In defense of project management offices
Departments often blame the PMO for stalled projects. It's usually a misunderstanding.
You hear it all the time in organizations: A group handed a project over to the Project Management Office, and nothing has happened in months. What are they doing over there in the PMO?
Well, usually they're doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing. Which is trying to make sure that projects are properly prioritized, planned, managed, resourced, tracked and executed.
Why the perception gap? There are several reasons.
A big one is that departments often prefer to keep a project under their own tight control, leaving the PMO out of the initial stages. Managers in the department plan the project on their own, budget for it, and start working on it, all without a word to the PMO. But if, as is often the case, the project falls behind, or becomes mired in problems, or is starving for more resources, the department might suddenly decide that the PMO needs to be involved after all.
In this way, the PMO can become a repository for troubled, late projects that it may not be able to fix. No wonder the PMO gets a bad rap. But unfairly so. The PMO is there to help departments avoid project-derailing problems, not to rescue projects handed to it after the problems have set in.
Even when the PMO is brought in from the beginning, a department might find that the project doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Is the PMO failing in its job? Just the opposite. One of the key roles of a PMO is to prioritize the organization's many planned and active projects to make sure the right types and levels of resources are going to the different projects so as to do the most good for the organization, or fix the biggest problems.
Inevitably, that means some — perhaps even most — projects brought to the PMO are not going to get the immediate resources needed for a fast start. It's a rational decision that maximizes organizational benefits. But without knowing anything about the 20 other projects the PMO is managing at the same time, it may be painful for a department counting on progress on its own pet project.
Fixing communications problems
Leidos often works with organizations to help create policies and procedures around the PMO to address these communications issues, and to put the PMO in the best possible position to help the organization manage and deliver its projects.
A good first step is to establish a policy to require engaging the PMO in all projects from their inception. That doesn't mean the PMO will necessarily take over the management of all projects. But at least the PMO will be aware of all the projects that are underway, so that it can direct resources in alignment with the organization's goals — and it will allow the PMO to apply its expertise in prioritizing and planning early on to head off problems.
A good way to keep the PMO in the loop is to set up regular monthly meetings between PMO managers and a group of organizational leaders from different departments. Those meetings can be supplemented with meetings between the PMO and the managers of individual departments to focus on their specific projects.
But remember that it's a two-way street. Not only should departments keep the PMO apprised of projects, but the PMO needs to make sure all departments are up on the big picture when it comes to all the projects going on in the organization. That can happen in meetings, or through regular written briefings sent to the departments. This big picture view gives individual departments some perspective when advocating for their own projects, and reinforces the idea that the PMO can be a resource instead of a hindrance.
PMO as a partner
We've seen organizations achieve big improvements in project success rates after helping them strengthen ties between the PMO and departments.
PMOs work a lot better when they're given a chance to get projects off on the right foot, instead of being asked to deal with the ones that have already run off the rails.