The PMO is Dead… Long Live the PMO!

In this guest post from Christopher Worsley at CITI he looks at one of my favourite subjects, the PMO. For those of you who have worked in this field I’m sure you’ll recognise some of the scenarios that can lead to the demise of a PMO. You may or may not agree with his thoughts around the PMO, ” it is a function not a department” or indeed that PMOs are binned because they become stakeholders.

Have a read and let us know what you think.

We regret to announce…

The PMO is dead… long live the PMO!

In 2008 over 89% of organisations with more than 250 people involved in their project community had some form of PMO.  Since then the tide appears to have receded.  Why is that?  Were they oversold?  Has technology and apps made them less relevant?  Is it perhaps a side effect of Agile?

Is it even true?

What is a PMO anyway?  Once they were project control offices (PCOs),  then they were called project support offices (PSOs), then portfolio and project support offices PPSOs) , and now – mostly project management offices (PMOs).  There is also a flurry of others: value management offices (VMOs), and result management offices (RMOs) and even a few change management offices (CMOs).

Let’s look at a few case studies.

Scenario One

Senior management – the demand side – wants to know what is going on – particularly being worried about the level of, often anecdotal, disagreements about how well the important, strategic projects are performing.  It wants the truth – and just one version of the truth to the question: “What is the status of our projects?”

Good question!  Let’s set up a central authoritative voice to tell us – let’s call it a PMO.

Money is invested, people are appointed, information flows in, and the function has the ear of the Board.  Managers in the PMO become concerned about the quality and timeliness of the data, standards are defined, processes are introduced, and more activities are included in their sphere of influence.  The reports get bigger and bigger – and less and less useful.  The PMO is now a stakeholder and is determining what it should do and how it should do it – and senior management delegates to the PMO Manager.  Board decisions are no longer based on PMO insights as the PMO is no longer providing insights.

The PMO is regarded as an overhead, its value is lost, and its fate sealed.  The PMO gets disbanded.

Scenario Two  

Project management is seen as a strategic competence.  A board member takes responsibility to increase capability.  Project managers and project consultants – the supply side – are seconded into one or more local structures and report on performance, report on process improvements and provide ways of disseminating lessons learned.

CITIThe PMO widens its brief.  It defines itself in terms of functions it should perform – offering audits and assessments to a series of governance groups that have neither the interest nor the mechanisms to deal with the findings, and who believe the problems have already been addressed or should have been addressed by the Project Director.  The PMO becomes a stakeholder and starts deciding what to do and to whom and when.  The Board no longer sees its strategy being enacted, the PMO is seen as an overhead, its value is lost, and its fate is sealed.  The PMO gets disbanded.

Scenario Three

Senior management – the demand side – wants to know what is going on.  In particular it wants to know two things: are the right projects being done? Are the projects being done right?

Money is invested, people are appointed, information flows in, and the function has the ear of the Board.  After a while, managers in the PMO become concerned that decisions being made by the various governance groups are not based on the data they are providing and so ask the Board what information, and on which projects should the PMO focus?

Have they now got enough information for prioritisation decisions?  What aspects of forward demand planning need more support?  Do they need to know forecast future spend?

The PMO sees itself a centre of expertise that needs to be deployed as the business sees fit not as it thinks best – its value proposition needs to flex and change as the needs and expectations of the senior managers’ and project managers’ change.   Standardisation and process compliance are not regarded as self-justify, customisation and focus on specific performance demands is.

This PMO graduated to becoming a partner to the Board – its role as moderating and mediating the desired portfolio of projects as set out by the Board with do-ability aspects of resourcing in terms of capacity and capability, and the landing of changes in the business.  It didn’t get binned.

This PMO understood that the key stakeholders are on the demand side AND the supply side; that the PMO as a stakeholder is a mistake – it is a function not a department, and its existence depended on providing a continuing – and often changing – flow of value.  Their reports contained analysis that supported the current decision-making, not repetitive descriptions of projects of little interest or relevance to the decision-makers – and they did not grow by aggregation!

The need for informed decision-making in portfolios and projects remains as high as it ever was, if not higher, and senior managers and project managers (the demand and supply sides for a PMO)  need a trusted source of information.  This could be filled by a PMO, but won’t be if the PMO’s agenda includes being the voice for  projects in the organisation

But if not PMOs, then what?  And that’s a story for another day!

 

What do you think? Agree with Christopher’s view on PMOs? Leave a comment and let us know!

 

About Christopher

Christopher Worsley is the CEO of CITI Limited and has been since 1991 – a company dedicated to developing the project and programme management capability of major organisations and government in the UK.  He has been involved in project management for over forty years, was involved in the early work leading to PRINCE2, and has been in the forefront of the development and promulgation of the underlying theories of project and programme management as practiced in the UK since 1992. He has supported over 150 transformations programmes – as programme architect, programme leader, and as lead assessor in programme assurance teams.  He has also acted as a senior advisor on many project and programme boards.His particular interest is governance and the delivery of value from planned change – how organisations go about gaining maximum benefits from the investments made in projects and programs.

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