To start this post we have to clarify a few concepts. All of the specific definitions given may be contested but for the purposes of this post, I would like to utilize these descriptions as a foundation.
Project – A project in business and science is typically defined as a collaborative enterprise, frequently involving research or design, which is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim. Projects can be further defined as temporary rather than permanent social systems that are constituted by teams within or across organizations to accomplish particular tasks under time constraints. (wikipedia.org)
Program – A group of related projects, subprograms and program activities that are managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually. (pmi.org)
Portfolio – Projects, programs, sub-portfolios, and operations managed as a group to achieve strategic objectives. (pmi.org)
PMO (Portfolio/Program/Project Management Office) as a concept is used interchangeably to denote any organisational construct that attempts to govern, administer or standardize project (used singularly to denote inclusion of Portfolio/Program/Project Management throughout this article) related activities with the intent to improve the success, benefit realization or efficiency obtained from these efforts.
There are two very contradicting, but real, statistics related to the project management industry/discipline. The first is the unquestionable advantage that disciplined project management provides in achieving short and medium-term goals, affecting change, mobilizing resources and converting resources and effort into value. The second undeniable reality is an alarming failure rate of projects. Much has and can be said about the failures, and it is probably one of the most enduring sources of research for professionals and practitioners.
I wish that I could sever PMO’s from these statements, but unfortunately, I could not do it with a clear conscience.
Most of the PMO’s I have been exposed to are an attempt to overcome the realities like – governance practices afforded only lip-service, resources over-allocated and multi-tasked, project sponsors invisible and project commitments made without proper planning or justification – “normal” project management environments.
- A PMO cannot address business problems from outside the business. If you have a problem with squirrels, putting down all the rats you can find will not solve the problem. Similarly, addressing problems with project governance will not be solved by implementing a PMO; it would probably just make things worse. If you have a business problem, resolve it using the appropriate business methodologies and practices.
- Project Management maturity cannot be achieved by implementing a PMO – Teaching a seven-year-old all the principles of medical diagnostics does not make a doctor. Management maturity and skills can only be achieved through – exposure, training, hiring, failure and other similar actions. Only by learning from mistakes and responding in a prevention orientated way, will organizations gain the experiences which then provide maturity.
- PMO’s do not provide instant results – You cannot build an ocean liner by converting a houseboat. The design, implementation, and embedding of a PMO consume resources (hopefully high-quality i.e. expensive resources) that can only be recovered on in the tactical or strategic realm. The PMO will have to steadily grow into a value-adding entity OR the organization has to realize that value is obtained from combining benefits yielded by contributing processes at least in the early life stages of the PMO.
- PMO’s don’t survive cold boardroom air exposure – A losing team can be inspired by the addition of a single player, but it will not overcome dependency on that player until the original team members acquire new skills. Implemented PMO’s HAVE to permeate every level of the organization involved in project management, and it has to become the unquestionable mechanism of choice from the executives to the shop floor – every man and his dog have to understand their contribution or requirement. If it is only used and promoted by senior staff it will die.
- PMO’s work like web sites – Any programmer can develop the Google landing page in a matter of minutes. However, one millimeter behind the screen there are servers, and processes that consume vast resources that allow Google to conduct the search, filter results and respond with relevant information. This is also true of PMO’s – setting up an office, hiring people, setting down standards and processes is the landing page; getting those processes and standards to work and return relevant results will consume vast resources, require hard work and know-how.
- PMO Accountability – PMO’s cannot be held accountable for project execution success if they have no say in which projects get selected, who the project managers are and which project manager is executing which project. Beating the teacher because of a high failure rate of a poorly defined course.
The achievement of a working PMO is the pinnacle of project management. The benefits that can be achieved through getting it right can be compared to the introduction of production line manufacturing into the automobile industry.
The implementation of a PMO can easily be likened to changing an automobile manufacturer that produces handcrafted wood frame vehicles into a production line that produces metal frame vehicles. Many different things will have to change. Think of the impact the following concepts will have on the business culture of the organization experiencing the change – tolerances, specialization, supply lines, parts inventory, production floor management techniques, quality control and assurance, production throughput management, process sequencing, etc.
Implementing a PMO is a SIGNIFICANT undertaking for any organization irrespective of size or market and should be considered in the order group of implementing a project management production (not just assembly) line into the organization.
Is the implementation of a PMO really worth it?
Ask any major automobile manufacturer.
– Unquestionably and Irrevocably –
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