Straight Talk on Project Management

PMO image problem

Share this post


RSS feed

The PMO has an image problem and it’s no laughing matter

I heard a PMO (Project Management Office) joke today.

“How many PMOs does it take to change a lightbulb? Two, one to explain it’s not the role of the PMO and the other to realise explaining this (again) is futile and just change the lightbulb anyway.”

Alright, it’s not the funniest gag you’ll ever hear but it did make me smile.

I hear the real-life equivalent of this joke all the time. In many businesses, there has always been a disparity between what the role of the PMO is and what the broader organisation perceives it to be. If anything, this last year has widened the gap. As working practices have changed, as hiring budgets have been frozen, and as staffing levels have been reduced, the expectation of what each of us should be doing in our organisations has changed, subsequently, there are a lot of PMOs changing a lot of metaphorical lightbulbs.

One friend told me of the extra workload his PMO had been asked to take on board and also told me that it was suggested that not doing so would be whatever the corporate equivalent of treason is. “We’re all in this together” is the rallying cry, but because of our specific set of skills, there is a risk that project managers could find themselves more “in this” than most. And at what cost?

Another friend tells me that her Project Management Office rather lost its way for a time. First, there was furlough, then redundancies, and finally, a wholesale change in the type of IT Projects being managed as the business responded to the new climate (more reactive projects, shorter delivery times, reduced budgets, different ROI metrics). It left her (and her team) feeling unappreciated and taken for granted.

When Sass Bailey, Strategic PMO Lead at UniSuper, posted “A funny (yet accurate) understanding/misunderstanding of the purpose of a PMO” on LinkedIn, the replies were enlightening about where we’re at.

article illustration

PMO Analyst, Nigel Wakeman wrote, “Unfortunate…but so very true! Main reason that PMO’s have this image or are deemed as “failures” is down to the misunderstanding of senior leadership of what actually a PMO function is or how it can be integrated with delivering change. It must be one of the few functions where individuals who have never worked within a PMO claim themselves to be “experts”….it is staggering the number of organisations that have non-PMO individuals managing a PMO function…it is almost laughable.”

The result of this is often that the PMO ‘ends up with’ lots of the ‘stuff no-one else wants to touch’.

My Project Manager friend Malc calls it his “dung beetle mode”.

He says, “There’s a danger that we become the go-to department for everything no-one else wants to touch because we happen to be the best at dealing with whatever projects throw at us,”

Malc jokes that at the dawn of creation no species would have wanted the job of dealing with the dung – but realising the consequences of no-one doing so, the dung beetle sighed reluctantly and took the job on. The problem is that it got stuck with it!

As Malc says, “There’s a little frisson of joy at the plaudits that come your way after you’ve gone over and beyond, the danger is that passing you the dung becomes an organisational habit!”

As PMO Analyst, Nigel Wakeman adds to his reply on LinkedIn, “At one organisation where I worked I said I was going to get a large jar for the side of my desk and every time I heard the phrase “PMO should do that” in relation to anything that has nothing to do with the PMO I would make that person put a pound in the jar…I should have done it…could have retired by now!”

All this joking about lightbulbs, money jars, and even dung beetles hides a very serious issue. The PMO has a bit of an image problem and in some cases an identity crisis. If you were to run a Survey Monkey style poll among your broader colleagues about the roles of all the other departments, they’d be very clear on the role of “Transport” and “Finance” and “HR” but the “Project Management Office” – not so much.

It stems largely from the fact that organisational attitudes and approaches differ massively from one company to the next. You could walk around an industrial estate with ten businesses and I bet that the Transport Manager in each would be doing roughly the same job, same with the Finance Director and Head of People. I bet you’d be hard pushed to find two Project Management Offices that are exactly the same. This isn’t a huge problem, all ten variants will probably function in a reasonable manner, but it does make it harder to define what the PMO’s role is.

Another serious issue is one of morale. All of this uncertainty and lack of appreciation for what you’re there to do takes its toll. The two PMO friends I mentioned at the start are independently talking about ‘burn out’ and ‘unprecedented stress levels’ – this isn’t good for performance at a time when we need to be bringing our ‘A game’ every day. As Malc just WhatsApped me, “You never see a happy dung beetle!”

So, what’s the solution?

It’s time to address your image! You need an image consultant! You need someone who can benchmark your PMO against the best in class, the finest, most effective and most productive PMOs. At Stoneseed, we’ve worked with many and we can help.

Whether you need a PMO health check, or support to get your PMO back on track, or complementary resources to improve performance, or end to end PMO, or virtual PMO … the catalogue of Project Management Office services Stoneseed provides is ever-growing! My brilliant colleague Nicol has a 68-page slide deck on this – we know that the PMO is the beating heart of an organisation.

Our offer ranges from a PMO maturity assessment to discover the strengths and weaknesses of your inhouse PMO; to PMO consultancy, working with you to improve your capability.

From Virtual PMO to remotely deliver PMO support and resources (ideal when you do not need a full-time PMO inhouse or when you need additional support for projects), to a full managed PMO delivery capability via Project Management as a Service (PMaaS), to staffing resources and tools. – Stoneseed can support all your PMO needs.

For obvious reasons, right now, the remote options are proving to be the most popular.

Stoneseed’s Virtual PMO (VPMO) delivers enterprise-level services using a flexible and cost-effective approach, without you having to commit to precious full-time resource, among the benefits you can remotely access, VPMO:

▪ Provides industry good practice project management office services

 ▪ Delivers specialised PMO expertise on a cost-effective basis

 ▪ Can be used to help you start and then evolve your project management capability

 ▪ Provides tangible, repeatable, long-term benefits for your business

 ▪ Scalable and affordable to meet the needs of your business (minimum investment to establish)

 ▪ Can be deployed for just one or more projects in any geographical location

 ▪ Can supplement a current client PMO with additional capacity

I’ve already referred to the PMO as the beating heart, in that LinkedIn thread someone else compared it to the central nervous system. We’d prioritise care of both of these when thinking of our own health. I wonder if we’ve all rather neglected the health of this key business function.

As the economy recovers, businesses adapt and IT Projects are called upon to deliver even greater value, that heart is going to have to beat stronger and louder. Now is a good time to check that it’s up to it and take action if it isn’t.

Find out about Stoneseed’s PMO Services

Sass Bailey’s post