If I were CEO of a large company today, I might be discouraged to learn how ineffectively project management offices operate and how frequently they end up being closed or restructured. It takes a lot of energy and resources to establish a PMO, staff it properly and integrate it into the company, so it would be hard to accept that the work was largely squandered. After all, PMOs are formed in part to help deploy corporate resources effectively.

The unfortunate trend is predictable. PMOs get launched for a reason. Something changes; the PMO does not. It becomes less relevant, less useful and finally no one owns it. And, there we are – one less PMO and one more discouraged CEO.

It doesn’t have to be that way. PMOs are not static structures with irrevocable charters and inflexible processes. They are organic groups of people who come and go. Like anything organic, PMOs need revitalizing from time to time.

Revitalizing the PMO takes executive focus, but it more than pays for itself. Just imagine how costly it is to have a PMO that no longer delivers yet keeps squads of people going through the motions.
If your PMO appears to be lacking vitality, what can you do?

Take your PMO’s vital signs. Inventory your PMO’s current tools, processes and artifacts. Are they up to date? Do they reflect changes in your business since the PMO was established? See if your artifacts call for redundant efforts – it is easy for that to happen as PMOs expand in scope. As the PMO has grown, is there consistency in project management artifacts? Chances are, consistency has been lost. Are you lacking tools and other artifacts that other PMOs use? Are established processes for demand management and project execution followed faithfully, or hardly ever? Are the processes convoluted? Do they even map to your current operational models?

Don’t forget to evaluate the maturity of the PMO in areas such as project estimation, strategic alignment, schedule management, cost management, communications, PMO and project governance, and project management skill sets. There is no single answer for what you are looking for, but you need to know where you rank in maturity in these key categories, and you must align your maturity levels with your company’s strategies and the sophistication of the projects the PMO is charged with.

Don’t overlook the cultural aspect. How do people in your organization talk about the PMO? Do the business units value it? When was the last time you used PMO deliverables for your own business purposes? You are checking for relevancy here. Come up with an improvement plan based on what you find.

Revisit your PMO’s mission. If you formed your PMO two years ago, consider how much has changed. Two years ago, the stock market was healthy, we had euro-envy and the jobless rate was 5.5 percent. Compare your CEO’s most recent letter to shareholders with its counterpart two years ago. How likely is it that your imperatives for the PMO then would match your expectations today?

Factors other than environmental trends could alter the mission. Many PMOs are formed for a fairly narrow purpose but gain in scope over the years without explicitly articulating a new mission. Over time, misalignments abound, with some in the organization working according to the original mission and others following the broader scope.

If the head of the PMO has changed since its founding or if there has been extensive turnover in PMO staffing, you are likely to find a gap between the work currently being done and the original mission and objectives.

Keep an open mind through your discovery process. Then re-establish consensus on the PMO mission and scope going forward. Communicate guiding principles for PMO decision-making and project execution.

Revisit the PMO’s organizational framework. Many PMOs are launched for pure IT projects and are logically lodged with the CIO. Over time, if they expand to serve business units directly, it may be appropriate to move the PMO to the business. And if your PMO reports to the CFO, don’t be surprised if it has become focused on compliance and cost controls.

Is your PMO high enough in the organization that it can influence the executives it is supposed to? Lodging the PMO too low has consequences. Repositioning it appropriately may require a higher-level leader and more skilled members of the PMO. Business units tend not to take direction well from an IT-driven PMO, so set expectations accordingly.

If you have high turnover, are newcomers to the PMO being trained properly? Nothing drains energy like people uncertain of what to do or how to do it.

Again, there is no single answer for a PMO organizational framework. Just be sure you ask the right questions. Is it working well where it is lodged? Does the new mission you have articulated align with its current placement? Do you have the right skill sets and culture?

Update processes and artifacts. Once you have assessed the matters previously listed, you are ready to make modifications. Modify the processes that are not working (both on the demand management front and for project execution), and add new processes that you have detected a need for. Do the same with your PMO’s artifacts.

Then, step it up a notch in clarity, accountability and reliability. Develop the plan for identifying, storing and sharing, and communicating these new processes and artifacts. Implement any new standards and guidelines you have found lacking. Introduce regular artifacts and processes consistently across the PMO.
PMOs are a vital asset for large companies, so if yours is not delivering the value you want, don’t just sideline it or starve it of resources or passively lose your investment. Get intentional again about making it work. An effective revitalization effort should only take you a few weeks. It is refreshing not only for the PMO but for the whole company.

Read the Information Management Focus digital edition on project execution.

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