The realization that your Project Management Office is in trouble can be paralyzing. When you know there are so many things to put right it’s hard to work out what to focus on first.
This can happen whether you take over a failing PMO or have completed a PMO health check and are now facing a daunting list of practical steps to implement to improve performance. Or perhaps your internal audit process has pointed out some issues, or your manager has called you out on areas where the PMO is no longer meeting the needs of the business.
First, don’t panic. Many senior PMO leaders have been in this position before and it is certainly possible to turnaround a distressed PMO. It takes time and commitment. But it’s possible.
Here are some steps and considerations for moving your PMO out of distress and back into being a performant and valuable division of the business again.
Getting To The Root Of The Problem
First, it’s essential to understand why your Project Management Office is in distress. A PMO Pulse Check can help here if you haven’t already undergone a health check of any kind. It’s a simple way of working out how senior leadership is being served by the PMO, and where improvements could be made.
Another tool you can use is the 5 Whys. This is an approach that helps you understand cause and effect through iterative questioning. Originally developed to improve manufacturing processes by Toyota, it’s now commonly used in all industries as a business analysis tool for getting to the root cause.
Simply put, 5 Whys means you ask the question, “Why?” several times until you get to the root cause of an issue. The probing and questioning helps strip away layers of the problem until you find out what is really causing a particular issue.
For a PMO, it might look like this:
Our management reports are not considered valuable by the leadership team.
- Why? Because the data is irrelevant to them.
- Why? Because the reports don’t cover the topics they want to see.
- Why? Because we built the reports based on the system templates.
- Why? Because we didn’t have the requirements or the time to do anything else.
In this example it has only taken 4 Whys to get to the root cause: lack of requirements and time to implement reporting at the outset has led to this team creating reports that management don’t feel add any value. Knowing that, the PMO leader can gather requirements and tailor reporting more appropriately.
This is a relatively simplistic example, but you can see how for each area where a PMO is failing, it is important to get to the root cause in order to be able to do something about it.
Deciding Where Next
You’ve got several options for doing something about the issues you have identified.
One route would be to implement a recovery plan, and there’s more on that below.
At the other end of the spectrum you could take the decision to close or totally relaunch your PMO. That is a big step, but one that is always open to you should the circumstances be right. Closing a PMO is not to be taken lightly and it’s more common that we see recovery plans put in place to enable PMOs to improve performance.
The important thing is to take a stand on what you intend to do about your distressed PMO and then you are in a position to garner support for that and put your plans into action.
Regaining Management Support
Whatever route you decide, you will need the support of your management team. Make sure that they are engaged and aware of what you are doing at every step. Their support is going to be invaluable in providing you with the resources you need to put your recovery plans into action.
Making And Implementing Recovery Plans
Assuming that you aren’t making the decision to close your PMO, you need to quickly move to put plans in place to bring your PMO back to a performant state.
Draw up an action plan that addresses your PMOs areas of weakness. Plan out what resources you need in order to achieve this – more money? More training? More people? You’ll need to justify what you are asking for, so it’s important that plans and their expected benefits are thought through and considered before going to management for approval.
Some things to make sure you include in this effort are:
- Bringing the team along with you, and doing adequate change management so that everyone is on board with whatever changes are being made.
- Scheduling communication: both to the team and to the wider business.
- Reviewing the metrics you are capturing, ensuring these remain relevant and choosing the right measures for your PMO moving forward.
- Making sure that you meet any ongoing commitments such as monthly reporting schedules or existing strategic obligations. You don’t want to stop functioning during this transition time unless you have explicit agreement from senior management to drop those tasks and solely work on refocusing your PMO.
If you need help working through these steps and confidence that you are doing the right thing, don’t hesitate to bring in experts. The value of having a third party to discuss your plans is immeasurable and it can save you a lot of time when it comes to bringing all the strands together. You could make progress more quickly and save your team from several months of uncertainty by moving your PMO on with the least pain possible.
Finally, we want to reiterate that you are not alone! You’ve made the first and most difficult step already by acknowledging that you need to do something about your underperforming PMO. The rest is simply working through an action plan to get it back on track. Take action today and your PMO will be performing again more quickly than you thought possible.