Is your PMO guaranteed to fail?


Will Your PMO FailA few weeks ago, I asked a question about what the role of a PMO is. I got quite a lot of feedback on that one and this prompted me to tackle this next question: what causes PMOs to fail.

In this blog, I'll look at three common causes of PMO failure - though they are by no means the only ones. I'll also take a look at how to minimize the chances of failure.

PMO Role Unclear

According to Ralk Finchett of PMO Planet, "Programmes are about outcomes and benefits. They also focus on shared resources, business and organisational transition. They enable the organisation's strategic outcomes." Many PMOs are put in place due to high project failure rates and the usual goal of a PMO is to "fix it".

Now, as a job description goes, "fix it" is not terribly helpful, so it's vital to set out clear goals for the PMO and to be specific about the type of interventions the PMO is expected to make. Typical examples of "what a PMO could be responsible for" include;

  • Project tracking
  • Project reporting
  • Project oversight
  • Implementing methodology and / or tools
  • Improving project prioritization

Of course, a good PMO will work to define the role, and won't passively take on a job description. Look at your environment and what will make the biggest impact. We typically see that the quickest win, and the one with the lowest price-tag, is to tackle project prioritization while working on the strategy for "better execution" - we'll talk more about that later.

Whatever you think will make the biggest impact - make that the center of the PMO and make sure the executives buy-in.

Poor Buy-in to PMO

Project Managers are busy. Filling in forms, dealing with yet another person making demands of them... that's not what they want from a the project management office. 

One big observation that came out of our recent blog on the role of the PMO is that the PMs want support, not bureaucracy. And support from your PMs is ciritical if the project management office is to deliver results.

According to Elizabeth Harrin of ESI International, you need to talk to your PMs and work out what they want. "Do the project managers appreciate the helpful training and coaching they get or your library of useful templates?"

At a high level, PMs often want:

  • Clarity around priorities so they can allocate resources appropriately
  • Tools to help them manage the project and have a clear "dashboard"
  • Clearer executive support for their projects
  • Coordination across projects to plan around limited resources

By building your execution around these drivers, you will increase the value you add for PMs and that - obviously - will increase their buy-in.

Lack of project prioritization

"Aligning ideas with strategy, defining benefits upfront, making investment 'transparent,' putting resources first … these are the hallmarks of excellent project and program management." So says Johanna Mickel of PM Solutions.

And I agree wholeheartedly!

No matter what executives have set out as the specific role for the PMO, what they want is more busienss value from the portfolio. The easiest way to increase value is usually to pick the right  projects. 

But going through a formal project prioritization process is important for other reasons. First, it provides the clarity over priorities that allows PMs to make better resource allocation decision, ones that are consistent with the overall direction of the company, not just the immediate need of a specific project.

Second, the project prioritization process itself builds support for projects within the executive team. This helps sustain executive sponsorship - this blog gives other ideas for boosting executive sponsorship as well.

Finally, having a clear set of business priorities driving project selection and having those priorities be transparent, helps improve motivation of project teams. We've all worked on projects that got binned because they were obsolete before completion. We've all been in teams where the "worker bees" say things like, "I wonder if this project will actually mean anything". Having a strong and visible project prioritization process leads to better motivation and better outcomes.

So, take control of your desitny today. Make sure the expectations of the organization are appropriate and that the PMO's role is clear. Deliver value to the PMs - you're there to help them succeed.

And make sure you have a formal prioritization in place.

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