August 29

A Look at PMO Risks and How to Handle Them

2=Planning, 4=Control


I recently published an article entitled 40 Reasons PMOs Fail that has performed extremely well. I received feedback from one individual who said, “With respect, although there’s some accuracy in the text, this is whining. Point these out doesn’t achieve much. Each should come with a strategy to tackle.”

Photo courtesy of (edited in Canva)
Photo courtesy of (edited in Canva)

Although I developed the list as a checklist to help individuals identify PMO risks, I respect and understand this individual’s comments. Let’s move beyond the risk identification and develop risk response plans.

Tip: Be sure to evaluate your risks before developing risk response plans. We should not develop response plans for every possible risk, only for the most significant risks.

I will address 10 of the 40 reasons for PMO failure. These response plans will not work in every organization. Perhaps these examples will get you thinking about how to use risk management to improve your chance for success.

1. No project sponsor or project charter for the implementation of the PMO. 

How to handle:

You likely do not have the authority to select a sponsor. If not, consider using your relationships to encourage a senior executive to identify a sponsor. Offer to work with the sponsor to develop a project charter. Engage key stakeholders in the development of the charter.

2. The PMO doesn’t understand the organization’s culture. 

How to handle:

If you are new to the organization, solicit feedback from key stakeholders using the Delphi method or interviews. What are the beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and actions of individuals involved in projects? What are the results?

3. The PMO doesn’t understand the stakeholder’s needs and expectations. 

How to handle:

Interview the stakeholders. What are their interests? What does each stakeholder expect from the project? Identify the communication preferences for each stakeholder (e.g., likes to receive a high-level update monthly).

4. Failure to place the PMO at the right level of the organization.

How to handle:

If you have input into the early discussions concerning the need and placement of a PMO (e.g., Enterprise PMO, IT PMO), solicit feedback on the primary problems related to project management. Ask stakeholders if they believe the organization would be better served by an enterprise PMO or department PMO and why.

5. Not implementing the right type of PMO/degree of control.

How to handle:

Make sure you have done your homework concerning the organization’s culture. Although you may wish to implement a directive/high control PMO, your organization may not be ready for significant change. Perhaps start with a supportive/low control structure. Evaluate and transition the PMO to another structure such as controlling/moderate control or directive model/high control later if needed.

6. Passive-aggressive behavior of stakeholders. 

How to handle:

Identify high-powered, high-influence individuals who have a tendency to undermine initiatives. Invite these stakeholders to your meetings with other influential stakeholders. Ask questions to get everyone involved in the discussions of the role of the PMO. Consider the use of round-robin exercise to ensure everyone speaks.

7. Communicating to all the stakeholders in the same manner with the same level of detail. 

How to handle:

Develop a communication plan based on stakeholder’s communication preferences. What do you need to communicate about the PMO? When and where will you communicate? How will you communicate?

8. Staffing of the PMO with technical project managers that lack leadership and strategic and business management skills. 

How to handle:

Determine the types of strategic and business management skills needed by the PMO. Develop job descriptions that include the specific requirements and qualifications for technical, strategic, and business management skills. Recruit and staff accordingly.

9. The lack of project management training. 

How to handle:

Determine the strengths and weaknesses of the organization’s project management skills. Develop project management courses accordingly. Consider developing an internal certification program:

  • Project Management 101 (fundamentals of project management)
  • Project Management 201 (more advanced topics)
  • Project Management 301 (preparation for the PMP exam)

Award a project management certification when individuals complete the course series.

10. The clashing of beliefs in traditional and agile life cycles. 

How to handle:

Educate stakeholders on the plan-driven life cycle (e.g., predictive, waterfall) and the change-driven life cycle (e.g., agile, adaptive). Discuss the pros and cons of different life cycles. Define a strategy for how the organization will adopt new life cycles. Periodically evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of the life cycles. Evolve and mature the use of the life cycles.

Tackle Your Risks

Implementing a PMO is not for the faint-hearted. Be sure to identify and evaluate your risks in light of your objectives. Develop and implement the response plans. Periodically review the risks and the effectiveness of the responses.

Change the Culture

One other tip. I have found the most challenging part of implementing PMOs is changing the culture. Marshall Goldsmith said, “After living with their dysfunctional behavior for so many years (a sunk cost if ever there was one), people become invested in defending their dysfunctions rather than changing them.”

Want some help? Check out the book Change the Culture, Change the Game. The authors provide practical advice on assessing your culture and mapping a plan to navigate to your desired destination.

Question: What was one of the greatest risks you’ve faced in implementing a PMO? How did you respond? 

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