Does this sound familiar: Your project teams are working really hard but you’re still seeing a pattern of failing projects and projects that fail to deliver the expected benefits.
This is a challenge for lots of Project Management Offices, especially when you are starting to ramp up project management maturity levels in the business. There’s an expectation that suddenly projects will just be better but it takes a strong approach to governance to make this happen. Simply having a PMO in place isn’t enough to magically improve performance.
One of the strategies that you can use to improve governance and drive up the performance of the project portfolio overall is to make the tough decisions. Oftentimes, projects fail because no one took a difficult decision earlier. Perhaps the sponsor didn’t have the power to make the hard choices. Perhaps no one in management was paying attention. Perhaps the issues were flagged up but the choices on the table were so unappealing that no one had the courage to take them.
Bravery is a key quality for a PMO! And you can do it in a very structured way, challenging poor performance through reviewing projects closely.
Review your project portfolio and look at how likely each project is to succeed. Use project reporting and governance structures to do this. Once you have the information on the likelihood of success for each project, you can make an informed decision about what should happen next. You’ve got three choices.
This is the easy decision. Review the data you have and see what project performance is like. Some of your projects are probably doing well. They have dedicated teams and a structure in place that supports delivery. You are expecting to get the benefits forecasted.
These are the projects you want to leave alone for now. Keep a watchful eye from a distance and ensure they don’t go off the rails in the future. But for now, turn your attention to mitigating the issues with delivery across other areas of your portfolio.
The fastest way to improve project success rates across the portfolio is to close down projects that are going to fail anyway. Don’t waste any more time on these. Don’t waste any more money. Move the project resources on to something that is going to bring the company some benefit.
This is the hard decision because it means telling executives that their favorite projects are going to be closed down. But it is impossible to argue with the facts. If the project is doomed to fail, they aren’t going to get whatever it was they were hoping for anyway.
If your PMO doesn’t have the direct power to close down failing projects then present your recommendation in a compelling way, focusing on what it would take to recover this project and why that isn’t worth the effort at this point.
Failure means different things to different PMOs but essentially it’s about looking back at the business case and seeing if there is any chance of the project completing and achieving what was stated in there. If a project has been dragging on or spending too much money it is likely to have eroded any financial benefit that was expected. Non-tangible benefits like customer satisfaction can also be eroded: senior management may decide that the projected cost of completing the project is not worth the expected uptick in satisfaction rates, for example.
Save what you can from these projects in case anything can be reused on other initiatives and move on.
Armed with the data you have, your PMO team can make a risk-based decision to keep a project going. It might be possible to address the performance issues before they become too significant. You can support the delivery of a project by providing more project management expertise, appointing an active executive sponsor or through governance activities like reviewing project scope, peer reviews and audits. In fact, your PMO is perfectly placed to help a project in ‘special measures’.
Re-evaluate the business case to be sure that you can salvage something from this work and then set a realistic plan for what can be achieved moving forward. Work with the project team and sponsor to effectively relaunch the project. Get some momentum going and get this work back on track.
If a project is going to succeed, or can be helped to complete successfully (be honest) then it is sensible for the PMO team to keep it going. If your review says the risk of failure is too high, and the risk of a return is too low, then close it down. Your portfolio is a privileged place: it should be filled with projects worthy of being there, not initiatives that will drag down your business.