An evening in Leeds - the invisible PMO

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Posted by APM on 3rd Apr 2012

The PMO SIG held its first local meeting outside the London area last week at
Leeds Met University.

Along with the university setting, members heard from Senior Lecturer John Heathcote on the subject of Invisible PMOs.

John shared a number of brief case studies from the University’s Centre for Project Management and the full presentation (with additional slides not shown during the evening session) is also available for download.

There were a number of highlights for me and in that tried and tested acronym that always springs to mind when thinking about project management - K.I.S.S (Keep it Simple Stupid!) I’ll share those highlights in this post.

When considering project failure rates, John was able to share that 40-45% of projects improve their success rates when they do two things. One, by getting projects authorised by the right authority and two, the requirements are signed off by the appropriate authority. Simple right? Well not completely because we all know that successful projects and project management requires more than that but the principles of keeping it simple – or at least avoiding unnecessary bureaucracy – should be something that all project managers would welcome.

So where does the PMO fit into this? PMOs have long faced the criticism of being the main culprit where unnecessary bureaucracy is concerned but doesn’t that really depend on the culture and organisational might in which the PMO sits? After all, the PMO only exists in a certain form or structure because someone has made it so. Choosing a PMO structure that works to serve, support, advise and help project managers to do their job better, more efficiently with repeatability and success.

The presentation served as a reminder that a good PMO – regardless of its remit – should be there to help people do their job as simply and effectively as possible. For a PMO which needs data from the projects, that then needs analysing and meaningful information produced for senior management, the PMO needs to help produce that data in the first place. Working closely with project managers that may be resistant because it takes time or the reasons why they’re doing it are unclear is an area PMO need to get better and smarter at. John noted that project managers are generally happy to produce data if it is actually used – even better if that data brings kudos and recognition from senior management when the project is delivering well. Rather than bureaucracy I like to think of the PMO as an effective middle man and to be an effective middle man you need to keep everyone happy with a bit of give and take, feeding back and communicating well to everyone.

 Finally John left us with some tantalising research which is due for publication later this year. If we want to get better at project management we should start with a PMO and work our way down, rather than a bottom up approach starting with technical competencies of individuals who deliver projects. We will be finding out more about that later in the year.

Lindsay Scott

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