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Why APM doesn't hate PMOs

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The March issue of Project included a robust challenge from David Shannon on the role and value of Project Management Offices. The article and some of the counter-arguments are recreated on the Project Offices blog.
As you might expect, the defence from the PMO community has been particularly vocal, alongside the blog post, we’ve received a number of strongly worded emails defending the role of the PMO and the April issue of Project features several letters responding to David’s piece.

David is a respected professional, an honorary fellow and one of the breakthrough thinkers behind the APM Governance Specific Interest Group. His views are expressed from a position of considerable credibility, and there is no doubt he’s raised an issue close to many people’s hearts.

Critical Path; the column for which his piece was written, is deliberately designed to allow project management views, however strong, to be aired. The brief to its authors is to simply get their view across. It may be something that is long considered and well researched; it may be an observation, a bugbear or a gut feeling. Above all it aims to trigger debate that will allow the profession to move forward.

The mainstream media regularly puts project management in the spotlight – usually negatively – but it usually has not the time, space, expertise or appetite to investigate the issues fully, and so the lingering (erroneous) public perception is that projects in the UK invariably fail.

Project enjoys  an independent editorial policy which allows it the freedom to explore these issues in some detail. Whilst APM agrees the policy, the editor James Simons implements it as appropriate. This allows it to praise and criticise in equal measure and not turn a blind eye to issues within the profession. A relentlessly myopic positivity towards project management in the magazine would see it falling into a similar trap as the mainstream media does – and also make it a terribly boring read!

What Project offers is balance; it aims to see all sides of an argument to allow the readership to make informed decisions about the issue at hand. All articles and news stories offer the right of reply and we positively encourage people to send in their thoughts. So, neither APM nor Project ‘hate’ PMOs, but we do recognise the need for issues like these to be debated.

That the profession creates this debate is a signal that it is increasingly confident and mature. The principle upon which APM’s new website is built is that if we don’t allow these discussions to happen in our ‘space’, they will inevitably find a place to happen elsewhere,  be that online, by the coffee machine in your office, or in the board room. The profession needs this debate in order to thrive and if we the profession can’t solve these problems, who can?


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  1. Ralf Finchett Jnr
    Ralf Finchett Jnr 21 May 2010, 05:02 PM

    David has made many enemies, and I'm sure this was unintentional.I would gladly take up the opportunity to debate this with him one to one anywhere and on any platform. When talking about such issues around PMOs not adding value, this seemed to be one example, made into a mainstream comment. It is true a poorly run PMO doesnt add value, but, this can also be a reflection of the programme, project, or organisation not managing the PMO effectively, by ensuring it is recruited with the right experience, and is given a clear terms of reference of what the business needs. So I would argue the Business or Project Manager has failed, not the PMO.If the PMO is set up and run correctly, there is no doubt in any project managers mind who has worked with a good PMO, that they add nothing but Value. Its easy to see PMOs as overheads when measuring costs in terms of money, because the benefits PMOs offer primarily start with savings driven by non-cash value added activity e.g. information sharing. But maybe PMOs should spend time converting their value add activity into cash and report this to shut people up re they are an overhead!

  2. David Shannon
    David Shannon 05 May 2010, 06:14 PM

    Hi fellow members.  Good to see the blogs from a robust PMO/PSO cadre and the balanced contribution from Paul Naybour.At James Simons' request I have submitted a closing contribution to the Project debate which should appear in the June issue, but am keen to carry on the discussion here so look out for the May and June issues where other publicists will no doubt also be airing their views and we will see where this leads.Not sure how to sign off in blogs since this is my first  effort.  The precedent seems to be to just stop writing, but all the best anyway and I look forward to a dialogue here and on related topics on this new site.  

  3. Emily Hamilton
    Emily Hamilton 30 April 2010, 03:15 PM

    The last paragraph of this post is absolutely the point - If we are to be confident and mature as a profession we must engage in debate in a mature and confident way.  I confess I did not recognise the PMO described in "Project" - and maybe that's just my good luck!That said, perhaps a way forward for "Project" is to commission opinion from both sides of the argument, as a means to drive the debate - and avoid people in PMOs feeling under attack!

  4. David Morgan
    David Morgan 30 April 2010, 10:06 AM

    I try not to see administration as being the poor cousin but I do agree with your view of the role of PMO lead. You are exactly describing the sort of role I am looking for. Being a strong deputy for the Programme Manager, providing support and guidance on project methodology, recording and analysing the data required to manage and monitor projects, bringing together the relevant information so that it can be easily digested by senior management.My issue with PMOs is not the function of the PMO but the many different types of function that are assigned the label PMO. It may be that the lack of understanding is on my part. However, I often see roles where the Programme Office manager is actually the person controlling Programmes and monitoring Programme Managers. At the other end of the scale a very Junior person is providing mainly admin support to one or more projects.I love working in a PMO and enjoy the challenge of managing all the data effectively, providing support and mentoring to Project Managers, supporting the Programme Manager and ensuring he has the data he needs at his fingertips. The PMO can take an enormous weight off the Programme Manager's shoulders and allow him/her to focus more clearly on the strategic rather than the day to day.

  5. David Shannon
    David Shannon 12 June 2010, 05:12 PM

    Well, I am just off to continue training a group of people working in a large PMO in Kazakhstan.  I will advise them of the the lively debate in APM and of the many views other than my own.With other commitments I will be out of touch for four weeks, so here is a short contribution to keep this important hoop spinning.  I have read the several comments above and appreciate the many points made, particularly those from individuals who are clearly working in units that are adding value to their organisations.  Of course it is not enough to simply add value, one should also be able to demonstrate net added value, after allowing for all the direct and indirect costs incurred.  The discussion in Project on this topic has now stopped with the June issue in which Lain and I with James's facilitation ended with a large measure of agreement.  Nevertheless, I think all of us involved with PMO's should make sure of positive answers to the these types of questions, the answers made or confirmed  by the the indicated person.1. Are we saving the project managers time and cost? - The Project Managers.2. Are the projects' processes better for our contribution? - The Internal Auditor.3. Are the projects'  products better for our contribution? - The Users.4. is the oversight of the projects better for our contribution? - The Sponsors.5. Is our total cost distributed across the portfolio good value? - The Finance Director6. Are we a source of integration rather than conflict with the business as usual parts of the oganisation? - The Managing DirectorAnyone care to modify or add to these questions?Anyone carried out surveys of this nature to confirm their net worth?  Anyone interested in forming a benchmarking group?I do not suppose anyone in England will read this until England's team are out of, or WIN, the World Cup, but look forward to further debate in due course.