Project Management

Confronting My Biases About PMOs

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

I have been writing and researching about project management offices for over 15 years. I was this site’s PMO department manager for nearly a decade. That means I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the purpose and reason for PMOs, advocating for their existence and providing guidance and advice on how to successfully establish them.

The problem is that—if I am entirely honest—I have very little use for PMOs in the majority of their practical implementations. When I consult with an organization that has a defined PMO in place, I first cringe and then expect to very quickly commence issuing scope change requests. My enduring impressions of PMOs are the same as those held by many others—that they are soul-crushing bureaucracies obsessed with supervision, paperwork and making sure that every “i” is dotted and “t” is crossed.

Is this fair? Probably not. At the same time, however, it is frequently justified and the few exceptions to this assertion in no way refute the fact that—for the most part—PMOs struggle to deliver anything close to value. In all the time that I have been writing about PMOs, the dominant theme is that they need to demonstrate their worth. The underlying tragedy is that very few actually know what value they are expected to deliver, or have any real and meaningful means of assessing how …


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