The Project Management Office (PMO) is facing challenging times.
As pressure mounts to deliver projects at speed, some of the more traditional types of PMO are struggling. They in some cases fail to deliver what the business needs. This has led to increased scrutiny of PMOs. While some believe the PMO is in its demise, it appears more likely that PMOs will evolve to meet the needs of business instead. In fact, a study of companies in the USA show that the PMO is very much alive and well. While 48% of companies had a PMO in 2000, as of 2014, this figure had grown to 80%. This would seem to suggest that the traditional PMO may not remain in its previous format, but there is likely to still be a PMO within the organisation – just that it may look different and operate in new ways.
Drivers of change to the PMO
One of the major drivers of change to the PMO has been digitisation. While this process has been ongoing since the 1980s it has rapidly accelerated in the past decade or so. Organisations have found that they have to become digital to adapt to the business environment, and this has led to significant change from the perspective of project management. Rather than being departmental or functional initiatives, digitisation projects tend to impact on various areas of the organisation and are closely tied up with the organisational strategy. This has led to a need for the projects to be managed in line with strategy. With priorities constantly changing, to keep up with the fast speed of change in the business environment, project management also needs to adapt quickly, and the PMO has an important role to play in this regard. In short, all organisations need to be digitally enabled, with projects aligned to strategy, and the business must also have the agility to change as needed when faced with evolving business priorities.
The role of strategy
In the past, the PMO was all about project execution. However, one trend that can be seen in PMOs is a move towards strategic project management. Experts believe that this has come about due to the growth of project portfolios. PMOs have seen an increasing level of interdependence between project portfolios as well. One way in which PMOs can add value is in helping the organisation manage the scarce resources available where synergies can be found between projects in a portfolio. The PMO is very well placed to pinpoint these areas and align resource accordingly.
From the perspective of strategy, the PMO is also in an excellent position to ensure that project prioritisation is effective. It is likely that no other function of the organisation has this level of oversight and project understanding to achieve this effectively. This helps the organisation to act efficiently in its project management endeavours.
One size does not fit all
One trend that can certainly be seen among PMOs is that there is no one size fits all approach that can simply be applied for organisations. It is likely that the only for-certain similarity between PMOs in different organisations. That similarity is that the PMO is a unit in the organisation that takes a central role for coordinating and overseeing project and programme management. The PMO may not even necessarily be called a PMO, but if it takes this role, then this is what it is.
Some of the differences between PMO types are with regard to what the PMO does. The PMO may only provide project management support, or it may take a much more rigorous approach to project management. The former may be seen in a more supportive role. There are degrees of control that might be involved in the latter. PMOs that might be described as controlling might require compliance and the use of certain project management frameworks and tools. Some PMOs might be more directive and actually manage projects.
Other differences in PMOs can be seen according to the organisational position they operate at. For example, some organisations have a corporate level PMO which develops standards, processes and methodologies. Other firms have departmental PMOs that offer support at the business unit level, helping with a variety of projects. Finally, individual PMOs offer functional support, usually to one project or programme.
What does an evolved PMO look like?
Traditional PMOs offered delivery support. More recently, some PMOs have also taken on an element of strategic planning and act as a centre of excellence with regard to managing projects and programmes effectively. Many have also worked to help the company digitise. However, the evolved PMO does all this and more. One of the elements of the evolved PMO that is new, is ensuring that project and programme management are aligned to strategy. The other is delivering the agility the organisation needs as priorities change for the organisation.
An evolved PMO will not just offer project support, as the PMO may have in the past. Rather it may help with the coordination of resource management, and analysing the interfaces between projects. It can help address issues of strategic alignment and portfolio management. The PMO may still also offer consulting internally to other parts of the organisation, but this is likely to decline in importance compared to the growth in strategic responsibilities of the PMO.
Evolved PMOs have a lot to offer to organisations, but to achieve success they will require the backing and support of the senior management team. Given that the role and function of the PMO has changed significantly in the evolved PMO from one of support to a much more strategic role, this requires a change in mind set.
In some cases, the PMO has evolved to the point that it is offered in the form of PMO as a service. PMO as a service companies offer specialist PMO support to organisations that find it difficult to manage the PMO effectively in-house. This is an interesting new direction for PMOs, and one that has its merits in certain scenarios.
The PMO is facing a time of unprecedented change. As pressure has increased in the external business environment, there is a corresponding pressure within the organisation to ensure that project management is not just effective, but strategic. An evolved PMO is likely to be well positioned to help the organisation achieve its strategic imperatives, but it is unlikely that a one size fits all approach will work.