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Report reveals gap between C-suite executives and PMOs

By Marilyn de Villiers
Johannesburg, 25 Oct 2019

There appears to be a disconnect between what business executives expect of their project management offices (PMOs) and what they believe they can deliver; and what PMO leaders believe they can and should be delivering.

According to the just-released PMO Insight Report 2019, the first-ever comprehensive survey and analysis of PMOs in SA, C-suite executives understand that what can be regarded as a “project management mindset” is critical for business success. However, the PMO is yet to be seen as the “trusted partner” essential to driving business performance.

The report, which was sponsored and managed by Pretoria-based Project Portfolio Office (PPO), is based on 197 responses from executives and PMO managers from 161 mostly Gauteng-based, private and listed organisations which participated in an online survey earlier this year. The participating organisations ranged in size from very large (over 1 000 employees) to those with a staff complement of under 50.

The research found that there is growing recognition among South African organisations that strategic change can only happen through effective project, programme and portfolio management. Almost 90% of responding executives stated that those projects identified as part of strategic planning were managed as formal projects within their organisations. They also agreed that project management was the practice to drive change within their organisations.

However, while the research indicated growing recognition of the strategic value of the PMO, “we see a gap in how executive leaders and PMO directors view the functions and services of the PMO environment”, the report’s authors noted.

Although the PMO was seen as a strategic resource, it was not trusted with the oversight of all strategic initiatives. In fact, only 22% of strategic projects were reportedly managed by the PMO, which executives continued to regard largely as nothing more than “project police”.

Executives also “only ever experienced the PMO as a ‘command and control’ function that governs projects, as opposed to delivering business outcomes”.

On the other hand, the report also noted that while strategies could not be implemented without effective resource management, half of the responding executives listed this in the bottom two of the least value-adding functions performed by the PMO.

What the research clearly highlighted was there was a divide between the expectations of the executive and the business level role of the PMO.

In order to be adequately positioned to drive the strategic agenda of their organisations, PMOs would have to have responsibility for aligning project and programme work to corporate strategy, establishing and ensuring appropriate enterprise governance and performing portfolio management functions to achieve strategy alignment and benefits realisation. The research found that only 30% of local PMOs were positioned as such.

Nevertheless, while South African PMOs were still some way from being a valued partner and strategic enabler, “the good news is that the C-suite is open to engaging in dialogue to improve [PMO] value”, the report stated.

“We are encouraged to see, from the results of the first PMO Insights Report, that despite a turbulent few years characterised by an uncertain business climate and increasing competition, local businesses have confidence that effective project portfolio management (PPM) practices are essential to success,” said Guy Jelley, CEO and co-founder of PPO. 

“This means that organisations within SA are seeing value from their investments in improving portfolio and project management practices.”