A few years ago, I was parachuted into an important European airline. It had no coherent project initiation and delivery processes. It had a primitive PMO, and was delivering projects within a wild west environment that allowed only the most powerful people to get what they wanted. A damning competency maturity assessment revealed all.
It was necessary to do something.
Digital was created from IT, creating two distinct fiefdoms. One operated in an increasingly sophisticated Agile mode, while the other remained in a pre-PRINCE2 time lag. Flashpoints arose around sharing or borrowing resources, technical dependencies, and product development. There were no unifying processes.
Management was aware of the serious and unsustainable dysfunction but decided to create a full-service PMO to be the catalyst for better times. Based on my experience, however, I knew that a full-service PMO could not be the panacea. It could only be part. Management saw silos of PM’s, BAs, and so forth that needed to improve their game while standing up the PMO. I saw an opportunity for integrated transformation to transform the entire relationship between project delivery and portfolio oversight, assurance, and the business beyond.
Model of law enforcement for the PMO
I’ve worked in many organizations where the PMO was regarded as as warm as the Health & Safety Inspectorate. Too often, they were viewed as the bad guys who forced PMs to use weekly reporting templates that were poor designed, confusingly complex, or simplistic. This gave them an incentive to hide any bad news.
They created rudimentary risk register templates that, among other failures, ignored the value of proximity and post mitigation. This pushed the risk profile for projects unnecessarily onto a naughty list, giving PMs an incentive to massage the risks.
PM’s would find themselves in a stage/gate process that was pre-agile and which doesn’t work. This could become a frequent flashpoint. Perhaps the issue was financial reporting, which was a monthly chore due to the PMO providing a set so confusing that the PM community called it the “gobbledy-gook” report.
All of these stress-points have affected me and caused irreparable harm to a relationship that should have been one mutual support, but had turned into one of bitter rivalry. All these stress points were rooted in PMO’s that had been created in a parallel universe. These PMO’s were often physically distant from project delivery and staffed with administrators with little delivery experience. This led to the common presumption among PMs that they are a bunch of rebellious mavericks who have no respect for company rules. Do a simple Google search to see how many graphics depict the PMO as being detached from delivery or at center of the entire governance universe.
It’s a flawed model, which results in us-and them relationships with delivery. A PMO that is responsive only its organisational masters and places little value on consultation with and consenting from those who have to work within its ideas about how to regulate projects. In order to derive no benefit, PM’s will inevitably pay lip service the many demands of a PMO.
Reimagined PMO as a community service
My airline had an opportunity to create a new way to do things. It was built on the idea of the PMO being a service that is provided to a group of interconnected interests. This would allow for a continuous collaboration between the two parties, with the possibility of resolving any deficiencies by bringing together cross-discipline teams that share a common interest in the whole thing being in harmony.
It might be utopian, but it is not revamped.