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Three ways to stop PMOs failing

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The gap between what the PMO is doing and what the business expects, has serious consequences for both the PMO and its customers, says Project Portfolio Office.
The gap between what the PMO is doing and what the business expects, has serious consequences for both the PMO and its customers, says Project Portfolio Office.

Despite the best efforts many organisations put into the establishment of their project management offices (PMOs), an estimated 50% of them fail within three years.

That's according to Guy Jelley, CEO of online project portfolio management (PPM) application provider Project Portfolio Office (PPO), who said that there were several reasons behind the failure of PMOs.

"Gartner, for example, attributed the failure rate to a distinctive mismatch between organisation expectations such as reliable results, value-based prioritisation and delivery of change through projects. This gap between what the PMO is doing and what the business expects, has serious consequences for both the PMO and its customers," he explained.

He said three key steps that successful PMOs should follow could go a long way to helping them evolve and become strategic. These were outlined by Liz Dewing - owner and founder of Cape Town-based consultancy Magnetic North - at a recent Gauteng PMO Forum sponsored by PPO.

"Not following these steps could lead to your PMO coming out on the wrong side of the 50% failure divide," he added.

Step 1: Define the purpose, mandate and vision for your PMO (before you build it).

You cannot build a PMO and expect people to start using it. On the contrary, without extensive consultation with the executive team, business owners and sponsors (your customers) - as well as your project managers, project administrators and business analysts (the PMO team), they are likely to stay away in droves.

Take the time to make sure that people are engaged, even if it means starting off slowly. Get collective alignment from your customers and PMO team on:

* Why you exist;
* What your core mandate is;
* How you plan to go about achieving your goals;
* What problems do you expect to encounter;
* Who you will be dealing with; and
* The order in which that you are going to tackle things.

In addition to cultivating the necessary alliances and making building relationships with all stakeholders a priority, a PMO should constantly be selling itself to its customers.

Step 2. Implement a simple, easy-to-follow methodology (but know that methodologies are not magic).

One of the fastest ways to get project people fired up is to start a debate about which methodology is best. But it really doesn't matter which method you use to achieve project success, provided it works for your PMO. In addition, a methodology can be adapted as and how you mature.

Collaboratively agree on a simple process which describes what the critical and absolutely essential steps are that every project must complete.

Next and most importantly, establish disciplines and get them adhered to with much support and encouragement.

By keeping it simple, customers will start to build confidence in the PMO. Positive reinforcement is needed for any change to be effective so keep going back to the basics through targeted internal PMO forums and learning sessions.

Step 3. Dump project jargon. Communicate in business language customers understand.

Pronouncements like this: "Because of the project's CSFs, I have developed an aggressive schedule but looking at the Gantt chart, we can make up the slippage in the next few iterations" - can be pretty meaningless to the project management novice.

Using project management buzzwords or jargon can actually damage the credibility of the PMO as busy business people don't have the time - or the inclination - to decipher a jargon-laden message.

"Following these three simple steps could go a long way to taking a PMO to the next level," Jelley concluded.

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