PMOs Shifting from Watchdogs to Strategic Enablers

    2=Planning, 3=Execution, 4=Control, Leadership

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Unfortunately, many Project Management Offices (PMOs) become nothing more than a watchdog, one that ensures compliance to a strict set of rules. In this article, we will explore why this happens and what it takes for PMOs to become strategic enablers.

PMOs Have Gone to the Dogs

PMOs are started with the best of intentions. Management sees it as a way to give oversight to all the programs and projects. However, PMOs may go to the dogs, deteriorate or go awry. Not all do, but it happens!

There are several reasons. First, organizations implement PMOs with a lack of clarity. Why does the organization need the PMO? What is the role of the PMO? How will the PMO engage with the senior leaders?

Second, the PMO fails to ask for feedback and incrementally evolve. 

Third, some PMO managers lack authority and relational influence in the organization. The CEO may not engage the PMO manager in the strategic planning process. Consequently, there is a disconnect between what the leaders want and what the PMO delivers.

"PMOs are shifting from being project watchdogs to orchestrating conversations between senior leaders, business unit heads, product owners, and project teams. These conversations provide accurate insights into project performance, threats, and opportunities that can affect important strategic initiatives." -PMBOK® Guide, Seventh Edition, p.214

Feedback from PMO Practitioners

I shared the PMBOK® excerpt above on LinkedIn. Here were some of the responses:

  • "PMOs *want* this to be true, but not sure how much it is actually happening."
  • "I see it, but not in a concerted, coordinated way."
  • "Shift indeed is happening from being a coordinator to being leaders."

There is a wide range of views. Let us explore some tangible steps that PMO leaders can take to deliver better services and greater value.

How PMOs Can Become Strategic Enablers

1. It Starts With PMO Sponsorship!

I hear people criticizing the PMO. More times than not, the problem(s) originated from the organization's senior leader(s). PMO success starts at the top! Someone with significant authority in the organization should sponsor and support the PMO. And it starts with a clear definition of the PMO goals and roles.

2. Clarify the PMO's Goals and Roles

Whether you are planning for a PMO implementation or it's been in existence for several years, you may wish to facilitate a SWOT analysis with your key stakeholders. Identify the most significant strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of project management in the organization. Based on the SWOT analysis, define clear, results-oriented goals. Additionally, define the roles of the PMO. Consider a RASI or RASIC diagram (roles and responsibilities matrix). 

3. Engage in Strategic Risk Management

Strategic risk management is a process for identifying, analyzing, and managing risks most critical to the achievement of your organization's goals. While many organizations perform risk management informally, a more structured approach has its benefits. For instance, strategic risk management can help you invest your precious time, money, resources and energy where it counts most.

One of the key outputs from the strategic planning is list of business strategies, broad activities to help the organization move from its current position to the desired future state. The PMO can define programs and projects to support the strategic initiatives.

4. Select the Best Programs and Projects

When organizations fail to select the best projects, they reduce their chances of fulfilling their mission and achieving their objectives. Develop a scorecard that helps the organization to consistently select the projects that align with their strategic plan.

5. Ask for Feedback!

Last, but not least, PMOs should periodically ask for feedback from key stakeholders. Is the PMO providing the right services? How can the PMO better support the achievement of the organizational and project goals? Is the PMO placed in the right location in the organization's structure? 

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