Why do PMOs Fail?

More and more Project Management Offices (PMOs) are seen both as saviors as well as fiascos waiting to happen. Through empirical and statistical data, we now that companies all over the world get very excited about the idea of having some sort of internal entity that will help with managing resources, provide training, set overall standards and guidelines, and be the repository, as well as an aggressive collector of lessons learned and other helpful internal data. However, most people also know or have heard of PMOs that fail within a year of their implementation. Therefore, managing principals and project managers get excited about the thought of having a PMO, but are also wary of being the ones whose PMO fails on their watch. So what is the answer? Go ahead and create the PMO and hope for the best or simply not start one, since you already know how it will end.

Why do PMOs Fail?

The real answer is neither. The best option is to:

  • Make sure you need a PMO
  • Make sure your staff will support and gain measurable benefits from having one.
  • Make sure you have the right people to run it.
  • Look at it as a project:
      • Develop the charter to get initial buy-in
      • Plan it out
      • Assign a budget in either staff hours or currency or both
      • Define a deadline for implementing the PMO, as well as intermittent deadlines

Beyond this point, once the PMO is set up and it becomes part of the organization’s operations, you need to treat it as you would any other division or department of your company. In other words, just as your staff, run, and track the efficiency of the accounting, marketing, or HR departments, you need to do the same for the PMO. This is critical, since one of the reasons why most PMOs fail within a year or two of their implementation, is that upper management takes it for granted and underestimate their value and limitations.

Therefore, to avoid having your PMO fail, consider the following:

Set clear objectives and expectations for your PMO: a lot of people think that having a PMO alone will improve project work efficiency, which means that deadlines will no longer be missed, and budgets will remain as planned. However, the PMO is a tool and will only work as well as its operator or operators. It is not the silver bullet, a lot of people want, but rather it is an internal service that will work as well as the staff running it, and with support from upper management.

As part of setting clear expectations, make sure you select the PMO that works best for you. To that end, start by defining the type of PMO you need: supportive, directive, and controlling. Then explain what those terms correctly mean to your organization. Mind you, the PMO is a living entity and can and should adjust to the needs of the organization. In other words, a newer company with less experienced managers might require a controlling PMO. However, as the company matures, the level of involvement might change to the directive or just merely supportive.

Select the right personnel to run the PMO. Whether you use existing staff or hire new ones, PMO staff, especially the PM Officer, need to adapt to the various project managers and projects they deal with regularly. Again, as stated earlier, one project manager and, in effect, the project itself might need greater involvement than another manager or project, since projects are unique and have specific requirements. Therefore, though the PMO provides standards and tries to systematize operations, the project objectives, expectations, stakeholders, and others are unique and should be dealt with accordingly.

The type and amount of resources depend on the amount of work the organization has, such as the current number of projects, as well as forecasted new projects, and the level of involvement expected from the PMO. There is no hard and fast rule, such as a PMO must have “one staff person for every four project managers.” Instead, the staffing needs are based on a detailed estimate of the activities that will be undertaken for all projects.

Provide adequate resources and authority to them: all too often, upper management celebrates the implementation of their newest PMO but neglects to check in and make sure that it has adequate resources, primarily in the form of a staff. Often, for example, an upcoming project deadline for a critical client will take precedence above the PMO tasks, which means that: 1) staff gets reassigned to the project, 2) the PMOs compliance requirements are ignored or undermined, and 3) key staff members among projects get reassigned by bypassing the PMO.

Also, providing adequate resources means allocating staff time from the start and then ensuring that the time spent matches what was assigned. This task also falls under the objectives and expectations part since it should be made clear how much in currency and or staff hours will be spent on the PMO and, whenever possible, adhere to that plan.

Conclusion

A PMO is an excellent resource in itself, but it is only as good as the people running it and must have support from upper management. Also, PMOs are not for everyone or every organization. Before you decide to implement one, check, and see if it will add value to the organization,

  1. staff will receive it positively, and
  2. you can allocate the resources needed to run it. If you can confidently respond to these items, then it might be time for you to start your company’s PMO!

Why do PMOs Fail?

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