibilities for processes and methods have previously sat and get acceptance from IT leaders for the new model with PMO ownership.
  • Define processes with inputs from anyone who has a role in delivery. Make them streamlined and supported by tools and automation.
  • Include PMO process overviews in onboarding of people into delivery.
  • Appoint PMO process owners, regularly review processes and revise as necessary.
  • Take charge of project reporting. Don’t waste time running multiple reports for different stakeholders. Standardise reports for one version of the truth.

Make these changes you will have an empowered PMO - and the first card up your sleeve in the perfect SAP poker hand.

Up next...

Card 2. A connected and trusted advisor

A good PMO has worked on countless similar projects - which makes them the experts.

What they lack in business knowledge they make up for in project know how - making them the perfect advisors to PMs and business managers alike.

Their experience, independence, and influence is vital when it comes to:

  • Creating safe project environments - building teams that work together, not in competition but towards a common goal.
  • Spotting problems before they arise - knowing when to hit the pause button and stop chasing silly targets.
  • Championing the business case when others get caught up in company politics and personal point scoring

The PMO is perfectly placed to steer the ship away from catastrophe and back towards the projects objectives. When tribal war breaks out across the office the PMO should be the one to play referee and remind everyone what they’re their to do.

So why isn’t that happening on your project?

Why don’t all SAP PMOs operate this way?

Simply put some PMOs just aren’t set up right.

They don’t have the right skills mix, the right terms of reference, or the right position within an organisation.

If the PMO hasn’t been empowered to be the independent driving force running all processes across a project, they don’t have the authority or universality to be a useful advisor to senior people, nor do they have the trust on the business. 

It’s time to put it right.

What can you do?

  • Let your PMO support your project by empowering them to be the sagely guides you need.
  • Ensure your PMO has executive sponsorship and a clear mission to provide reliable data driven and experience led insight.
  • Get the resource mix right. Choose individuals with different backgrounds, multiple skill-sets, and include some members with an SAP delivery management background.
  • Coach team members, emboldening them to be creative and proactive.
  • Have a good understanding of project stakeholders. The PMO should work with the PM to manage stakeholders; understanding their needs and securing their support. 
  • Embed PMO advisors or analysts in activities and meetings such as project team meetings to ensure they can support, challenge, and understand the context and needs of individual initiatives without duplicating effort in separate updates.

Card 3. Insightful, providing intelligence about the initiative

Business Intelligence is at the heart of any SAP project.

To realise your business case for SAP you need clear, accurate, and actionable information.

A good PMO will tell you what numbers you need to track, and go off and gather the data in the best way possible.

With the right tools, processes, and data collection, your PMO can provide consistent KPI reports and any ad-hoc support and analysis you need.

So why do some PMO’s not know their arse from their elbow, let alone have the numbers you need as and when you need them?

Why doesn’t your project have access to the intelligence required for initiative decision making?

There can be many reasons why good data isn’t available, or why good data is turned bad by poor or incomplete analysis.

Usually it’s a combination of things:

  • not defining what success looks like
  • not measuring the right things
  • not collecting information consistently
  • not forecasting
  • not saving data to provide a historical view. 

Sometimes it’s simply that you’re looking at the wrong things - that you can’t see the wood for the trees.

You’re in ‘analysis paralysis’. And what’s worse, your PMO let you get there.

If you’re going to be your boardroom’s resident card shark you need to turn it around.

What can you do?

  • Identify KPIs up front that align to creating business benefit. Don’t let business leaders or stakeholders railroad you into tracking the wrong data to chase irrelevant targets
  • Capture data related to efficiency such as handoffs between teams.
  • Capture data consistently across teams, phases and initiatives.
  • Show that shared information and transparent decision making ensures that people understand their place and impact on the project
  • Identify tools to help with analysis and make them visual (but don’t become over reliant on them to spit out the answers)
  • Be open. Create a culture where it’s okay to admit that decisions are partly intuition led, and add extra analysis when the impact of getting it wrong is high.

Card 4. Challenging the PM and Execs on SAP Projects

Many a western starts with a corrupt sheriff, bloated and drunk as his townspeople are terrorised by the local banditos.

That is until a band of heroes burst through the town walls, overthrowing the corrupt ruling class and saving the towns in the process.

When the time comes, it is the PMOs job to break down walls and shake things up at the top, challenging PMs and Execs when they are no longer doing what is best for the project.

An empowered PMO adds value by challenging assumptions and having difficult conversations that people often don’t want to have.

Through this they build respect that engenders support for all that the PMO do - including adherence to process.

We’ve already covered “empowering the PMO” earlier when we discussed ownership of processes - but this is different.

This is about the PMO being truly independent, about them being able to stand up to even the most Senior people to say “I’m sorry but you’re wrong - and I know because I am the expert”.

So where’s your PMO Annie Oakley?

Why aren’t all SAP PMOs empowered? Why aren’t all SAP PMOs proactive?

Where PMOs lack independence - for example when they are SI led - they will not be empowered to challenge and advise in ways which make a difference.

Proactive behaviours thrive in open environments with reduced hierarchies, where people’s opinions are valued, and where individuals and teams understand why what they do matters.

If your PMO isn’t truly independent, or if you have created a working environment in which it’s made clear the PM and the Execs rule is law, it is impossible for the PMO to provide the vital counterpoint that’s required to keep a project on track.

What can you do?


  • Ensure the PMO report to Sponsors, the Board and Executives as well as PMs.
  • Set up a PMO which is independent of your main solution provider (where you are using third parties to deliver).
  • Have a strong PMO lead facing off to other IT leaders.
  • Use your PMO to validate PM effectiveness.
  • Coach PMO team members to constructively challenge an initiative’s delivery leads.

Card 5. Constantly striving for improvement

No matter how well you think your PMO is working there are always new challenges to overcome. But innovation is not just about reacting to change.

There are always things that can go wrong in delivery and whilst most projects pay lip service to “learnings”, few have robust plans in place to really prevent mistakes from happening again.

The benefits of learning from good and bad practices on a project are significant. Improvements in project delivery lead to reduced cost, less time lost, and improved quality.

Perhaps just as importantly though, team morale and executive confidence is boosted when people see that they’re not encountering the same old problems.

If it’s that easy why isn’t this happening all of the time? It all goes back to the same issues that we’ve been noting throughout.

If your PMO can’t drive continuous improvement it’s because:

In these circumstances there is no incentive for the PMO to drive continuous improvement, and they’d have no way of doing it even if they wanted to.

  • They’re set up to simply do the admin and provide reports - not to be a true rootin’ tootin’ gun-slingin’ PMO.
  • They’re not empowered, not sponsored and aren’t recognised as trusted advisors.
  • They’re working prescriptively, without standing back and thinking creatively about what will make a big change.
  • The project processes are not clearly owned.

If you want the PMO to drive ongoing improvement in your project follow these steps.

What can you do?


  • Set up a framework for delivery - not a prescriptive method. Prescriptive methods don't fit to real world project scenarios. The PMO is about governing projects not dictating what they are doing.
  • Build in an expectation of and allowance for change – frameworks, processes etc are not set in stone. Give the space to change and improve processes.
  • Embrace change, learn lessons, act to make things better, understand that one size does not fit all.
  • Support your PMO team with training, learning plans, reviews of best practice, and by adding consultancy resources with experience elsewhere to ensure they do not stay stuck in a moment.
  • Keep abreast of new ideas, new methodologies and new tech that could supercharge processes. Stay cutting edge.

Now roll out, cowboy.

When it comes to building your perfect PMO poker hand there’s been one recurring theme.

Empower your PMO.

You must empower your PMO with the knowledge, skills and sponsorship to stand up to your SI, your PM, your business leaders and even your Executives.

They must fear no one.

Remember: the PMO are the sheriffs of your project - holding people accountable and making sure things get done properly.

If the people don’t fear the police there is anarchy. If the police are in the pocket of the ruling classes there is corruption.

If your PMO aren’t truly independent - if for example they’re employed by your SI - then there’s no way they can be empowered to do their job properly. If the business don’t take the PMO seriously nothing will get done.

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