The Role of a PMO
There are as many types of PMOs are there are PMOs, maybe more. Most are trying to combat some issue with struggling projects. There are, however, a very large percentage that are implemented just because it sounds neat. "Of course, we have a PMO, don't you?" I salivate when I hear that question. This person has inadvertently stumbled upon one of my biggest pet peeves. "So, what problem was it that you were trying to solve?" Their responses and my retorts are as follows:
- The PMO allows us to implement a common process across all the projects. Process is about 20% of what it takes to run a project. It takes people, management, and leadership to make projects consistently successful. Process only helps since it provides the managers and executives a set of guideposts to judge a project. Using piles of process, they try to devolve projects into a checklist of activities, thinking that you can follow the steps and the project will be successful. They can ignore a project and occasionally swoop in asking for a new report. They cannot see whether the project is running efficiently or heading for ruin. Their goal is to be a one-minute manager.
- The PMO ensures that we are properly prioritizing our projects. Now, wait just one second. At any well-managed company, the CEO sets the direction for the company. He or she works with the executive team (other C-Suite members) to develop the strategic and tactical plans to achieve those goals. Their progressive levels of planning and maintaining close coordination of all business units develops a list of projects and their corporate priority. Only if the executives are failing at prioritizing projects or communicating these priorities do we need a PMO to do this task.
- The PMO removes roadblocks for the project manager. Granted, this is dearly needed support. In a properly lead company, internal roadblocks should be nonexistent (see bullet 2). Everyone should know his or her priorities with respect to one another. External roadblocks, risks, and issues, requiring "executive power" or additional resources (people, time, or money), are a reality and the PMO can be quite beneficial in addressing these. However, this is the project sponsor's job.
In so many words, the PMO is filling in for the void of leadership.
The Role of Leadership
Leadership, rather than reports, solves this problem. I am aghast at the number of companies where when asked for their strategic plan the only thing delivered is a blank stare. They have the revenue to keep their inefficiencies funded and cover up their lack of leadership. You can make money with minimal leadership as long as you have a great bunch of people selling anything they can. You can only grow and prosper, however, with an executive team's vision that sets direction and inspires and empowers employees.
Think of it in naval terms. The executive team is comprised of captains piloting a fleet of ships on a mission; each ship having its own crucial role and piece of that mission. None can survive on their own they must work in unison. They are not guided by a group of lieutenants telling them who should be in the lead and where to steer.
Ergo, Poor Leadership
Alas, PMOs are a necessity because companies have become leader deficient. Too much emphasis has been placed on corporate politics and the resulting executive teams are incapable of creating a vision, developing the plans, and inspiring their employees to meet those goals.
PMOs should be a means to an end, not an end in themselves. They are being used to fill the leadership void instead of educating executives in the complexities for running projects with interdepartmental dependencies. PMOs can institute the discipline to ensure projects get started at the latest possible date and that key resources are properly allocated when they are needed. The added bureaucracy that most PMOs bring, however, weigh the down the organization making it a lumbering giant, when what companies desperately need is leadership.
Want To Hear More?
If you would like to hear further debate on the subject, tune into the upcoming PMTV panel where Lindsay Scott, Dr. David Fraser and yours truly will answer the question Why do PMOs Fail?. Our hosts, Jon Hyde and Bernardo Tirado, promise this will be an exciting and educational event. It will be August 7, 2012 at noon BST (GMT +1). For all the Western Hemisphere early birds that is 7:00AM EDT or 4:00AM PDT. Yes, in the morning. If I can do it, so can you. However, it will be taped for viewing at a more reasonable hour.