Festival of the PMO – The Rise and Fall of PMOs

Another fabulous guest blog from Vicki Daniel – National Practice Manager – Projects, Integral Technology about the rise and fall of the PMO

So a few months back, I was told that in the Australian context, PMO’s last on average for three years before they are disbanded or re-engineered into something that is not really a PMO anymore. A friend of mine – an experienced PMO Manager – told me this in passing so I am not sure if this is anecdotal or based on evidence. What are your experiences here? Does this look like reality in your professional experience?

 I have been mulling this over ever since. My experience has been that yes the PMO’s that I have known about have in fact been wound down over time. And strangely it often appears to me that it is just when they are starting to gain real traction within an organisation! The sort of traction I am talking about is when the PMO processes are slick and easy to use/understand, when Project Managers have stopped complaining about the usual things they complain about with PMO’s (yep you all know what I am talking about – the paperwork burden, the lack of partnering etc. etc.) and importantly when the business is starting to gain real value from the PMO (i.e. standardised PM practices,  clear and accurate project reporting for Executives and strategically aligned projects etc.)

So why change? In my experience – the word change is key. PMO’s are usually closed because of business change – such as a new leadership team being appointed or a vastly different corporate strategy has been decided upon. The cynics amongst us might also say that a PMO is low hanging fruit for any cost cutting drive that may be rolling through an organisation.

 A paradox exists – PMO’s take time to reach their potential and once returning benefits, they are often closed. Are there some things that PMO’s could do better – absolutely. Here are some of my ideas – feel free to disagree or refine this list and share your insights;

1)      Reduce the ‘time to market’ so to speak….set up quickly using experienced PMO specialists with toolkits in their back pockets and an agile mindset and with a hard target date for set-up. Do not let a PMO grow ‘organically’….this may have worked years ago but not now.

2)      Get PMO sponsors who are influential and at the top table and who will stay the journey with the PMO and who will help communicate continuously about the criticality of project success to the business and the criticality of the PMO to project success.

3)      Be able to scale up or down depending on economic and strategic circumstances (i.e. think carefully about the PMO staffing mix, manage overheads, think carefully about the PM methods and governance- proposed by the PMO -stay light but focused)

4)      Keep a running tally (year to year) of the bankable savings that the PMO has helped to realise (I am not saying to double-count project savings but tangible savings from better PM practices entrenched by the PMO). Shout these savings from the roof-tops! So when the time comes – and it will come – the return from the PMO is there and you are not scrambling  to justify the existence of the PMO.

 In summary, a 2012 PMI Whitepaper entitled The Project Management Office – In Sync with Strategy’ which is often quoted and many of you will have read says all of the above, way more succinctly than I ever could.

 So I will leave you with their wise words…..“ As the number of PMOs increase, so do expectations. No longer is it enough to simply lead governance or monitor methodology. Instead, PMOs must provide tangible, repeatable, long-term benefits. To do so, they must be customized from the start to align with organizational strategy and be prepared to change as corporate strategy shifts. Furthermore, it is not enough for PMOs to produce results. They must also communicate those results throughout their organization to earn executive support and overcome skepticism. Only by doing so will PMOs be viewed as offering a competitive edge.”

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