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PMOs - dangerous, frightening, or intrinsic to business?

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Posted by APM on 29th Jul 2010

David Shannonsopinion piece in the February edition of Project magazine, Are PMOs Frightening, raised 8 dangers of PMOs which frighten project managers. An intriguing concept which was further examined in a recent debate article also in Project magazine. David ended his piece by envisioning a time when PMOs will not be needed.

The issues that David Shannon states do indeed all occur, more than 15 years in consultancy in respect of PMOs - at all levels - has certainly revealed this to me. The conclusion however is quite erroneous. If a PMO is operating in any of these fashions it probably means that: PMO objectives may not be clear

  • PMO design and scope poor or not matching objectives
  • PMO context in the organisation and with projects and programmes not properly established
  • PMO implementation probably poor, e.g. communication with and training for PMO people AND project/programme managers, even executive level not effective
  • PMO operation scope creep has occurred - lots of reasons for that after all PMOs tend to become victims of their own success and have ever increasing demands on them.

I could go on. The article fails to even hint that project and programme managers have any fault in the issues stated - and I have been a programme manager many times so this is not special pleading. Many project/programme managers do not like PMOs, common reasons being:

  • PMOs impinge on their turf
  • PMOs impose discipline (!)
  • PMOs prevent creativity
  • PMOs expose them to scrutiny

Again I could go on.

I have run programmes without any PMO and this worked because of the professionalism of the project and programme managers as well as the nature of the programme which negated the need for the PMO function. All PMOs I have established have been a part of a solution the organisations involved badly needed. One example is an enterprise PMO which when implemented, reduced the reporting overhead for project managers by 80% enabling them to focus much more on delivery and much less on reporting far from being frightened this made them very happy. And I have many more examples.

Having designed, built and operated PMOs from project to enterprise level; iIn all cases where a PMO is well designed, built, implemented - especially the interactions with project/programme managers - and operated properly, they add huge value and save significant costs.

The simple fact is that all management approaches have evolved to solve business problems, this is true for project, programme and portfolio management (incl PMOs). If you do them badly they cause problems. If you do them well, and especially if you integrate them properly, they do very well indeed.

A final plea, David also looks forward to some organisations only requiring a small Recurrent Business Office (RBO you read it here first!). I am minded of the phrase: if it swims like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, its probably a duck. Can our profession please stop reinventing the wheel and renaming things. Another example is Complex Projects which I suggest is likely to be just another name for Programmes, and programme management has been evolving for many years now.

We should focus on evolving not renaming. If RBOs, complex projects and the like really are different from PMOs and progammes, it must be made clear [a] what different problem they are solving, and [b] just how they are significantly different from good practise that has already been developed. i.e. lets start with the need, not marketing. Sorry David.

Adrian Pyne - SIG Chairman

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