Not too long ago, I was on a call with a top-level executive at a large enterprise. During the discussion, I heard something pretty shocking: They were looking seriously at getting rid of the project management office (PMO) altogether. Even more disturbing: I don’t see this as an aberration. In a significant number of businesses, PMOs are either being relegated to a lower-level status, they’re being worked around instead of with, or they’re creating outright barriers to progress.
What’s the problem? While the details will vary, at its core, the issue is this: digital transformation is a critical imperative, and the PMO isn’t doing enough to help fuel success. In many organizations, it’s the folks in the digital transformation office that are stepping into the vacuum, looking to absorb PMO responsibilities, because they see they can do it better.
How do you know whether your PMO is part of the solution or part of the problem? Here are five key warning signs.
#1. Continuing to Fund Projects
Within many PMOs, teams have continued to fund projects, not value streams. These legacy, project-based approaches are impractical and fundamentally unsustainable. Projects are point-in-time efforts, which means each time a new project is kicked off, new planning and budget cycles need to be initiated. Therefore, each project has significant administrative overhead. Further, a high percentage of projects are doomed to fail. In fact, according to one report, 73% of projects met original goals. While a .730 average would be great for a batter in baseball, it’s not close to good enough in today’s enterprises.
#2. Focusing on Outputs Versus Outcomes
Too often, we see PMOs start with strategies and then plot a bunch of work intended to support the achievement of those strategic objectives. In the process, we see the focus shifting to that pile of work, and ultimately to the output of that work. In the process, the focus on strategy and strategic outcomes falls by the wayside.
#3. Failing to Focus on Customer Value
When it comes to outcomes, there’s one perspective that matters more than any other: the customer’s. Too often, however, PMOs aren’t managing their efforts with a focus on the customer, or they’re doing so with an incomplete or incorrect understanding of customers’ concerns, preferences, and requirements. Consequently, they don’t know how to improve the value customers receive.
#4. Creating Detailed, Long-Term Plans
When executives and their teams spend inordinate amounts of time and effort on creating detailed, long-term plans (think a year or longer), something invariably happens. If not on day one, early in the plan’s execution, something fundamental about the market or business changes, rendering the plans moot. The more detailed those plans are, the more there is to get wrong, and the more time that’s wasted.
#5. Refusing to Change
For some time now, many PMOs have been stuck. In years past, when agile was making its way into the organization, many PMO teams were reluctant to adapt. PMOs can’t pretend they can keep employing the same tools and approaches and continue to be successful. If they continue to stay put, they’ll present an increasingly significant impediment to business progress, and this reality will only grow more glaring to leadership and the rest of the business over time.
It is only by addressing the problems above that PMOs can begin to become part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. In the process of saving their roles, who knows, maybe they can also help save the business.
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