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Five steps to turn around a failing PMO

Read time 3min 30sec

Project Management Offices (PMOs) have one of the highest failure rates of all departments within organisations.

Diederik Jordaan, MD of Gen2 Group, which represents Changepoint PPM in South Africa, says there are several reasons for this, but a key one is that there is a rift between the PMO and the business as a whole.

However, it is possible to turn around a PMO that exhibits all the classic signs of impending doom, quickly and effectively.

Unclear value

One of the most important danger signs that a PMO is in trouble, even if it is executing projects on time and within budget, is that the business does not see value in the projects that are being delivered. This ultimately leads to the business starting to question why the PMO exists at all.

From there, the outlook for the PMO is probably all downhill, says Jordaan. The PMO's role is reduced to that of `project police', tasked with enforcing process methodologies instead of solving real business problems.

As a result, business starts to avoid the PMO and its processes; business complains that the PMO does not understand what it does or requires; the PMO is shut out of projects, resulting in poorly chosen processes and inconsistent use of tools; and the success rate of projects nosedives. And there you have it - another PMO failure.

No need to panic

However, there's no need to panic. Yet.

Jordaan acknowledges that because PMO failure seldom has much to do with project management itself, the idea of implementing corrective action may seem daunting.

"Go back to basics. You have to identify the problem first before you can implement the solution," Jordaan says.

He recommends following the five steps to PMO revitalisation developed by Changepoint:

1. Re-evaluate the needs of the business
Ensure you understand how your projects align with your organisation's business strategy. Remain in constant communication with the business leaders in order to check regularly whether the business strategy has changed. If it has, realign your PMO success metrics with this new reality and ensure that your projects always deliver the operational efficiency and business value that is expected of them.

2. Serve the needs of the businessIf you have been paying lip service to meeting business needs and the practice of `servant leadership', it's time to change your ways. The PMO was - or should have been - set up to serve the needs of the business. Your words and deeds need to demonstrate this: give priority attention to the needs of the business, and then let the business know what you are doing and the success you have achieved.

Useful communication tools include the corporate intranet news page, or the next company meeting.

3. Build and maintain trust
Effective communication is never a once-off thing. It must be done regularly - and what is communicated must be the truth, and easy to understand. Don't just report statistics - link these to the established business needs. In this way, you will build and maintain trust throughout the organisation.

4. Up your success rate
This is a no-brainer: raise your project success rate. Cut projects that aren't working or that do not align with business goals. This will not only raise your success rate, but enable you to communicate this in the language the business understands - in terms of savings in money and resources.

5. Audit your tools
Audit your project-tracking tools to ensure your toolkit meets the needs of the business. It should also give you access to real-time insights into your resources and an overall view of your current projects.

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