Wednesday, 21 October 2015 10:36

Disband Your PMO

Rate this item
(2 votes)

After nearly 30 years of project work, I struggle to understand the role of a project management office (PMO). Even though, I have written of the pros and cons, and read a plethora of articles, opinions, and how-to guides little has been done to convince me that the PMO is reducing project failure. It seems to be nothing more than a tool to fill a void in leadership? Even the acronym, which is so widely thrown around, has little meaning as the "P" has no less than four meanings. It is an executive's crutch for their lack of understanding in how projects work. These, like other, unattended holes in the corporate accountability create opportunities for new and greater bureaucracies and empires that further obfuscate accountability.

But, Our PMO Is A...

I already hear distant sound of cocking guns, I can sense people taking aim, and I can feel the anger rise with the murmuring, "I'm gunna' to shoot this idiot down." The issue is a much bigger business problem than the PMO, someone's empire, or the project. The trouble is accountability and leadership—more accurately, the lack thereof. The PMO, which at many companies is created and destroyed with regularity every four years, tries to fill a number of corporate gaps: project prioritization, uniformity of reporting and process, resource allocation (fancy words for "Gimme a PM"), PM coaching, support, and advocacy, corralling the problem project; or some combination of these attributes. Anyone of these honorable goals, however, is a misdirected effort at compensating for deficiencies elsewhere in the organization.

As a Prioritization Group

PMOs that prioritize the queue of projects are simply hiding the fact that the "leadership" is shirking their accountability in providing clear, concise direction. CEOs and their direct reports should be prioritizing initiatives and projects to meet corporate goals. Having a secondary layer in place to make that call is a feeble attempt to push accountability out of the executive suite. The cries that the PMO has to coordinate priorities across various business units (the justification for many IT-PMOs) simply points out that the "leadership" does not comprehend the complexities of the matrixed organization and they need to spend time understanding basic resource loading.

As a Standards Group

"But, how will we be able to compare performance if we are not all using the same standard process?" Projects by definition build unique capabilities, how in the world can you expect them all to use the same processes? Some projects build new capabilities and need an adaptive and innovative approach; other projects are more repeatable and require a well-documented and tested methodology.

The answer is to look for the project manager with the proper skill set to run that type of project. Speaking of which...

As a Resource Group

Although I hate calling people resources, shouldn't Human Resources be supplying people with the right skill set? Just pop into a dictionary or thesaurus and alternative words for resource include supply, store, source, and means. Why not have a store of project managers with various skills that HR has in their inventory. As a sponsor initiates a project and identifies the required resources (money, people, buildings, time, etc.) they define the skills required for the job and Human Resources identifies the resource who has the means to complete the job—not just any PM currently on the bench. The executive sponsor is accountable for describing the need (it is his or her project after all) and HR is accountable for finding the right person. Viola! Done.

As an Advocate

"Our project managers need advocates for when they run into political road blocks, or the sponsor or end-user is not engaged." Wait a minute. This is clearly a problem with prioritizing the project. "Politics" is simply a code word for someone not being onboard to support the project. Lack of engagement is misaligned priorities—someone has something more important to do than the project. We are back to an executive sponsor problem or a CEO that has confused the priorities. Remove the bureaucracy—the PM should be raising the flag to the executives. They need to change the priorities of the disengaged people or drop the priority of the project.

As a Project Recovery Group

I am always amazed when companies build internal project rescue teams. Yes, rescuing projects is my business, and I am not worried about the competition. There is plenty of work to go around! I am amazed at the strategy of fixing a failed project, rather than running it right the first time and running health checks. Focus on preventing the problem project, do not take pride in how many you can fix.

The Real Picture

The other day, I was talking with executive at a multi-billion dollar corporation who is a good friend. He was complaining about the never getting the real picture of project status. "We continually get a rosy picture when my peers and I are clear that our culture is about transparency." Obviously that message has not gotten through and the layers of managers, PMOs, etc. have created the status quo of sanitized project reports, greener projects, and softer news through its standardized reporting system. Sorry, Liz, it is a cultural issue. She sighed, but I am unclear on whether she was willing to take the hit.

The Place for the PMO

The best role of the PMO is a temporary group to help re-align the organization. Step in the middle for six months and show the deficiencies in the organization. Help HR set up the "project manager pool;" help align the priorities to the corporate goals; move shared services closer to the customer; help the leaders define and communicate clearly articulated goals; help define the executive sponsor's roles and responsibilities; and, then, step aside and let the newly accountable organization do their job. Foster transparency and train the leadership on how to deal with the blunt facts it brings. Be proud to be an empowering leader and then, as all good leaders do, get out of people's way. Change the meaning of the "P" away from Project, Portfolio, Process, Program, and even People. Make it a Problem solving group that temporarily focuses on problems and solves them once and for all.

Read 40575 times

Related items

  • People vs Process Track Session/Keynote Example

    If you want educational keynote many of our presentations can be keynotes or track sessions. In the example below, the presentation People or Process: Which Impacts Project Success More? is given as a track session.  

    Example People vs Process keynote as a track session

    This session was given at the PMI Sioux Empire Professions Development Day help in Sioux Falls SD on September 9, 2014.

  • Webinar Topic Example

    Nearly any topic that Todd Williams writes about or speaks on, he can do a webinar. You can find some of his "uni-directional" webinars on (see partial listing below) or you can have a fully interactive session as in the audio clip.  The limitations of the session are based on the tool used. In this example, the ZOOM meeting tool was used and it did not allow recording of the video. The session was recorded on May 29, 2019 at 12:30PM London time (4:30AM Pacific). There were about a dozen people online, about half of them had their video turned on, and the meeting organizer (Jonathan Norman) moderated the call. 

    What Example Webinar: Eliminating Blame Covers

    Here are three uni-directional webinar examples posted on (these are free to PMI Members)

  • Transform Your Project Leadership: For Professionals Leading Projects or Company Initiatives

    Todd Williams contributed Chapter 7, "Leaders Listen." You can buy it on Amazon.

    More coming soon!

  • Filling Execution Gaps: How Executives and Project Managers Turn Corporate Strategy into Successful Projects
    What Filling Execution Gaps Covers

    Filling Execution Gaps

    by Todd C. Williams
    ISBN: 978-1-5015-0640-6
    De G Press (DeGruyter), September 2017

    Project alignment, executive sponsorship, change management, governance, leadership, and common understanding. These six business issues are topics of daily discussions between executives, middle management, and project managers; they are the pivotal problems plaguing transformational leadership. Any one of these six, when improperly addressed, will hex a project's chances for success. And, they do—daily—destroying the ability companies to turn vision into value.

    Check it out on Amazon or the Filling Execution Gaps website

    Without the foundation of a common understanding of goals and core concepts, such as value being critical to success, communication stops and projects fail.

    Without change management, users fail to adopt project deliverables, value is lost, and projects fail.

    Without maintaining alignment between corporate goals and projects, projects miss their value targets and projects fail.

    Without an engaged executive sponsor, scope increases, goals drift, chaos reigns, value is lost, and projects fail.

    Without enough governance, critical connections are not made, steps are ignored, value is overlooked, and projects fail.

    Too much governance slows progress, companies cannot respond to business pressures, value drowns in bureaucracy, and projects fail.

    Without strong leadership defining the vision and value, goals are not set, essential relationships do not form, teams do not develop, essential decisions are not made, and projects fail.

  • Filling Execution Gaps: Building Success-Focused Organizations

    Executives define vision, strategy, and goals to advance the business. Projects enable companies to meet those goals. Between strategy and projects, there is a lot of work to be done—work that lays the foundation for project and operational success. Through experience and research, six common gaps exist in organizations that inhibit project success—an absence of common understanding, disengaged executive sponsors, misalignment with goals, poor change management, ineffective governance, and lackluster leadership.

Leave a comment

Filling Execution Gaps

Available Worldwide

Filling Exectution Gaps cover

Filling Execution Gaps is available worldwide. Below are some options.


PG DirectLogo
Limited Time Price $20.99
Amazon logo
Book or Kindle
Flag of the United States Canadian Flag Flag of the United Kingdom Irish Flag Deutsche Flagge
Drapeau Français Bandiera Italiana PRC flag
Japanese flag
Bandera de España
Flag of India
Bandera de México
Bandeira do Brasil
Flag of Australia
Vlag van Nederland
DeG Press Logo
Barnes and Noble Logo
Books a Million Logo
Booktopia Logo
Worldwide: Many other
book sellers worldwide.

Rescue The Problem Project

Internationally acclaimed

Image of RPP

For a signed and personalized copy in the US visit the our eCommerce website.

Amazon logo
Buy it in the United States Buy it in Canada Buy it in the United Kingdom
Buy it in Ireland Buy it in Germany Buy it in France
Buy it in Italy Buy it in the PRC
Buy it in Japan
Book sellers worldwide.

Upcoming Events

Other's References

More Info on Project Recovery

Tell me More!

Please send me more information
on fixing a failing project.