Why PMO's Fail and What You Can do about it

In my experience, PMO's are a necessary service for complex and fast paced projects. In a project no two departments are the same, and whilst this serves to support autonomy, accountability and control. In most cases its the exact opposite. PMO's don't fail because they want to, is the what I'll start by saying..There success is largely determined by two things:

1. The perception of the leadership teams in which steer the PMO direction, style and strategy

2. The overall success of the project both from the employer and client point of view


Project Management Offices come in many shapes and sizes, and even after all my years of working in the PMO environment, I'm not convinced there is one PMO method that trumps any other. PMO is an essential professional service, much like Finance or HR (although I have my doubts). Whilst the project teams focus on delivering, it is the goal of most PMO's to understand where are we relative to our plan, and what should we be keeping our eyes on. Directing focus and attending to developing teams in advanced project management methods is an insurance policy. To see that PMO and the teams can deliver successfully. This means delivering to client specifications, this means quality, scope and cost are on track.


So, PMO has a tough job. It's not for the faint-hearted and can easily become a polarised or politicised issue. Depending on who or what you are working on. The failure of PMO's is the inability to execute with some level of autonomy and sponsorship. I don't believe PMO's should explain variances or slippage. PMO's should advise both parties, e.g. delivery team and functional leads or executives. PMO's fail by trying to do too much and serve too many masters. The truth is it cant be done!


The factors leaving PMO teams less than fulfilled, are generally the same causes for project failure. Such as:


  • Lack of scope and quality understanding

  • Commercial and Political mind-games between contractors and client

  • Failure to measure the right data at the right time

  • Inability to execute governance in line with process and policy

  • Lack of support and sponsorship from executive leadership team

  • Soft PMO leadership leading to false positives and misleading reporting

  • PMO not executing the duty of training, development and lifting people to understand

  • PMO's not given the opportunity to repair mistakes and seek valuable opportunities

  • Reporting and systems (tools) not integrated in a way that allows PMO to leverage expertise


These are just to name a few. We've all been there and seen it with our own eyes. But what can be done? Does PMO have the authority to make it stop? In short, yes. If you're running or in a PMO team, you have all you need to make massive change and it might not be too late to avoid some of the pitfalls mentioned above.


The PMO must establish itself as they key inter-departmental integrator. It must strive for recognition and agreement of its responsibilities and outputs each month. This may mean a refresh if in an existing PMO. In every professional service this role is dependent on strong individuals with the experience of influencing and negotiation. No role at this level will be easy and therefore, to get a seat at the table, you must be willing to push for it.


  • Establish the ground rules first - no one likes being measured. In particular no one likes being measured when their team is performing poorly. Establish this with the executive team first. What is and what is not within the scope of your PMO

  • Reduce low value tasks - Is your team too busy? Are your PMO staff stretched, always rushing month end? Stop it right now! do a little stop/start/continue exercise on all outputs, reports and effort. Reduce the low value tasks and negotiate time consuming work. Look to automate or integrate software and systems NOT Excel!! to do the job you need. Work smarter not harder.


  • Work closer with Client - If you're a PMO on the contractor side or client side. Work closer with your counter team. You'll find common issues or outputs that can be improved, changed or removed completely. Reach for a consensus. If you have to present, present together and build a strong work ethic together. Building trust will come through repetitive exercises to do something for others and extending your help. You'll be amazed at how this contributes to project success.


We could go on, but tune in to our podcasts, for more info, tips and tricks to help you and your teams succeed!


#pmo #projectfailures #improvements


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