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The PMO has an identity crisis.

A fundamental question that often goes unanswered is “What are we here for?”

Too many PMO managers will jump on the band-wagon with a response that says something like “To deliver projects, on time and on budget”.  

Yes, these things are important and can’t be ignored, but the deeper answer is something more akin with “To deliver value to the organisation”.

But how often do we ask ourselves what does this value consist of and who decides on what value means?    

If you are unsure of the answers to these questions, then it might be a good idea to write a PMO Charter and value proposition. Understand your reason for existence, define your mandate and values, define your scope of operations and clarify the various roles and responsibilities of the PMO.

This is not as easy as it sounds in many organisations, but it plays a critical part in your perceived success. When facing difficult times, fall back on this purpose for guidance to understand what you are and what you are not, and ensure you communicate this in a clear and friendly way to your stakeholders.

If expectations are misaligned then no matter how well you think you are performing, there will be disappointment from key stakeholders. This has fundamental ramifications on your strategic approach and also tactically how you operate.

If the PMO is seen as a fast and furious mechanism to deliver projects and the PMO is proud of their Agile response and ability to get projects done at all costs, then the PMO risks the downsides to this approach which can include factors such as:

  1. Lack of visibility on where projects are at – who can tell me?
  2. Lack of prioritisation – first come first served which doesn’t support the value model
  3. Lack of proper resource management - simply because often we don’t know what is coming our way as new initiatives are thrust upon us in haste
  4. Lack of maturity when it comes to change management and financial reporting. Can anyone really tell what the project is costing and how we are tracking?    

Quality is thus impaired and the accolades for delivering on time become rather muted, sapping the morale of the team who have worked so hard to deliver a successful project.  

There are some key steps to resetting this above scenario.   

  1. As already stated, know your purpose and what the business expects of you. If they want fast and furious then identify how you can deliver this through a quality lens. For example, this might be managed better through tighter change management to minimise cost and scope creep – make it Steering Group or Senior Management’s responsibly for the approved change and spend, not the project manager or PMO manager.

    Managing expectations is often overlooked as the focus remains fixed on timelines. Training, hand-over documentation and support arrangements, comprehension of benefits, impact on users’ jobs and internal politics play an equally important part.
  2. Secure support from the senior leadership team. It is they after all, who you will be delivering project outcomes for to progress their departments’ business goals and it is they who often determine what value looks like and whether it was delivered or not. They also can help provide the funding, resource and steer on what you do as you try to provide that value and deliver on promises made.   Understand what is important to them and ask them where they see the challenges in your delivery.

    This can be a vital start to closing gaps in perceptions and expectations. Perhaps even getting real assistance in terms of adding resource to an under-resourced PMO function. If they need greater visibility on the programme or projects roadmap then a conversation about resourcing and value can start to be held.

    If they want more financial accountability then show them the way this will be achieved i.e. resource, tools, process and formally initiate the requests down this path so you can demonstrate to all your commitment to improving the things that matter to people.
  3. Be open and honest with your day to day key stakeholders – if you open up to key stakeholders they may be able to help – whether backing your request for more staff to fill quality/governance gaps i.e. risk and issue management, reporting, or tools to provide greater visibility on schedules and dependencies; they may be able to help by supporting your requests, whether in meetings or via other management forums.

    They can’t help you if they don’t understand the competing demands on the PMO for resource, the priorities (or lack of priorities) and the real constraints that you face.If you are going to instigate tighter governance for the sake of quality delivery, then show them how they will benefit from this. Answer the “What’s in it for me?” question and ask for their support.

    This has to be handled carefully because Gartner state that 68% of stakeholders already perceive their PMO to be bureaucratic (2013 Gartner PPM Summit). Of course, you need to be able to show some quick wins in this area, so they continue to provide their support.
  4. Initiate a Continuous Improvement Plan (CIP). It’s all very well having a bunch of ideas for improvement, but the needs of the day soon overtake good intentions. By creating a CIP, you announce to the world (well your world at least), that you are serious about resetting the PMO and making it a valued contributor to the organisation and its goals.

    Becoming a high performance, efficient function will be a natural outcome as you progress on this journey.   Identify the gaps in your operations directly with your customers whoever they may be. Look to the things that can help them and you – people, process, tools and then prioritise each, bearing in mind any dependencies that may arise. Look to those aspects first that that bring the most value. Define your expected outcomes, assign target dates and don’t be afraid to ask for additional resource and funding to make this happen.

    You can’t undertake this alone as yet another added task in an already full calendar. If your organisation seriously wants to enhance the PMO delivery capability, then it will need to invest in it like any other initiative that delivers benefits. It also clearly shows support for what you are trying to achieve. You will need this as your journey progresses and bumps along the way are felt.    

We already know that 25% of PMO’s fail in the first 12 months and 50% within 2 years (Duddy & Perry, 2010), but nevertheless they are fast becoming more permanent fixtures in larger organisations. The fact is that they remain and need to be periodically realigned to meet changing organisational strategy and needs. As the business navigates its way through an increasingly complex and changing industry landscape.    

There are many other ways to reset your PMO, including undertaking a Maturity Assessment, reviewing your processes and methodologies and looking for gaps and better ways to do things. You could conduct a self-assessment/review or get someone from the outside to look at it with a fresh set of eyes, where they also question your rationale on how you operate. “That’s how we work around here” is becoming less accepted as the drive for results increases.    

Understand your purpose, try new ways of working, develop new success criteria, collaborate with your stakeholders in new ways and understand that all-important question why the PMO exists in the first place - “What is the business value we deliver?” Can you answer this question definitively or is it time you looked to ‘reset the PMO’ so you can answer that question with confidence.

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