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July 16, 2018

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Is your PMO fit for purpose?

27 Apr 2018


A PMO which is working properly should be making a real difference to how well projects and programmes run, helping to provide real-time controls over project budgets and workflows; implementing governance requirements; and keeping senior managers updated with meaningful reports. 

It should also be adding value by working right across the organisation, to coordinate projects and prevent silos being set up. An effective PMO will also have a major input into planning, along with an outreach role to help develop project skills across the business. 

It doesn’t always work like this, however. In fact some PMOs, rather than helping change and transformation programmes to run effectively, are in need of some change and transformation themselves. So let’s look at some of the warning signs that the PMO needs turning around.

The PMO has developed its own agenda 

This can stem from a very strong Head of PMO who has a vision that differs from the vision of the business. For example, the business may want to do some soft market testing of a new application before it starts a formal project. The Head of PMO insists that it must register a project and complete documentation first, to comply with governance rules. An obstinate individual who won’t work with the business to achieve its goals will find that people work round them, and the PMO becomes seen as an obstacle to getting things done rather than an enabler. 

The PMO has turned inwards

Projects are often difficult, uncertain, risky and stressful. That’s why senior programme and project managers are well rewarded. A weak Head of PMO may decide that a quiet life is preferable, and rather than spending time persuading and influencing people, may retreat behind emails and standard reporting requests. A common complaint with this type of PMO is that while reams of information are supplied to the PMO, very little useful information is fed back.

In this type of PMO, the emphasis is on process, procedure and standardisation. All very well in their way but they are only part of the story. The Head of PMO has to be talking to stakeholders and finding out what the business needs. They need to volunteer the PMO as ideally placed to assist in new ways, and to drop tasks the business no longer finds useful. 

The PMO is gradually becoming deskilled

A PMO that is just coasting will not have people who are clamouring to go on the latest project management course or who look forward to using the amazing features in a new release of the project planning software. 

This apathy can often be the result of staffing the function with non-specialists who are really general admin people and “business as usual” managers. They don’t have a passionate interest in projects, and since they probably don’t see their long-term future in this role, they’re not too fussed about keeping up with the latest developments. This type of PMO can find itself overtaken by events, when for example, a large transformation project buys in PMO services as part of a package and discovers what they’re not getting from the in-house PMO. 

The PMO has been captured

The whole point of the PMO is that it can work across the organisation, and pull together disparate projects to provide coherence. It sometimes happens that a large project, or simply one with a particularly active sponsor, more or less captures the PMO. This prevents the PMO from taking an even-handed approach in providing assistance to all projects. The motive is often empire-building on the part of the sponsor. IT departments are notoriously keen to swallow the PMO but this is a fatal mistake because it alienates users and customers, who feel they no longer have a voice. 

A PMO with skilled professionals, that is aligned with the objectives of the business and neutral in its dealings across the organisation, will soon start delivering greater value.


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