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Project managers are a waste of space.  So are PMOs.

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Feb 14, 2017 3:00:11 PM

eliminate conductor.pngHow often have you heard the cry, “If we just did without a project manager we could save a load of money!”

Of course it's nonsense. For any project worthy of the name,  a professional project manager will reduce the risk and overall cost of implementation. No "serious" professional would really strip out all the PMs.

Yet “Why are we spending all this money on a PMO?“ is a common cry, one that poses a real threat both to the PMO and the success of the portfolio. Only half of PMOs survive the first few years (APM). In fact, according to ESI research, 72% of PMOs are called into question by the executive team.

Look at it this way; without a conductor, an orchestra would produce a terrible cacophony. (Disclosure: my brother plays in one of the world's top orchestras). It's the same for a project portfolio… only the costs of a weak portfolio can be much worse than the noise of bunch of unsupervised musicians.

In short, the business case for the PMO is every bit as strong as the business case for the project manager.

What is the role of the PMO?

I covered this before in other blogs. While recording a recent webinar with Johanna Rothman, celebrated project management author,  we discussed how the PMO is to the portfolio what the PM is to the project: the PMO gives the portfolio coherence.

The PMO role is essentially to make sure that the project portfolio delivers the maximum value to the business. This can take many forms including;

  • Project prioritization
  • Portfolio scheduling
  • High level resource balancing
  • Portfolio level risk management
  • Reporting
  • Governance
  • Providing methodology
  • ... the list goes on...

Whatever your specific task list looks like, it's always about maximising value. And one of the quickest ways to do that this to improve portfolio management.

What is portfolio management?

There are as many definitions of portfolio management as there are portfolio managers.  For the purposes of this blog I'm going to pick up the main themes from Johanna's book on the topic. Johanna has kindly done a series of three webinars for us that summarise her book on portfolio management, and it's good stuff.

It boils down to this.

  1. Work out which projects will add the most value
  2. Work out how to present your portfolio at different levels of the organisation
  3. And don't try to deliver too many projects (which requires more effort than you'd think!)

Good portfoliogement can be put in place pretty quickly becauseyou only have to change the behavior and processes of a small number of people. Done well,  it has a huge impact on the capacity to execute projects and to deliver business value.

In contrast, all the other stuff a PMO does around methodologies and reporting is difficult to achieve because it affects every person involved in project delivery. Moreover, professionally executing a project and reporting on that project can be, and probably should be (in a world where PPM software is readily available), something that a project manager can do with limited support from a PMO.

So if you ever find yourself wondering why the organisation needs a PMO, focus on the portfolio management aspects of the role, and you’ll be adding value that is uniquely yours.

And the video series on portfolio management are a good place to get started.

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