PMOs are focussed on operations and less on strategy
The concept of Project Management Offices (PMOs) has gained popularity during the past years. In many sectors and independent of the size of an organisation, PMOs can be found on corporate level, in business units or even in departments. The roles of a PMO vary, depending on the maturity of the organisation, the maturity in project, program and portfolio management as well as on the requirements of the projects performed. A comprehensive survey in the Germanic countries, carried out by the GPM Deutsche Gesellschaft für Projektmanagement e. V. in collaboration with ifmme – Institute for Modern Management Development at Nürtingen-Geislingen University at the end of 2013, provides interesting insights in a crucial success factor in the area of project management [results are available for download on GPM´s website:
The survey sees a PMO as “permanently integrated into the project business of the organisation or a part of the organisation. As the process owner, it is responsible for the entirety of the processes shown here. It is a Centre of Competence, which further develops project management in the organisation.” No wonder, that one of the roles of a PMO is typically to develop standards in the field of projects, programs and portfolios (PP&P). Another role is later to help the organisation to apply these standards, providing coaching, consulting and training to relevant stakeholders. Furthermore, the PMO could be instrumental in managing multiple projects, e.g. portfolios. This includes but is not limited to helping top management to select and prioritize the projects and programs based on clearly defined criteria, to monitor and control the progress of all activities based on pre-defined Key-Performance-Indicators (KPIs), to report, and to facilitate decision-making processes. Interestingly, the survey results proof, that the acceptance of a PMO is significantly higher in organisations where performance is measured quantitatively.
The Top-3 contributions a PMO can offer to an organisation in practice are:
- the avoidance of duplicate work,
- higher reliability of achieving the strategic targets and
- the sustainable development of the organisation.
The latter is very important to me. A PMO should be instrumental in developing the organisational competence in managing projects. This task could be based on the IPMA Organisational Competence Baseline (IPMA OCB®) . But the survey discovers also a major challenge for PMOs: they are typically not connected to the strategic level of an organisation. Thus, the top management develops own strategies without using the expertise of the PMOs. There is a need for closing the gap between the strategic level of an organisation´s management and the operational levels. A reason for that could be the background of the people employed in PMOs. They mostly gained their experiences in projects and programs and are awarded with the PMO role as consequent next career step. This could be why top managers do not treat the PMO´s “at eye level”. Therefore, it would be better to promote senior executives into a PMO with a strong background in Strategic Management and staff the PMO with experts in the PP&P domain. Another reason for the gap could be the PP&P culture in an organisation. PP&P are often seen as “operations” by top management and “that´s not our responsibility!” Top management should better understand managing projects as realizing their strategic ambitions, and a PMO should be a core lever for this!