May 06, 2012
Technology Solution Delivery

PMO’s Gone Wild?

“For more than a decade, PMO’s have been regarded as necessary management structures to ensure project success, which is a critical concern for CIOs. Organizations with a well-planned and well-run PMO generally see a 20% improvement in project results.”   –   Gartner Analyst

Why is it that something that should drive significant value is so often despised? Is it because the Program Management Office (PMO) is often poorly implemented or executed? Is it because the PMO often fails to deliver the expected value? The Gartner quote notes the improvements that can be achieved by implementing a well-planned and well run PMO; however, what they didn’t measure is the detrimental effect a poorly implemented or poorly run PMO can have on an organization.

It is difficult to argue the potential value that can be delivered through the typical PMO:

  • Aligning delivery approaches for all projects and work streams
  • Implementing cross-organization communication strategies to ensure effective collaboration
  • Providing aggregated status reporting and program-wide rollups
  • Creating document repositories, issue and risk logs, project plans and project charters
  • Training organizations on new processes and tools to support the program
  • Identifying and prioritizing projects
  • Providing structure for governance and key decision makers (Steering Committees, Sponsors, etc.)

All too often, a PMO is quickly put in place because a new program is up and running and it “feels” like the right thing to do, or because of a knee jerk reaction to some level of disorganization. So, before jumping ahead and setting up a PMO, take a moment to survey the landscape and think through what implementing a PMO will entail:

  • Define the need. What problems will a PMO help solve?
  • What is the perceived value of establishing a PMO?  Make it measurable so you can evaluate the actual value later.
  • Define the PMO charter. This includes defining the scope, duration, roles, responsibilities, artifacts, goals, and objectives.
  • Be sure to determine to whom the PMO answers and how it will be evaluated.
  • Define the communication strategy. What information needs to bubble up to senior project sponsors, and what messages need to be communicated down?
  • What is the duration of the PMO?  Is the PMO being implemented for an initiative that has an expected end date?  Or is the PMO being leveraged to guide a collection of operational projects that will continue for years without a defined end date?
  • What is the culture of the organization?  Nimble and agile or rigorous and structured?
  • How fast can the “pendulum” of organizational change swing?  Are you attempting to move faster than the organization will comfortably allow?

Now, assuming a PMO is right for your organization, a key step to successfully execute a PMO is to regularly validate that the actual value being achieved through implementing the framework matches or exceeds the expected value defined prior to implementation.

While the PMO is often viewed as an overhead cost, a properly functioning one should allow the program as a whole to be far more effective than the sum of its parts (or in this case, projects). A PMO isn’t there to solve all the organization’s ills. It certainly isn’t a panacea. As critical as it is to properly implement the PMO, it is equally important to recognize the danger signs of a PMO that has gone wild.

One of the most prevalent danger signs is that it often goes unchecked and accepted as a necessary evil leaving project team members wondering what value the PMO is adding. Perhaps this goes on for an extended period, and only when budgets are squeezed does the PMO go under the microscope to finally get trimmed and corrected (or as often happens, killed completely). So, you must stop and ask yourself, does your program…:

  • …have rigorous standards that killed previously productive processes?
  • …have rigorous standards that crippled effective team dynamics?
  • …have key decision makers that lack the information they need to make key decisions?
  • …have project teams that lack the guidance and support they need from the key decision makers to be successful?
  • …have an abundance of red tape?
  • …have a hard time explaining why it takes so long to do something relatively simple?

Finally, if your PMO has required that every person on every project complete a status report using the same template, it is time to press the panic button. For one, this implementation has failed to take into account the varying team dynamics that exist, and the varying management styles on each project. This is ruthless standardization for the sake of being ruthless. If the message that is important is the one that the project manager escalates, why must the PMO dictate how the project manager gathers that message?  Why not let the project manager determine the best approach for his/her team?  Where there is smoke, there is fire. Don’t let your PMO run wild. Pay attention to the danger signs to avoid yet another PMO failure.

Kenway Consulting has developed, managed, and when necessary, disassembled PMOs. We can help you evaluate, plan, and execute a successful PMO. Contact us for more information at

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