Business Agility 2017: Redefining The PMO

Insights | 08 February 2017

Project Management Offices have struggled to maintain credibility over the years, and a mixed-bag of industry research hasn’t helped their case.

Nearly 70% of respondents in one Gartner study described their PMOs as “bureaucratic” (2013). Another analysis by the Association for Project Management estimated that half of all PMOs will disband within just three years. Investment, meet circling drain.

Taken together, it makes advocating for a PMO sound a bit like opening a restaurant where multiple efforts have failed before. How will you succeed where so many others couldn’t?

Fair question. But what if discounting PMOs all together means missing out on a strategic advantage? Could a re-imagined PMO drive improved results across an enterprise? How can you tell if establishing a PMO is right for your unique business goals?

To help guide this exploration into the next generation of PMOs, we’ve compiled three ways a PMO can position itself as a vital spoke in the hub of business, making the entire enterprise more agile and competitive in 2017.

Leveraging PMOs To Make Critical Connections
A well-executed project is the price of admission in today’s business world (despite data showing projects failing with surprising regularity). Today, all aspects of project management are expected to contribute to a broader strategic vision. In fact, their survival may depend on it.

When done properly, a PMO can be that vital connection between strategy and tactical execution on the project level.

Yvonne Butler, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Institute of Project Management engages in a lot of discourse around the return on investment of establishing a PMO. Particularly, around the two critical ways to think through a PMO: through the lens of its strategic context and ROI.

Butler is not the first to tackle the question of ROI – it’s central to the entire debate over the utility of PMOs. In a 2014 presentation titled “Redefining the PMO: Top 10 Tips for Building a PMO that Matters,” Mark Price Perry and his collaborators list out several ‘Dos and Don’ts”, directly challenging the next generation of PMOs to go beyond simply “deliverable focused decisions.”

Their PMO cheat-sheet:

– Treat the PMO like a business – you need a business plan and strategy
– Have a clear and accessible vision
– Think about mandate

– Start with a PMO-determined solution
– Focus on selling it or ‘buzz & hype”
– Describe “generic benefits”

In other words, it’s not about selling the PMO, it’s about sharing the strategic vision behind it – how does it fit into the goals of the larger enterprise?

PMOs As A Talent Hub
At the heart of any PMO or business is the talent driving change and subsequent growth. Effective harnessing of a PMO’s strategic capabilty means leaders must be engaged and equipped to build strong relationships, gain buy-in, and proactively align change champions.

Dean Meyer, author and project management expert, shared a similar sentiment in a piece for CIO magazine: “The proper role of a PMO is to help everybody become a good project manager—not to be a project manager for a few big projects,” he writes. “It’s not to disempower others, but rather to empower others with advice, training, methods, tools and services that make everyone successful at delivering their projects.”

PMO As An Agile Advocate
Mountain Goat Software Founder Mike Cohn believes a project management office can be a “tremendous boon” in an agile environment despite a lack of literature connecting the two.

Writing on his company’s blog, Cohn asserts: a PMO can help “implement and spread agile practices across the organisation”, however, he warns, “when the PMO is not properly involved, it can be a source of resistance as it tries to defend the current process, rather than improve it.”

Cohn believes a PMO can help by:

– Developing training programs.
– Coaching, either directly or through a supporting role as needs evolve.
– Helping with reporting and compliance. “Many projects need to comply with standards or with organisation-specific rules, such as those for data security. An agile PMO can assist teams by making them aware of such needs, advising them on how to comply, and serving as a central clearinghouse for tips and shared knowledge on compliance and similar matters,” Cohn writes.
– Data, efficiency and consistency.

Key Takeaways
There’s never been more pressure to deliver faster with more complex products and features entering marketplaces, so when businesses take a fresh look at PMOs, they usually do so with the idea that something more is out there. But to get the best results possible, focus on how the PMO can drive transformation, not just processes. Listen, learn and think creatively, experts say.
A PMO is likely not the sole answer. Instead, think of it as a tool and, as we all know, tools are often only as effective as the intent and skill of the user.

Tell us: What’s been your experience with PMOs?

For more information on scaling agile for business agility, general advice on agile adoption, or more information on our agile coaching and/or certified workshops, phone us today on 1300 70 13 14.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Enquire Now


    1300 70 13 14


      Stay Informed

      Subscribe to our newsletter and receive quarterly industry news updates and stay informed of forthcoming PM-Partners group events.