If you have been working in the world of Project Management Offices for any length of time you’ll know that the average life of a PMO is about 4 years. PMO practitioners around the world have been looking to improve on that for some time now, and with good reason. A high-performing PMO can add immeasurable (and measurable!) benefit to an organization, helping to ensure that the right projects get delivered in the right way, by the right people at the right time, and that benefits are appropriately realized.
So, knowing that the benefits of a PMO to an organization are huge and far-reaching, why do PMOs fail? Let’s look at some of the common reasons why and find out how you can stop it from happening to you.
1. Activities Are Perceived To Be Low Value
The first reason why PMOs struggle is that the work they do is not perceived to offer significant value by senior managers.
Research from the UK’s Association for Project Management in 2016 says that the vast majority of PMOs are focused on perceived lower value activities such as project reporting, maintaining the list of projects and managing document templates.
While these are useful (and necessary) activities, you can see why senior management would consider these tasks to be administrative or lower value. If your PMO team is mainly engaged in admin and bureaucratic tasks, they aren’t delivering the value you thought you’d get from having a PMO in the first place.
Don’t let it happen to you: There’s obviously a balance to be had in the PMO’s role: you need a library of document templates and you need project reporting, and portfolio awareness through a list of projects as well. But more of your PMO activity should be on the activities that senior management feel add real value to the organization.
You’ll have to work with them to establish exactly what they feel their goals are for the PMO team, but that should include providing information for senior managers to make decisions, managing the project management processes, gathering meaningful project metrics and risk management.
2. No Continuous Evaluation
Second, when PMOs don’t invest in improving, they struggle to gain traction.
A study by PMI, The Impact of PMOs on Strategy Implementation, points out that 77% of high-performing PMOs monitor and assess performance, compared to only 54% of low-performing PMOs.
The research also concludes that it’s important to not only do the assessment and to continually evaluate performance, but also to report out to senior management that it is happening. Finally, they point out that high-performing PMOs use the feedback to take action. After all, continuous performance assessment is one thing – putting the outcomes into practice and seeing real change as a result is something very different.
The APM survey concluded the same thing. Their survey respondents reported that 46% of them don’t track the success of the PMO at all. Only 5% said that they had a balanced scorecard that was used to drive continuous improvement.
Don’t let it happen to you: Plan in continuous evaluation as part of your annual PMO cycle. You can do this in a number of ways:
- Ask project owners for feedback (61% of high performers routinely do this)
- Solicit feedback from other stakeholders, beyond the project owner (only about 40% of low performing PMOs engage with stakeholders like this)
- Get feedback from customers (76% of high performing PMOs considered this part of their evaluation process).
Beyond project-specific feedback, seek out ways to gather feedback on your PMOs performance overall. Build a balanced scorecard with relevant, measurable metrics to track performance over time.
Plan in a PMO health check to ensure that your activities are aligned to strategic objectives and continuing to fulfil the needs of the wider organization. This is an easy way to benchmark performance year-on-year and demonstrate how PMO maturity is improving – plus you’ll build an actionable list of improvements that form the basis of a development plan for the coming 12 months.
3. Not Aligned To Strategic Imperatives
Finally, PMOs struggle to deliver the value that is expected of them when they are working outside (or without awareness of) the organization’s strategic drivers.
The APM research highlights this as another common risk for PMOs. The researchers list 9 strategic imperatives: things that the PMO should be aware of and actively working to support within their field. These are:
- Supporting a structured career path for project management
- Facilitating cross-functional working
- Building knowledge-sharing communities
- Capacity planning
- Decision-making at project level to drive projects forward
- Resource management
- Project prioritization
- Flexing and adapting the PMO to meet business needs.
The study shows that 44% of PMOs are sometimes or never involved in any of these. Does your PMO get involved?
The PMI research also backs this up, although it makes the point that Enterprise PMOs (those with a broader, business-wide remit) are more likely to be aligned to strategic priorities. Only 42% of non-enterprise PMOs consider themselves strategically aligned: that’s not a very big number and it’s surprisingly easy to improve on.
Don’t let it happen to you: Being aligned to strategy starts with understanding what that strategy is. That’s easier to do in businesses with clear strategy, but it is a different story in organizations which are still developing their strategic direction.
Talk to your senior management team about making sure that the work you are doing is aligned to the overall goals and objectives for the company. Then make sure that the PMO are aware of this. Find ways to hook into the C-suite so that you and the team can stay up-to-date when the direction of the organization changes. Sometimes these changes can be very subtle but have a fundamental impact on the way projects should be prioritized or led.
PMOs can have a long and fruitful life, contributing effectively and valuably to the organization as a whole. We see that in many businesses, especially where there has been investment in improvement, health checks, training and tools. We know it can be done! Addressing these 3 challenges is the first step to making sure your PMO stays successful.