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The IT PMO type that delivers most value is ...


For a Project Management Office (PMO) to deliver peak value it needs to be designed to support the unique needs of its parent organisation and also to operate at a level that the organisation can easily understand and work with.

Even as I wrote the sentence above it felt such an obvious thing to say but, time and again, I am seeing the PMOs operate in harmony with the first half of the statement and not the second. In other words, the leaders of the PMO have identified that organisational need must be prioritised to realise maximum business benefit but the way they go about it is at odds with their organisation's culture, either that or they have misunderstood the needs, or they are just speaking a different language.

Mbula Schoen, Senior Research Analyst at Gartner, says, "PPM leaders should engage the business and key PMO stakeholders to identify the critical needs and issues of the organization, and then design a PMO that will best meet those needs and resolve those issues."

Most organisations would be in broad agreement with all of this, business stakeholders and project teams alike. After all, what is the point of any part of a business if it is not set up to deliver business goals and function in accordance with the culture and the modus operandi of the business it is serving. Often though, this is not the case and projects that should otherwise succeed are failing through lack of alignment of working ideology.

The issue can be caused by a number of simple things. Projects teams can, paradoxically, be too close and too far removed from their parent businesses to identify cohesion between each other’s working ethos, sometimes project teams are just too 'hard-wired' to adapt their way of working to match their wider organisation and at other times they have become so closely aligned that they forget standard project management best practice.

There are occasions where the maturity of the sponsor organisation has been misjudged. For instance, some businesses need more than just a delivery into service function, they may need business case analysis, perhaps risk assessment, they may need business alignment to be properly measured and justified or they may need greater compliance. If the organisation's PMO is set up to create structures that deliver project after project in roughly the same way but the client needs more then there will be a growing disconnect between the two over time.

Often though, it’s no one's fault it’s just that, well, things change!

Gartner's Mbula Schoen has identified four types of PMO that are commonly found. She categorises them as "The Activist PMO", "The Delivery PMO", "The Compliance PMO" and "The Centralised PMO". What is interesting is that, even with clear definitions alongside each one, it can be hard to identify which approach best suits your current needs; let alone in the future. Given the speed of change within business landscapes, what works now may not be suitable after disruption in your market, or a takeover. While Miss Schoen is right to identify the four most common types, as I think she points out herself, there is no "one size fits all" PMO and flexibility has, in my view, never been more important.

The Project Management as a Service sector is perfectly geared up to help with all of this. If your project management services partner has done the appropriate spade work, they will be able to recommend solutions based on your maturity and unique business needs and if they have really got to know your business and its requirements they will also be in a position to help forecast and satisfy changing demands.

As previously mentioned, project teams can get too close to and be too distant from their organisation, so often it is just really useful to have an independent pair of eyes look objectively at the needs across your portfolio.

Last year, a project manager friend had to carry out a "Gedanken" or thought experiment for his employer when the business was considering a takeover of a rival firm. The brief was to assess the potential needs of the newly merged business and hypothesize about the type of PMO that would be needed. He described the experience as being like "trying to get your head around Schrödinger's cat"! Even with pretty robust forecasts, a good idea of how the new business would look and using the same Gartner PMO models that we've discussed here; it was really difficult to map with any degree of certainty the exact match between PMO type and business need.

Try it yourself! Spend a minute visualising where your business is at right now, think of your current PMO, if you have one, or imagine what type of PMO would deliver the most value to your business right now. Take a look at the four types identified by Gartner's Mbula Schoen below and try to throw forward six months, a year, two years ... which of these will deliver most value then?          

The Activist PMO? - "Popular in enterprises with distributed, business-centric project ownership, the activist PMO takes a broad view and enabling approach as opposed to a controlling approach. Typically, it has a view of incoming project demand, and supports decision makers by analysing business cases for alignment and risk; that is, the PMO vets business cases and project proposals. This broad view provides a project portfolio dashboard of the status of all projects that it maintains, and oversight so that when projects in the dashboard go “red” - it might suggest or solicit remedies."

The Delivery PMO? - "Also known as the project delivery PMO — is perhaps the most commonly found style. Gartner estimates that at least 40% of PMOs are mainly delivery PMOs charged with planning and controlling the tactical execution of projects to business expectations. Project managers are encouraged to manage their projects, proactively make decisions and escalate problems. The goal is also to build repeatable processes and techniques that will work to build a culture focused on results.

The Compliance PMO? - "Often the most suitable style for organizations where documentation, processes, procedures and methodologies are lacking or inconsistent. In this scenario, the compliance PMO tends to be tasked with establishing standard practices for measuring project performance and the development of a capability for understanding the status of key initiatives."

The Centralized PMO? - "When PPM maturity levels are low, organizations depend on the skills and abilities of key performers to get work done. At higher levels, efficiency is key, and management seeks to reduce this dependency and establish reliable processes for project tracking and reporting. A centralized PMO is therefore formed as a place where new hires can be quickly brought up to speed on how best to get project work done in the organization. In the centralized PMO, representatives from the various project support organizations get together to share their practices in a best-practices council."

Has your mind turned to blancmange yet?

To conclude. While it is true that you can identify which types of PMO deliver the most value NOW, based on past data, it is a lot harder to predict how to align a visualised future PMO with the needs of your future business. My friend said it was like "minding mice at a crossroads!"

Where's that Schrödinger's cat when you need it!!

The most sensible solution appears to be the one that will give you the most flexibility. Once he'd got over his cat and mouse issues my friend's conclusion to his boss was to recommend use the Project Management as a Service market to give the business access to resources and ways of working as and when they were needed - "why build when you can rent" was his closing statement to the board. The takeover is yet to happen, which is why I can't name the business (or my friend) but if in the near future you hear of a large corporate takeover and you marvel at the apparent ease of IT integration and the versatility of the IT project management, you'll know that you heard it here first.

The same flexibility could be the key to your PMO delivering more business value to you too, now and in the future.

Find out more about Project Management as a Service




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