Project Management

PMOs: First, Do No Harm

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

You have probably heard the phrase “first, do no harm.” It’s commonly used in a medical sense to mean that the first thing a doctor should do is ensure they don’t create more challenges for their patient. But I think there is also a lot of applicability in the phrase for PMOs.

Many PMOs struggle with a lack of clarity of purpose. They aren’t given an explicit mandate for how they are expected to improve the way projects are delivered within an organization, and as a result find themselves focused on trying to achieve improvements in as many ways as possible.

This “scatter gun” approach results in a lot of small interactions across the entire project delivery landscape—and inevitably not all of those interactions are positive. In particular, PMOs can create tensions with project managers and teams, and those tensions can have undesired consequences—against the principle of “first, do no harm.”

Actions versus results
Here’s an example of a situation I see repeatedly in organizations I work with. A PMO is set up to oversee all of the projects being carried out in a particular business area (IT is common). That PMO is told it is expected to deliver improvements in the performance of projects that it is accountable for, but is not given any more specific goals.

As a result, the PMO is unclear if it …

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