PMO 2.0: Rebooting the IT Project Management Office

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Posted by Geneca - 06 June, 2013

By Tony McClain, Geneca Senior Client Partner

“We all know there's resistance to a PMO [by Project Managers]. There's this image of a governing body being bureaucratic or creating red tape.”

This was the assessment of national PMO thought leader Tom Nodar way back in 2005.  Unfortunately, in the eight years since Computerworld published Nodar’s statements, under the headline “PMOs viewed as unneeded bureaucracy,” not much has changed in terms of the IT industry's perception of this important role.

That’s why I’m proposing a three-part PMO reboot.

Now, as then, the PMO’s mixed reputation is not entirely undeserved. Along with the technology industry itself, the function has proliferated in the past two decades and encountered substantial growing pains. A recent poll by the consulting firm Project Management Solutions suggests the use of PMOs by leading global firms nearly doubled to 87 percent from 2000-12.

In the rush to remain competitive, this tremendous growth undoubtedly led many organizations to form PMOs without entirely thinking it through. Many times, project managers were promoted from other positions or the wrong people were hired from outside, and adequate training was often non-existent. These recruits tended to apply cookie-cutter solutions to problems and lacked the requisite passion for the role, an unproductive combination.

Charged with developing, implementing and refining project standards and compliance across entire organizations, PMOs identify ways to make projects more efficient and consistently successful. Think of the PMO as the project management equivalent of the U.S. Office of Weights and Measures: done well, it creates uniformity, predictability and order in complex, project-based industries like IT; done poorly, it does exactly the opposite – causes confusion where none existed before.

From firms like Project Management Solutions to trade groups like the Project Management Institute, there’s no shortage of substantive resources in the marketplace today that can help your IT projects succeed time and again.  They offer PMO best practices, training and accreditation that will keep the trains running on time in your organization.

But all the training and certificates in the world can’t push a project across the finish line if it has the wrong organizational champions.  That’s why I’m proposing a reboot of the PMO role built around the following three important factors. In my experience, these are the elements that determine whether a project succeeds or fails.

1. Obtain buy-in: Frequently, a project is doomed from the start because the right stakeholders do not support the project or its goals.   Executive stakeholders must be completely aligned on a project’s priorities and strategic direction and be totally committed to implementing the necessary organizational and cultural changes.  Stakeholders also must provide a clear vision and ensure that everyone can understand and “tell the story.”

2. Conduct self-reflection: PMOs spend most of their time overseeing the work of others, so it’s not surprising that they frequently overlook the importance of self-reflection when it comes to their own roles. To successfully oversee projects, PMOs must also be aligned with the strategic direction of the organization and committed to their role in its success.

They also must provide better visibility with ongoing projects, remain flexible and collaborate with managers on the ground to determine what’s working and what is not. These iterative feedback loops between the PMO and those in the trenches ultimately result in better overall processes for the organization. PMO leaders also must be able to articulate the vision for a project’s success.

3. Consider intangibles: PMOs are not about process for the sake of process or injecting whiz-bang technology as a way to justify budgets. Perhaps more than anything else, PMOs are about fostering the right talent and culture within an organization, so that successful projects are a routine byproduct of the process.

To do so, PMO leaders must influence the right behaviors and remove impediments to success.  This allows a project team to adjust and make changes when they need to and encourages all team members to participate. Once everyone is on the same page, these behaviors become woven into the fabric of the organization.

When teams take ownership of outcomes, they will always do what it takes to ensure a project succeeds. And with this combination of attitude and culture, the entire organization wins.

In its recent survey, Project Management Solutions found that 40 percent of organizations without a PMO expect to add one within the next 12 months. That’s why, more than ever before, organizations are looking to PMOs to provide not only the steady hand necessary to meet today’s IT challenges, but to reimagine the traditional metrics around these three factors.

Topics: leadership, product definition, software development, product lifecycle


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