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Effective PMO: Clear vision, Common objectives, Dynamic execution

Over the last decade or so, linked in many ways to prominent project governance issues and the increasing publicity surrounding IT project failure rates, the PMO gained popularity as a vehicle to assure delivery of project objectives and a means to minimise or eliminate troubled projects from an organisation’s portfolio.  For every previous occurrence of a failed project though, there now seemed to be an accompanying story of a failing PMO to go with it.

The importance of clearly defined organisational objectives and the roles and responsibilities of the PMO team is commonly overlooked. This is critical to PMO success and, when absent, can significantly hamper efforts as key stakeholders lack clarity as to whether to expect support, assurance or authoritative direction.   When coupled with the common recruitment practice of resourcing PMOs with project administrators instead of, rather than in addition to, delivery experts, the expectations gap can become extensive across the entire stakeholder network.

This has contributed to an inconsistent reputation for the PMO function within the project community.  From the delivery teams’ point of view, the PMO is often perceived as getting in the way of project success rather than enabling it, by operating reactively and measuring retrospectively.  This drives poor behaviour across all teams and instead of removing delivery risk, achieves quite the opposite as the delivery and PMO functions become more disconnected with ever diverging goals.  If left unchecked, the scale of conflict will increase resulting in the programme descending into inefficient process bureaucracy and escalating costs.  This is a clear indicator of a dysfunctional programme with incompatibilities and waste the best outcome, and complete derailment the worst.

When the common goal is unclear, or the PMO and delivery team appear to be in a persistent power struggle then the programme board must question both the combined value for money and the decreasing probability of achieving the original business case.  The time has come to re-evaluate, re-define, re-organise and re-focus!

Contention between the teams is healthy, but only where it obviously improves delivery.  A strong PMO delivers a solid foundation, built on standards, process consistency and repeatability. DMW believes that an effective PMO executes dynamically through proactive direction setting and intervention.  It is dynamic not static;  it seeks new ways of working and drives process improvement rather than accepting the status quo;  it perceives the delivery team as one if its key stakeholders and manages accordingly;  it defines, drives and governs and has joint goals, working with the delivery organisation not against it.

If there is one thing worth doing across your delivery portfolio, it’s evaluating the current terms of reference for, and effectiveness of, your PMO:

  • Take the time to clearly define responsibilities of, and objectives for the PMO
  • Validate alignment of expectations across the stakeholder community
  • Plug any skills gaps you find ensuring that the right balance is struck between experienced delivery and support staff

Move the PMO away from being a box ticking audit function, and closer to the hearts and minds of the delivery team.  In doing so, align everyone around a common goal with clear expectations, definition of responsibilities and a mandate to work together proactively in realising the full potential of the combined team.