Sunday, February 21, 2016

Are PMOs maximizing their return on investment?

I have been contemplating how the Project Management practice, especially in a Project/Program Management Office (PMO), is progressing in the 21st Century. I hear about organizations investing a good amount of capital and resources in building a PMO, then disbanding it to the product or program manager to project manage their work, only to then re-invest in a PMO at a later date.

I do not believe that project managers (PM) have a gap in knowledge in how to work in a PMO or a Professional Service Organization (PSO).  But I do believe that the management of projects has become more complex and that PMs need to be more involved in the initiation phase of the project when the scope is being discussed and agreed upon.  I don’t believe that PMs have lost the methodology that Waterfall or even Agile offers them. Rather, I believe that more PMs and PMOs are facing more challenges because of changing platforms, for example cloud, and the delivery of those platforms because of lack of insight regarding scope. There are additional challenges when resources whocan actually do the work on the project have become scarce andwhen budget constraints are no longer reasonable.  Even project scope has become more nebulous.

With these challenges, is it any wonder that PMOs continue to have a high failure rate across the board? I also see more burnout among PMs. Is it any wonder that senior management has increasinglybecome disenchanted with PMOs? I can tell you that I do not wonder about this anymore. What are the main challenges and what do I suggest? Let’s have that discussion.

The PMO has lost its vision

There has been a disturbing move to commoditize our practice. In this I mean that the PMO is not clear on what its role is in accepting a project and identifying scope. Also, it seems that more and more organizations are moving to do more with less. That means individuals who are managing projects are either first time PMs, or the PM on the project is given a project with no clear scope and little support when it comes to resources. PMOs must have in their charter that a PM is assigned to a project in the initiation phase. And, if they don’t, they must establish that immediately. Also, for seasoned PMs, I see another road bump: the prospect of working with little resource help and working with other less experienced PMs, especially in this ever-confusing new paradigm.

PMs have to become more vocal

PMs are not innocent bystanders in this dilemma. PMs must become more vocal after they receive a project and have a review of the scope as soon as they have their initial meeting with the project team. PMs must also communicate the risks in the project to senior management. Also, PMs have to add to their ever increasing workload the prospect of having to work on more complex projects and new platforms. This includes becoming familiar with new service level agreements (SLAs) and new partners who bring new platform experience that PMs have to come up to speed with. These are only some of the risks that must be communicated.

My answer

As a PM, I am as troubled by these challenges as other PMs and senior management are. I do believe there are several ways a PMO can help begin improving itself:
  1.  Conduct an audit in the SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats) method. I believe that PMOs have strengths and opportunities they are not capitalizing on. I also believe that the weaknesses and threats are growing.
  2. Ensure that the methodologies in place are being followed by all PMs. That goes for all sizes of projects. Yes, some small projects may not need a change order or a full-blown communication plan, but that does not preclude PMs from delivering a project schedule, status report, and risk and issues log at the very least.
  3. Conduct a survey among senior management to receive their input and advice on how to improve the PMO. As stakeholders, they have a vested interest in improving the PMO.
  4. Conduct a survey among the PMs to find out what is right and wrong in the practice. Emphasize the right and make plans to eliminate the wrong.
  5. If lessons learned are not being conducted with clients, begin them and use that feedback to improve the PMO.
I understand that PMOs may be blind to possible solutions and may need an objective third party to identify them. I believe I can provide objective advice to PMOs to help guide them back to “green.”I want to continue to promote and advance the PMO entity because I believe in it. If you have taken the steps that I have described above and they have not worked or if you believe you need a guide on the steps above, please contact me at Benny A. Recine.

I believe that I can help improve the return on investment in PMOs by focusing on specific project deliverables that may not be evident to management or PMs. So, let’s have the discussion on how I can help you make your PMO life better. Contact me and we can begin our journey to advance your PMO so that it is the place for a PM and for senior management to go to for project implementation.


  1. Sadly, some companies with business & technology initiatives are cutting costs by reducing training, QA & the PMO. Not sure if this truly yields a long term cost savings, as much as it does the short term savings.

    When the PM is removed from the project leadership, the PM role may be shifted to the business/product manager. In that case, the project leadership may lose the independent advocate (being the PM) that would contribute to project success.

    One solution could be that companies commoditize PMs like they do with other term resources. That being, bring in the PM as a contractor dedicated to a specific project, and not drawn into other initiatives. Include the resource in the project budget to manage costs while maintaining quality on project leadership.

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