Determine Your PMO's Value Before Someone Else Does!
Bill Hoberecht - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Without a single, universal definition of a PMO, stakeholders frequently have a wide range of expectations for a given PMO's focus and performance.  It wouldn't be surprising if these varied assumptions resulted in unfavorable criticism of your PMO.  How can a PMO survive under these conditions?  Is a PMO leader destined to fail?  Not necessarily - it might help to evaluate your PMO's effectiveness regularly and ensure that you indeed do have a high performing PMO that is creating and delivering recognized value - here are three areas in which to examine your PMO.


Going through my bedroom closet recently, I applied a critical eye to the neatly folded, stacked and hanging clothes.  I reluctantly concluded that a fair quantity of my clothing was outdated.  While still in excellent condition, they detract rather than enhance.

How did this situation sneak up on me?  How did I end up with so many shirts, pants, jackets and suits that would look out of place?  I guess I just wasn't paying enough attention as fashions changed and wasn't even noticing when I always skipped over those clothes while selecting my attire for the day.

I've started a refresh.  After clearing out unneeded belongs from the past, I've now started to create the right collection for today.


Spring Cleaning - Should You Keep Your PMO?

This "spring cleaning" mindset accompanied me to work for the next month, and with surprising clarity I observed more than a few PMO practices that were outdated, superfluous, ineffective and unnecessarily constraining.  I concluded, perhaps harshly, that some PMOs are in dire need of a refresh and others may have outlived their purpose and it is time for them to disband.

How current is your PMO in addressing your organization's priorities?  If examined with a critical eye would your PMO be judged favorably, or would it be given a less satisfying score?

At some point in every PMO's life, questions will surface about the value actually provided by that PMO.  Don't be a victim.  Prepare your PMO by continuously improving, staying current and reliably delivering value.  Consider periodically evaluating your PMO's delivery of value and wise use of your limited resources.  Here are three suggestions to get you started in thinking about areas to evaluate.


Delivering Business Value

When all is said and done, here's what is important to the organization: Does the PMO enhance the organization's ability to deliver meaningful value to the business?  A business-centric perspective leads to examining these three themes:

  • Alignment with Strategy.  Is every member of the PMO team conversant in the company and business strategy?  How is that knowledge then applied to the project portfolio?  Conversely, is the PMO primarily focused inward on the technology team and PMO operation (this would be a warning flag)?
  • Clear identification of business value.  Are project team discussions with the business oriented around business operation, business needs and business performance?  Can most PMO and IT leaders describe how their current initiatives are in support of business priorities?  Conversely, are IT and business discussions focused on IT performance (this is a warning indicator)?  An over weighted focus on traditional project success measures - quality, schedule, scope - is a signal of an inward IT focus and not a business focus.  Devote some time to these topics in discussions with the business, but then get to the important topic of business performance and how IT can help.
  • Impact - moving the needle.  Is project success evaluated through the lens of business impact?  Are you routinely measuring (weeks or months after delivery) the business outcome of IT deliveries?  Business outcomes might be measures like these:  Percent of revenue from newly introduced offerings. Customer growth.  Increase in revenue per transaction. Margin improvement. Quality of service provided to customers. Market share. Product's competitive advantage (e.g., cost, features, usability). Use of automation to decrease manual tasks.  Your PMO's contribution to these types of outcomes is what counts.


Avoiding A Focus on Low Value Activities

  • Status Reporting and bookkeeping.  Long ago, Project Managers could easily spend the bulk of their time collecting and processing status information, then producing a weekly status report.  With the sophisticated project management tools available today, the effort in creating a status report borders on trivial.  Are your PMO and project reporting activities leveraging the capabilities of your toolset?  Is your status reporting effort appropriately minimal?
  • Concentration on adherence.  Is your PMO acting as the "methodology police?"  While I wouldn't advocate for anarchy in project management practice adoption, too much time spent auditing projects on process and artifacts takes away from other higher value PMO activities.
  • Too much effort defining process, templates, tools.  Is your PMOs leveraging available Project Management assets and rapidly tailoring them?  Are you deploying thin processes, letting project teams fill in the details that are best for their project?  (While I respect the wisdom that goes into comprehensive processes and templates, they are frequently implemented by project teams only because they are required, not because the team sees them as helpful.)


Fundamentals of a PMO

I would say there are areas where every type of PMO is worthy of periodic evaluation to ensure that your PMO is performing well:

  • Change Catalyst.  Is the PMO able to identify and successfully implement changes that enhance the delivery of value?  Or, is the PMO primarily oriented to maintaining the status quo (a warning indicator)?
  • The PMO Team.  Are team members well regarded with a demonstrated ability to influence?
  • Tools.  Is the PMO making effective use of technology to introduce efficiency in PMO operation as well as to enable project success?
  • Advancing Capabilities.  Is the PMO pursuing professional development and bringing new learnings into the organization?  More specifically, is the PMO advocating and enabling Agility in the organization?
  • Building a Delivery Culture.  Is the PMO promoting values and concepts as a foundation of a delivery culture?  Or, is the PMO exclusively oriented to processes, templates and tools (a warning indicator, with the risk that teams complete activities without understanding why)?  


Closing Thoughts

A PMO is particularly vulnerable to criticism because of its high visibility.  

Because Supportive and Controlling PMOs are generally not directly responsible for project delivery, they are particularly open to complaints about their relevancy and benefit.  You can avoid those criticisms by continuously evaluating your PMO's effectiveness, the value provided, and the perspectives held by project teams and the business.  Identify high value activities and prioritize those for PMO attention.  And, of course, ensure that stakeholders are aware of your value!

Here's a potentially helpful discussion for your PMO: Brainstorm on the question If we were to create a PMO today, what would it look like and what would be its focus?  The PMO of a decade ago wouldn't thrive in today's world of Agility, continuous change and fast-paced business demands.  Is your PMO suitable for today's expectations?   With the right leadership, a superfluous PMO can become essential.  I wish you the best in creating or fine tuning a PMO to make it highly effective.

What are other key areas you consider when evaluating PMO effectiveness?  How does your PMO measure "delivered value?"