Five Keys to Establishing a Successful PMO

What is a PMO?

The basic definition of the PMO in a business or professional enterprise is a permanent organization tasked with one or more of the following objectives:

  • Define and maintain the guidelines, policies, processes, and standard documentation around projects.
  • Encourage and sustain repeatability related to project management.
  • Provide central, coordinated management/oversight into the initiation and strategic planning of projects.
  • Coordinate and develop project management training for continuous organizational improvement.
  • Offer a broad range of services from budgeting, to product management, to direct project leadership, to support functions such as coaching, consulting, and marketing.
  • Support the prioritization of strategic projects to ensure that the organization is working on initiatives aligned with strategic business goals.
  • Provide oversight across the resource pool to support the assignment of resources to the highest prioritized initiatives.

In today’s competitive business environment, more and more organizations are establishing PMOs as a method to create business agility and efficiency and to ensure key executives remain abreast of strategic initiatives within an organization.  Every organization is different, however, there are a few best practices that all organizations can implement to ensure that, when establishing a PMO, they are setting their PMO up for success.

  1. Ensure that you have Support and Involvement from the Right Executives

Often one of the most difficult duties of a new PMO is to establish itself as the de facto authority for any new major project work.  This can be especially difficult to maintain if the PMO is being operated with little organizational support or involvement.  When establishing a PMO it is critical to ensure that C-Level executives are involved and understand the value of establishing a PMO.


  1. Focus on Portfolio Planning First

Better planning leads to better execution, and one of the biggest reasons that projects fail is that those projects were poorly planned and scheduled without consideration of the broader portfolio.  Poorly executed projects and a lack of ability to deliver on commitments to key stakeholders will lead to an organizational lack of confidence in the PMO.  A lack of confidence in the ability of the PMO is one of the biggest reasons that PMOs fail.

Resource capacity and demand constraints are often the biggest impediment to scheduling and completing project work and often new PMOs struggle to get visibility into how resources have been allocated across project and non-project work.   It’s often a smart idea to adopt a light weight project portfolio management tool to help with resource capacity and demand planning across key initiatives.


  1. Minimize Organizational Change

Too often, when establishing a new PMO, PMO Directors will place a mandate on the organization to track project information at a level of detail so granular that it becomes extremely time-consuming for organizational personnel.  This level of change tends to backfire and many of these resources will reject the PMO outright.

When establishing a PMO it is important to minimize this change and focus on initially establishing and collecting only the project KPIs with the highest value for key executives and stakeholders.  We often recommend starting with just 15 to 20 KPIs per project to limit the amount of maintenance and reporting required by project personnel.  This facilitates adoption of the new PMO, and KPIs can be expanded upon as the organization matures.


  1. Think about the Right PMO Structure

There are two basic models of PMOs:

  • One acts in a consulting capacity, providing project managers in business units with training, guidance and best practices.
  • Another acts as a centralized organization for handling all project management activities. Often this type of PMO will have project managers on staff who are loaned out to business units to work on projects.

When building your PMO make a determination about what structure is right for your organization based on input from key stakeholders and organizational objectives.


  1. Don’t think of your PMO as a Cost Cutting initiative

Although the consistency and efficiency promoted by a PMO may result in reducing the project workload and better on-time rates…which will save costs, the goal of the PMO should be to ensure that the organization stays focused on executing the projects that will bring the highest value to the organization.


To learn more about the value of a creating a PMO check out this whitepaper: Project Management Office: Seeing the Whole Picture.

Top 5 Excuses For Not Using PPM

too busy


I often hear of organizations having many reasons, in my opinion excuses, for not implementing project portfolio management (PPM) software.  Typically the view is very myopic because they truly do not understand the value and the cost savings that PPM can provide.  I have compiled a list of the top 5 excuses that I hear from top-level management and PMOs. Don’t be a victim, take action.


No Budget

This is by far the biggest excuse in the book.  Most organizations I talk to decide not to pursue PPM because they think it is too expensive.  What they do not realize PPM software is a fraction of the cost that most organizations spend on wasted efforts:

  • How many pet or unapproved projects are team members working on?
  • How sure are you that your resources are working on the right projects?
  • Are you aligned to the strategic initiatives of the company?
  • Do you have the bandwidth or capacity to take on more projects?
  • How many of your projects are actually on-budget and on-time?

PPM will help you answer these questions and more.  By spending a little on PPM software, organizations will have a clearer understand of what is being worked on and by whom – ultimately saving money.  Yes, that is right, PPM will save you money and for most it is a lot of money.


I’m Too Busy

Nothing worth doing is easy or simple.  Yes, there is effort involved in getting a PPM tool up and running.  You will have challenges and you will be busy.  The question to ask yourself is why are you so busy now?  Is it because you are working on projects or initiatives that are urgent, but not important?  Or how about important, but not urgent?  Are you working on projects that could be pushed out or even eliminated?  The key is to be busy working on projects that are urgent, important, and adding value.  With PPM you can score, prioritize and approve the projects that are aligned with the organizational goals, but more importantly approve the projects that you actually have resource capacity to execute.  Taking a little time to get educated about PPM and embarking on some minor change management could help you become less busy.  If not less busy, at least you will have the confidence that you are working on valuable projects and not running around like a chicken with its head cutoff.


We Are Not Mature Enough

There is no organization in world that does not need to prioritize, align, and successfully execute projects.  Whether you are an IT group of 10 resources or a mature PMO within a large organization, PPM will provide ROI for your organization.  The key is to understand where your pain points are and start there.  Are you looking for a better way to prioritize projects?  Maybe you are simply looking for visibility to understand where your resources are spending their time?  Or, most commonly, you are simply looking for a better way to manage your resource pool.  The key is to have a crawl, walk, run approach to implementing PPM within your organization.  Start by focusing on one or two areas that need improvement and then work your way into more advanced functionality and processes.  If you believe that you are not mature enough, then you are kidding yourself and have not taken the time to learn about PPM best practices.


My Manager / Executives Will Never Go For It

Are you saying that your management does not care to increase ROI, save money, and have more projects executed on time?  Thought so.  Take a leadership stance and create urgency within your organization.  PPM solutions have several key benefits and once you are able to communicate these, then any smart, intelligent executive will have to agree.  If not, then you are not working in an organization that has the foresight and passion to do better.  At a high level, PPM solutions will provide the following benefits:

  • Visibility For Better Decision Making & Communication
  • Improve Business Alignment To Create More Value
  • Proactively Allocate Resources Effectively
  • Measure, Manage, Track and Trace All Work & Resources
  • Improve Execution – Across Your Entire Portfolio

Start by having the conversation about “why” PPM matters (hint, hint, see above) and then start to discuss the “how” and “what.”  If you start your discussions with “how” the implementation or adoption will go or “what” product you need to buy, then you are headed for a losing battle.  Executives and management need to understand “why” first – start with the value, and then follow with how you will get it done, and then end with the tool or solutions that you need to buy.


Too Hard / Difficult

Last I checked, you were a project management professional.  When was the last time you had an “easy” project or a “perfectly” functioning team?  As project manager, CIO, PMO, or IT manager you are wired to take on challenges, take on difficult tasks, and herd the cats in the organization.  Challenge the status quo of mediocrity and help improve your organization.  It is very easy to sit back and hide in your organization, but if you are really passionate about increasing resource efficiency and holding people accountable for their work, then PPM is a battle worth fighting.

Ultimately, I agree that getting an organization behind a new initiative is not going to happen overnight or be simple.  If you need additional help, download this whitepaper to learn How to Build a Business Case for PPM.


Kevin Kern Featured in the SF Business Times – “Preparing for Valleys and Peaks”

Last week, Richard Procter from the San Francisco Business Times reached out to do an entrepreneur profile.  Always a pleasure, here is what we discussed.

Originally published in the San Francisco Business Times on October 24, 2014: 


Kevin Kern

CEO, Innotas

What it does: Portfolio management

HQ: San Francisco

2014 revenue:$14.2 million

Employees: 71

Founded: 2006

Background: Previously a vice president at both Oracle and Tibco

First job: Newspaper boy

Age: 56

Residence: San Francisco

Web site:

How’s business: Business is good. We went live and in production of our predictive portfolio as of Sept. 19. I couldn’t be happier. Everyone that we’ve talked to (about the predictive portfolio) was ecstatic. I don’t want to oversell it, but they were very happy that this tool would help them with prioritizing the right work. Anyone we show this to is really impressed.

Are you hiring: Yes, we’re hiring for services, sales, product management and product marketing.

Important skill needed to be a successful entrepreneur: Initially, it’s got to be passion for the product, passion for the market that you serve. If you don’t have that, it’s going to be tough because there’s peaks and valleys for an entrepreneur. If you’re not passionate, VCs will see right through it. The second piece is focus.

Was joining Innotas an easy or hard decision: It was an easy decision because it was something that I felt very passionate about. It was something that I could understand. As a sales vice president and operator at Oracle and Tibco, I had been left at the altar so many times because IT ran out of budget or they didn’t know there were competing projects or something. They ran out of money or that priority suddenly became not important. It happens because the CIO doesn’t have visibility into his resources across the organization. When I came to Innotas, I said, “Here’s a tool that can help CIOs.”

Biggest business strength: Decision making. I believe that you iterate. Searching for perfection creates paralysis, and execution suffers.

Biggest business weakness: Patience. I’m short on chit chat. I want to get down to it. Sometimes people need to feel a little bit more love. If I were to look at how I might improve in some areas, patience.

Biggest worry: Staffing. Hiring the right people, people that fit into our culture and people that are as motivated and as passionate as we are. Secondarily, it would be reach. Getting our product to market first.

What do you wish you had known from Day 1: I wish I had known that the valleys come more frequently in a small company. Peaks are infrequent. If I could look back, I probably would have staffed up in development faster.

Favorite task: Talking to customers.

Least favorite task: Cleaning the cups in the kitchen. We don’t have maid service, and I don’t like a dirty kitchen.

Biggest frustration: Not moving fast enough. Not being where I want to be. Took us four years to triple our revenue, should have been done in two.

Source of support in a business crisis: A group of people. I certainly talk to my board, but generally I’ll gather my senior vice presidents and talk it through. There’s guys at the gym that have been down this road, I’ll talk to them. When I really want to feel good, I go to my mother. She’ll always tell me how great I’m doing. She’ll light up a cigarette and pour me a cocktail.

First choice for new career or venture: I’d like to fly helicopters. Apache helicopters. They’re just cool.

Most-admired entrepreneur or role model: Elon Musk.

Favorite pastimes: Even though it almost killed me, windsurfing, and I stand up paddleboard.

Favorite book: One of the recent books that I read was called “The Wave” by Susan Casey. It goes into how waves are created and the notion that 100-foot waves could never exist.


Shellshock: the Bash Vulnerability

Last week, Innotas became aware of a vulnerability in Bash that the net has dubbed “Shellshock”. This was discovered by Akamai security researcher Stephane Chazelas and leaves Linux/Unix machines vulnerable to exploitation.

A complete security patch for this issue was released by RedHat on September 26th. That same day, Innotas Operations staff used our regular maintenance window to fully patch all of our production Linux/Unix systems.

There have been no exploits of our systems and we are now fully up to date on all patches required to prevent this vulnerability from affecting our systems in any way.

Innotas takes security very seriously and we make it a priority to apply security patches as soon as they are available.

The Only Way To Predict Your Future Is To Create It

Innotas has had a number of customer and prospect conversations where the need for a corporate or IT-driven “cloud initiative” was a critical need.  After hearing this, we reflect on the rapid change of cloud solutions from the early adopters and point solutions to broader acceptance of cloud solutions across the globe.

We now see purpose driven initiatives toward cloud solutions for the enterprise.  Cloud companies regardless of your flavor — software, platform, or infrastructure —  drive a rapid maturity curve, which is exciting and underscores how we’ve built our business model. So it comes as no surprise to us that we see an increase in demand for cloud integrations, and escalating demand for relevant analytics

This is why we built the “Predictive Portfolio” which changes the landscape of Project Management applications forever.

Data availability requirements and timely information for decision-making have exponentially increased over the past several years, and Innotas has once again answered the bell. Portfolio cloud solutions spawned demand for more integration points between agile development tools, service desks HR systems and many more data sources, which in the PPM world affects resource supply and demand.  We argue that the rapid adoption and a growing trend of cloud initiatives will drive the advancement and development of cloud integration strategies, solutions, and interfaces which led us to think about the next generation of Portfolio Management.

The latest Innotas release of the Predictive Portfolio is elegant, easy to use, cost efficient and reconciles the gap between informational wants and needs of today’s CIO.  This new software helps companies predict, plan, and re-plan all of the projects across the enterprise and recommends which of the highest value projects and resources on the roadmap are viable – within minutes  !

At Innotas we developed products that were necessary, then we thought of what was possible and finally with the Predictive Portfolio we built what many thought to be impossible.

Check us out and take a look at the new predictive world Innotas can offer you.

AWS to Reboot Many of Their Instances

Yesterday, Amazon Web Services notified its customers that it will be rolling out an urgent patch to many of their hosts. This will necessitate a reboot of many of the servers that currently host the Innotas product.

We currently have services running on four continents with Amazon AWS.

Amazon will be pushing out updates and forcing reboots to the underlying hardware used by Innotas during the maintenance window of  10pm PST to 2am PST.  This window will be active starting September 26th and may continue to September 30th.  This can change based on future communication from Amazon AWS.

Unfortunately, Innotas has no control over these maintenance windows. We will try to minimize disruptions to our customers to the best of our ability. With the architecture we have built, we are confident that we will be able to mitigate the impact of this event and most of our customers will not be affected.

We will be closely monitoring this situation and will post additional details as more information becomes available.

Big Brother? Explaining Time Tracking To Employees

 Time Tracking


Time Tracking or time sheets have significant benefits for organizations, but getting your team on board can be challenging.  It is clear why organizations want to utilize time tracking – increased visibility, accountability, optimizing resources, and charging back departments.  However, chances are your employees do not see it that way.  They most likely see time tracking as an avenue for micromanagement (Big Brother), scrutiny over work performed, or lack of trust – none of which may be true.  Take a step back and look at it through their eyes.  For greater adoption and less resistance, encourage your managers to focus on the benefits to the employees, rather than just looking at the benefits to the organization.  Below are a few benefits to employees that will be helpful in rolling out your time tracking or time sheet initiative:

Get More Resources 

You will never have enough resources.  Markets are much more competitive than ever; forcing your organization to do more with the same amount of resources. For PMOs or Project Managers, one of the most challenging aspects of their jobs is making the case for additional resources. Tracking time enables managers to measure the amount of time being spent on projects and allow them to accurately forecast future resource demand – facilitating their ability to quantify their case for hiring.

Shift From Reactive “Crisis” Mode to Proactive Mode   

Once you know that you will be associating your work with specific time, you will naturally focus on the things that are important.  It is easy to get caught up in “urgent matters” or “fire drills” that ultimately do not impact your bottom line.  We’ve all been there; a request comes in and it will only “take a few minutes” to complete, so you just get it done and move on.  However, unplanned tasks contribute to loss of perspective on the greater picture.  By tracking time, you will not only focus on the “urgent” but the “urgent and important” – ultimately increasing your impact to the organization.

Increase Credibility Through Better Forecasting Accuracy   

Just knowing that you are going track what you worked on and for how long will drive good natured competitiveness.  Seeing your time spent on tasks next to others will want team members to strive to do better – resulting in better organizational execution.

Understand Time Spent On Non-Project Work 

If you know where you have been spending your time, you have a better chance of being productive. How many times have you asked yourself, “Wow, where did the time go?  I cannot believe we are already 3 weeks into the month.”  By thinking through and recording where you spent your time, you will quickly enable yourself to become more self-aware of how much time you spend on productive versus non-productive tasks.  You can then make adjustments if needed.

Try using some of the suggestions above when speaking to your organization about time tracking.  They already know that the organization will benefit, but try to make time tracking about them, not you.

Innotas Featured in the San Francisco Business Times – “Innotas survived a near-death experience”



Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Richard Procter from the San Francisco Business Times.  Initially, I thought the conversation would be about where we are going and what I see for the industry.  However, as we started talking, the conversation focused on our history.  Innotas has come a long way – now we have been a “Leader” in the Gartner Cloud-based PPM Magic Quadrant for three years running.  Below is the article, enjoy.

Originally published in the San Francisco Business Times on June 13, 2014:

Innotas doubled revenue to $14.2 million in the past three years, says CEO Kevin Kern.

Just nine months after Kevin Kern joined Innotas as vice president of sales in 2008, the company didn’t have enough money to pay its workers.

“We had some people who were working remotely and flying in every other week,” he said. “For a company our size, that was insane.”

Fortunately, a strong sales team and a few bridge loans gave Innotas time to close the gap and survive.

Innotas is a growing leader in the field of project and portfolio management. Its software lets IT employees manage, track, trace and record all the projects they take on. Managers can keep track of how many projects all their employees and teams take on and gain a clear, definite picture of their allocation of resources as a result.

“We’re Salesforce for IT,” said Kern, who took over as CEO in 2010.

Innotas’ revenue has grown considerably over the last three years, doubling from $7.1 million in fiscal year 2012 to $14.2 million in fiscal year 2014. Innotas makes money by using a subscription-based model for its services, charging $540 per user per year. There is also a fixed, one-time fee at the start: $20,000 for companies with under 100 users, $40,000 for over 100 users, and if the company has over 1,000 users “then we talk,” Kern said. Innotas also provides ongoing technical support as part of the package.

“The land-and-expand strategy has worked really well for us,” Kern said.

When Kern joined in 2008, Innotas had 50 customers. Now it has approximately 400, Kern said, including UCSF, Autodesk and Bank of the West. The average tenure for one of Innotas’ customers is 2.73 years, though some have been clients for seven to 10 years.

AMN Healthcare, a San Diego-based healthcare staffing company with 1,800 employees and over $950 million in 2012 revenue, started using Innotas for its IT department this year.

“In terms of design, functionality and intuitiveness, it’s second to none from our standpoint,” said Tiernan Hussey, program manager for AMN. “We’ve used other (companies in project and portfolio management) before. This is really outstanding.”

Hussey said AMN learned about Innotas through Gartner’s Magic Quadrant ranking. Gartner, a technology research firm, rates companies in the project and portfolio management industry on 15 different criteria and plots them on a map with the axes “ability to execute” and “completeness of vision.” Innotas scored the highest by both measures, leading other, larger companies in the Bay Area such as Oracle.

A May 19 Gartner report on the industry notes that Innotas stands out from its competition because its product functions effectively on a portfolio level and not just an individual level. The same report cautioned that Innotas’ increasing popularity could become a weakness if it isn’t careful.

“Innotas is susceptible to growing pains as it continues to scale up to meet the needs of larger project organizations,” the report said.

The portfolio and project management industry is expected to grow — Gartner said it experienced a 208 percent increase in software inquiries in 2013 from 2012 — and Innotas plans to grow with it.

This month, the company will complete an office expansion that will double the space it occupies at 111 Sutter St. from 7,000 to 14,000 square feet, and Kern said the company plans to hire approximately 30 more employees between now and next February.

In addition to scaling up, Innotas wants to innovate its product even further. The company has begun developing a predictive analysis tool that Kern said will allow managers to optimize project portfolios based on the information available.

“It can tell if you can or can’t and should or shouldn’t take that extra work,” he said.

-          Richard Procter, San Francisco Business Times 

Cloud Blog Series #3: Scalability Builds an Elastic Foundation for Growth

In some ways, scalability is like a trampoline, while building out capacity for growth through traditional methods is like a concrete foundation.

In the cloud, server capacity can be added in minutes. It’s as simple as using machine images, or templates, so a new app server can be up and running in the mix in mere moments. The process can even be automated. It makes capacity planning and forecasting far more fluid; we can react to customer needs immediately. We can even add new data centers around the world to serve the legal and security needs of customers who need to store data locally, whether they’re based in Sacramento, California or Sydney, Australia.

The Innotas project and application management software solutions, hosted in the cloud, work the same way. When project managers need more power for a full plate of projects, the capacity is there; when the pipeline shrinks, the platform easily adapts.

So like a strong yet resilient trampoline, the cloud allows us to build and forecast based on a responsive foundation that springs back according to our and our customers’ needs at the time. When the extra capacity isn’t needed, it simply returns to its previous state. Contrast that with a traditional data center build-out, or static software solution, that acts more like a concrete building foundation. Certainly, if you want to build on it, it’s there—but if it’s time to scale back, it’s there just the same, costing you time and money.

The scalability of the cloud enables our customers to track the pulse of their IT projects and applications with greater visibility than ever. See how Cloud PPM gives The Weather Company visibility & transparency across the entire portfolio.  Now, that same flexibility is allowing Innotas to dream big about how we can help our customers be project and application management heroes.


Cloud Blog Series #2: Scalability = Success

I’d like to make a bold observation: From an IT perspective, the success of a business no longer depends solely on growth. True profitability is equally determined by scalability.

We at Innotas are discovering the value of scalability first-hand, thanks to some exciting new developments. In the process, I’ve become more convinced than ever that one of the most critical advantages that cloud-based solutions offer growing businesses is the ability to scale in periods of growth—as well as scale appropriately times of market contraction.

Cloud-based solutions unlock unprecedented potential

It all started with our decision to gradually transition Innotas data and solutions from traditional data centers to Amazon Web Services (AWS) in the cloud.

As I wrote in a recent post about the founding days of our company in the year 2000, it took hundreds of thousands of dollars to build out basic tech infrastructure that could now be accomplished by a start-up outlaying just $10,000 in monthly operating fees in a cloud-based environment.

Our decision to move to AWS now was driven by a desire to be more agile in responding to customer needs, while building out virtual capacity for our business and platforms to grow. We were also interested in how the cloud could enable us to offer product features and benefits for our customers that would have been cost prohibitive in a hosted environment.

It’s an exciting journey. Along the way, we’re seeing how the cloud gives us the flexibility to scale up (or down) in an unprecedented way—and it’s transforming how we view everything from expanding to new markets, to offering customers new options and updates, to experimenting with new innovations.

Ironically, it’s the same visibility and flexibility that Innotas solutions have offered project and application management professionals since we launched our first solutions. Yet I don’t know that I fully appreciated the power that true scalability in the cloud confers on businesses until now.

Experimentation and innovation in the scalable cloud

When we first started Innotas, a Sacramento-based co-location data center housed our database servers, network equipment and Oracle software to run the servers (not to mention the people needed to keep all of the gear up and running).

When we needed to grow, scaling meant new hardware. New hardware meant bringing new servers online, which was a months-long process from procurement to burn-in to configuration to go-live.

After going through all this to enable the business to scale up for projected growth, we were still sitting on pins and needles. If sales spiked, we had to scramble to add more capacity. If sales went down, we had extra capacity sitting unused that was already paid for.

Regardless of your industry, it’s a situation I think most IT folks would recognize. It was certainly one of those times that I appreciated the true value of the cloud-based solution we offer our customers; no matter how the number of projects or applications in play at any given time might fluctuate, our customers can be confident that the Innotas platform, hosted in the cloud, is ready to handle whatever comes its way.