The Brass Ring of PMOs

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Categories: PMOs

All successful project management offices (PMOs) have one thing in common, while all failed PMOs lack this same thing. Indeed, if your PMO has this one thing it's next to impossible for it to fail; similarly, if your PMO lacks this, you will not succeed, not matter how much more, time and energy you invest. So, what is this "brass ring" of PMOs?
It's funny, too, because of the wildly divergent theories out there about how project management ought to be performed and advanced, and what manifestations of the organization are indicative of success or failure. Some believe that only cost and schedule baselines contained in one software represent a successful PMO, while others hold a rival software combination as the only acceptable setup.
    Many auditors will express outrage at the lack of internal procedures and guides, still others want widespread professional certifications. Many managers who, at some time, had been associated with what they perceived to be a successful PMO will have misidentified the primary casual factor that led to that success. As I discuss in my new book, Things Your PMO Is Doing Wrong, the idea that organizational clout can be leveraged to compel successful project management advancement is a myth, whether that clout-leveraging takes the form of forcing the tool (mandating the use of a certain software), issuing procedures and guides, or any of the other so-called coercive strategies.
    The only way your PMO will succeed is if you adopt a technical approach to advancing project management capabilities that centers on obtaining that brass ring--cooperation--from the other parts of the macro-organization. And that level of cooperation can be elusive, indeed, but consider what you, the PMO director, are asking: You essentially want everybody else to change the way they've been doing business, for decades in some cases. I would submit that asking anybody to change anything they've been doing a certain way for years, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the new way is better for everyone involved, is difficult in the extreme.
    Difficult, but not impossible.
    How is it done? To find out, you can pose a question on the blog that leads me to tip my hand and disclose the optimal technical approach. But there are two problems with that:
1. You still won't know my take on things that can blow up your implementation, even with the optimal technical approach
2. I'm expecting people to try to get me to reveal this secret, so I'm on to you.

Editor's note: You can purchase Michael Hatfield's new book, Things Your PMO Is Doing Wrong, in the PMI Marketplace.
Posted by MICHAEL HATFIELD on: October 15, 2008 07:50 PM | Permalink

Comments (6)

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I continue to be amazed at the often short-sighted view that many people take to the PMO. Statements like "the only way your PMO will succeed is if you adopt a technical approach to advancing project management capabilities that centers on obtaining that brass ring--cooperation--from the other parts of the macro-organization." are excellent examples of how to ensure that your PMO fails. The PMO is a dynamic organization and how a PMO exists, how it functions, and what value it drives for the organization varies significantly from organization to organization. There is no "only", there is no "absolute", there is no "you must do it this way". Sure, let's all cooperate. I think that's a given not only in the PMO space but more broadly in the business world. Are we not as a PMO community further along in the PMO conversation than that?

James Wilson
Okay... I'll bite! :) In the form of a questions huh? Hmmmm... Would you agree that the nucleus of cooperation starts between the Sponsoring Executive and the PMO? Restating the questions... is the key Executive support? If other team members "witness" these two entities engaging in constructive and effective decision making based upon good data captured form light but effective process then the table is set for a broader level of cooperation. Hallelujah! We always try to avoid the "cram down" approach to introducing change or process, to have an Executive mandate, so even executive cooperation can break down. There are several places off the top of my head (which hurts when I think this hard.) These are samples, all names, titles, and location are fictitious, I swear I have never run into these types of situation in my current company. Does anyone want to buy a bridge? 1) There are simply some people in my organization who will not participate until they see the evidence. See it working, and then realize, they want to share in the value provided in that cooperation. Patience is the key in this situation. 2) There are simply some people in my organization who do not want the PMO to tell them how to do their job. "I do not need your process." "If you want to run my group go ahead." "I am not doing this until CEO or COO says I have to." Even in the light of previous evidence of where the PMO has materially helped with previous efforts, this is somehow ignored. 3) There are simply some people in my organization who do not want people seeing into their team or department. They are threatened by this, and their immediate managers are not concerned by this due to a long history of trust with those teams to "get stuff done." I think you might have touched a nerve with me on this topic. And the answer is.... (Sorry ClaudiaF, I just want to hear what Michael has to say.)

Michael Hatfield
Okay, here's my take on the commentors.

I think James is being afflicted by two very common anti-PM tactics. One I learned about from the excellent Bud Baker, which he refers to as the "slow roll." Members of the organization who want to see an initiative fail will go through the motions of implementing PM, but will drag out real progress until the organizational impetus behind the initiative peters out. Its near cousin, which I refer to in my book Things Your PMO Is Doing Wrong, is the Silent Veto. That's where people say they are on board with furthering an initiative, but then just don't show up when their efforts and energy are needed.

I must apologize, but I flat out don't understand what Claudia is trying to say. I think I'm being accused of being overly general and simplistic, and, if that's the case, she's probably right. But as simple and general as my October post may be, I stand behind those assertions. "Statements" aren't examples of why PMOs fail, but a lack of cooperation within the macro organization is without a doubt a poison pill to any PMO.

Michael Douglass
I think it's interesting that the two commmentaries hit two key points that I try very hard to emphasize in our PMO. These fundamentally get to the role of the PMO... are we a 'service' organization that considers the PMs the customers and is here to help, or are we 'Project Control' that's here to enforce, report, and punish? James offers scenarios where there isn't enough buy-in from his 'customers', while Claudia suggests that every PMO is different depending on the environment of the organization. In our PMO, we try hard to walk a fine line between 'service to our customers' and 'Project Control'. We bend over backwards to be flexible, to help, to minimize a PM's administrative time, and to positively show the value of the PMO's guidelines, but also make sure that they are meeting the minimum standards, and that they know that there will be a final reconciliation. I think the key is the personality of the PMO and how well they can engender the cooperation that Michael Hatfield notes is key... how well all of the PMO personalities, from the leaders to the analysts, convey the fine balance of service and control.

Kathy Chung
What James described are so real! I'm more interested to hear how to overcome those challenges, or is there a way to? I don't believe there is a sure win formula, but it would be nice to hear the experience of those who have gone through it, and what they would have done differently to achieve a better result?

Mohsin Iqbal
As a PMO, it’s good to have access to all project's data around you, but not using that to your advantage brings good chances to fail the PMO. Showing the gaps through collecting and summarizing project performance data is one way of getting people’s attention, which I used in my current job. Which helped project managers make decisions quickly who were previously skeptic of how 'new process' would help them.

Secondly, 'not pushing' is definitely a tested principle in making your PMO gain quick-win in the hearts. So the other approach I tried which @MH may also suggest eventually is filtering the PM processes/PM methodologies/PM tools through a funnel made up of various project factors. Choosing only what is relevant to the project at hand, had one of the most significant impacts on the way people thought about PMO value at my organization.

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