4 Reasons PMOs Are Hated

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By Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

Seven in 10 organizations have a PMO, according to PMI’s 2016 Pulse of the Profession. That’s roughly the same as what other PMI surveys have shown in recent years. Why has the prevalence of PMOs plateaued? It could be that many people still perceive PMOs as providing low value but high administrative costs while doing little to improve project delivery. 

Worse, the general state of project management isn’t improving in spite of this increase in PMOs. Organizations waste US$122 million for every US$1 billion invested in projects, according to the 2016 Pulse report. That’s a 12 percent increase over the previous year.

Why the disparity between project success rates and the prevalence of PMOs? There’s a gap between the vision and reality of PMOs. Here are four reasons why people may hate PMOs—and what PMO leaders can do about it.

1. Redundancy Over Efficiency

I’ve worked in multiple Fortune 100 organizations where there were not just one, but multiple PMOs, that a critical portfolio may have to report into.

There may be functional PMOs (i.e. IT PMOs and/or business division PMOs), capital-planning PMOs, product PMOs, or enterprise PMOs, just to name a few. These multiple layers can cost the portfolio manager tremendous time and energy in trying to manage multiple PMO demands and requests. 

There is value in centralizing and standardizing portfolio information and providing visibility to executives to enable decision-making. However, the next time we just start up a new PMO or implement portfolio management processes, we should ask ourselves if there are existing areas that already provide the same type of oversight and control.   

2. Bureaucracy Over Execution

In many organizations, it takes a village just to get a new program or project approved. The focus is on the administrative side of things—filling out the right forms and attending the right meetings—and rarely on improving project delivery or execution. If a PMO’s primary focus is on gathering status reports for a dashboard, it loses touch with day-to-day execution. 

There is a lot of complexity in organizations that portfolio managers must navigate, and the key is not to add more. 

Ask yourself: Is your PMO’s focus on adherence to process and methodology, gates and deliverables? Are you generating voluminous portfolio data without succinct actionable plans that will increase project success? 

3. Templates Over Talent

PMOs often focus on generating templates rather than having trained and skilled project managers that can assist in all aspects of delivery, especially enabling organizational change management. Portfolio management processes need to be sustainable and repeatable, demonstrate measurable impact and contribute to project success. 

Too often, PMOs focus on the templates to try to enforce the process instead of having the right talent in place to help programs and projects be successful. 

4. Tactics Over Strategy

For some organizations, there’s not as much value in tracking schedule and budget adherence as there is in developing the next innovation that will greatly advance strategy.

By definition, strategy changes in response to environment conditions, competitors, or the need to innovate. Is there agility (speed and flexibility) in your PMO processes that allow you to react rapidly? How can you inspire innovation in your portfolio rather than stifle it? Is your PMO positioned to identify the next innovation, and rapidly move it forward? Why not?

Why do people that you have worked with dislike PMOs? How can they be improved? Please share your thoughts below!

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: June 09, 2016 04:14 PM | Permalink

Comments (25)

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Nice post. In my area these are some of the reasons there have been an elimination of the PMO over the past year. Businesses want more focus on delivery and not a process.

Thank you for your comment Joseph. I agree that businesses wants to focus on results, and PMOs should focus on 'leaning' their processes.

Great post through real experiences.

Great post! I have personally seen several projects get tied up the approval stage for months...costing the company money.

Thanks Sungjoon and Jenny! I'm glad it's resonating with you, it is definitely reflective of actual experiences with PMOs.

Good points in this article. I often felt that too many PMOs focus on adding bureaucracy.

Thanks Jen.
How can they be improved? It really depends on the needs of the organization. For example mine is really in need of successful knowledge transfer due to high turnover rate of engineers. So as a PMO head, I focus on establishing a framework for knowledge transfer for my company which I believe will increase the popularity of my PMO.

Thank you Mustafa, great idea on how to increase the positive perceptions of PMOs!

PMO leaders and PMs should be rewarded for project delivery results not just following a process..

A problem that I'm seeing is that PMI is issuing PMPs to many people who do not in fact meet the credentials of working as a project manager within an organization. My opinion is that this is leading to PMOs not having qualified project managers to support managing projects. I believe that the main focus of a PMO should be to develop project managers, and there will be greater success to this with properly certified PMPs.

Hi Sunil, good point on confirming the value proposition of PMOs.

Thank you Catherine, I agree - removing obstacles, not adding more should be a goal of PMOs.

Tom, I'm with you - talent development to increase PPPM capability is one way to counter the declining project delivery success rates.

PMO should support PM on the pain areas. In most of the organization, process imposed by PMO is getting overhead. Governance by PMO should not only to implement organization level uniformity in projects but also to support PM to recover his/her project, if required. In most cases I see this is missing. Identifying a gap is easy if someone has little knowledge in that area, but solving real project issues is what every PM is looking for.

Would be great to see some real life case study showing practical steps and lessons learned from PMO's transformation in delivering the real value to the PMs and ultimate overall organization's business results. How to some up with the real business case for PMO and how to measure the results?

Thanks Jen. All valid reasons to dislike PMO, especially point 2 & 3.

Thanks for this post. Point 3 &4 are definietely the killer of a PMO. If project owners only consider PMO as the template and report creater, something is wrong. We actually defined our mission as the smart PMO. So we jump in, whenever a project lack the PM capabilities and work side by side with the team up to the moment, when the knowledges has been succesfully transfered. So we do even have to fill the templates and reports - this actually keep us away of haveng redundant reports and ineffective templates.

A few of the PMO antipatterns I've seen:

-- Way too much focus on locking all projects -- no matter the size and nature of the project -- into a single mega-process with a whopping number of templates. That is to say, little understanding of the need to tailor, thus introducing excessive overhead and waste into many projects.

-- Much obsessing over templates. As though if you lay down THE set of templates, then effective project management will happen.

-- Locking in around waterfall to the detriment of change-driven product development. This goes along with little or no understanding or support of Agile, Lean, or other alternative methods that can more effectively deliver value in these types of projects.

-- Process Templates PMP = Good Project Management.

-- Narrowly focusing on the above rather than on looking at ways to unencumber and support highly talented project managers with wide experience in different methodologies and sound leadership skills.

-- Laboring under the notion that "fewer projects are better" to create needlessly large, long-term projects, often with rambling, unwieldy scope. Rather than logically chunking up efforts into smaller, nimbler projects or stages.

Very good summary of some of the major problems I have seen. Mergers and acquisitions also result in some short term inefficiencies as PMOs are combined and governance processes rationalized.

One pet peeve of mine is using a template and it's not been generated by someone who knows the tool. If a Word doc has margins, can't we stay inside the lines? If we are moving to the next row in a cell, shouldn't the spacing within the table remains the throughout the table? such little things but they begin to distract from the templates' purpose.

It's good to have these created by two SME. One for the content, the other for the format!

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