Almost one in five project management offices (PMOs) are disbanded due to their inability to show value to the organisation. Here’s how to spot a struggling PMO and the remedies you can use to help rescue it.
Symptom: The project management office (PMO) has no traction with the projects for which it is responsible. It often needs to appeal to the executive or management for additional support in order to move forward.
Cause: The PMO is not sufficiently empowered by the organisation to fulfil its responsibilities and obligations.
Treatment: Conduct an audit of where you have encountered common obstacles: are there particular people or processes that slow or stop the progress of projects? Do you have sufficient resources to draw upon when you need them?
Often, the PMO’s role and authority needs to be redefined or reinstated, for example around benefits realisation, PMO governance and knowledge management. The PMO must moreover be furnished with the resources it needs to push ahead. There should be clear lines of responsibility and reporting, including direct communication between the PMO and key personnel within projects. It may help to develop a document that sets out the expectations for both parties to adhere to, to remove all doubt about areas of responsibility.
Mistrust and avoidance
Symptom: Side projects are initiated without the knowledge or authorisation of the project management office (PMO). Project managers circumvent the PMO and seek allies in the C-suite to approve projects and/or resources.
Cause: Mistrust regarding the role of the PMO. Occasionally this is due to poor onboarding or a bad handover.
Treatment: Open the lines of communication to diagnose the issues and create buy-in. It may be helpful to include a mediator or key allies who can influence attitudes within the organisation. If poor onboarding or a bad handover is the cause, you may find that you need to wind back PMO implementation and start from first principles: define the PMO’s role, for instance around PMO governance; and manage expectations, listen and incorporate feedback, keep stakeholders informed.
Also speak with the C-suite to clarify which projects must feed through the PMO – ideally all those pertaining to the business strategy – and which ones can be approved outside of the PMO’s remit. Ensure these boundaries are well broadcast to the organisation. For 71 per cent of organisations, sponsor engagement is a key contributing factor to project success.
You may find it helps to measure the impact of side projects on the organisation’s priority projects, for example opportunity cost, overstretched team members or competing demands for resources to build a case for why the PMO needs oversight of all projects.
Poor project performance
Symptom: Projects under the project management office’s remit are struggling.
Cause: There are a few possible causes:
- Unsuitable project manager
- Lack of PMO governance
- Systems/tools mismatch
- Poor team culture
- Wrong project or bad timing.
Treatment: First, see if disempowerment and mistrust are contributing factors – if so, follow the treatment plan for those. If neither case applies, triage each project to understand the underlying factors for its poor performance. Talk to key people and make it safe for them to be transparent about issues that may be invisible to the PMO.
Possible solutions include:
- Shuffling resources to ensure appropriate distribution or cancelling low priority projects to boost the chance of success for higher priority ones.
- Upskilling or replacing project managers to ensure a better skills, experience or temperament match with projects.
- Redeveloping or replacing systems or tools that do not serve their purpose.
- Remixing team compositions to create a new dynamic or inserting key influencers whose role it is to model team attitude and culture.
- Cancelling or postponing a project that’s currently a bad fit.
Lacklustre project management office function
Symptom: The project management office’s (PMO’s) main activity is project reporting.
Cause: Misunderstanding of the purpose of a PMO.
Treatment: Create a business case for a more responsible, strategic PMO. According to the Australian Institute of Project Management, 57 per cent of organisations use a centralised PMO to co-ordinate projects, up from 40 per cent in 2019. “A centralised PMO typically takes on higher value-added capabilities such as governance, portfolio management and prioritisation frameworks, as well as significant HR responsibilities for resources.”1
Also consider that, by using a PMO:
- 36% want to improve governance
- 18% want to prioritise activities to strategy
- 12% want to improve project management maturity.
A PMO that cannot demonstrate value to the organisation is often short-lived. Fortunately, by heeding these symptoms and with expert intervention and reaffirmation of their purpose, all PMOs can potentially recover and thrive.
Want a PMO health check? Contact the PMO specialists at PM-Partners or call us on 1300 70 13 14 today.