Project Management

Whatever you do, don’t call it a PMO

From the I wish I had me when I was you... Blog
"I wish I had me when I was you..." That expresses precisely how I feel each time a project manager or PMO leader tells me a story about their frustrations encountered while trying to create effective and sustainable change, build (or fix) a PMO, or deliver projects successfully. I always think to myself…I wish I knew then what I know now. I’ve made it my mission to share with you everything that I have learned while creating change and building PMOs in both large and small organizations for the last 24 years, many of those years as an employee in the "hot seat" responsible for building internal capability. I’m hoping these articles help you along your journey as you continue to evolve and develop skills and techniques to be the high-IMPACT leader you are meant to be. Learn more at

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Becoming a Customer-Centric PMO

10 Steps to Ensure Project Rescue Success

Things to Stop Doing to Be High-IMPACT

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Did You Know That Project Management Can Change The World?

What’s in a name?

When it comes to PMOs, a lot! Have you been paying attention to the PMO space recently? I have. More and more organizations are moving away from the title PMO for the organization that facilitates the planning and execution of business strategy. I’ve seen Business Transformation Office, Strategic Planning Office, Strategy Execution Office, Enterprise Strategy Execution team, and on and on…anything but PMO, please!


PMOs have gotten a bad reputation.


Because many of them haven’t been delivering in a high impact way. Sorry, guys. I hate to break it to you. I really do. I’m a 17 year PMO veteran.

There are some out there that are amazing rock stars! I know I’ve seen them, myself.

And then there are the rest of them…too much time, money and resources spent on building templates and process or running through the steps of a project without actually delivering maximal impact for the organization’s investment. In the eyes of the business leadership, they take too long to get setup and start seeing value. The business gets bored/impatient/frustrated and moves on.

This is where doing things “right” conflicts with getting results. I talked about process getting in the way of progress in this post that I encourage you to read. I dive deeply into the specifics of that problem we create for ourselves when we put getting the tools and templates created before we start having an impact.

Now, I want to go beyond that.

Let’s say we are delivering our projects on time and within budget, even meeting the business requirements. Great! Now why isn’t the business happy?

We need to turn our heads to an even bigger differentiator between those that will survive the next several years and those that won’t. Actually, I don’t think it’s going to even take that long. The data is there…the PMO isn’t about project management anymore. It’s about delivering the maximal impact possible based on the investment. In other words, return on investment (ROI). It’s not just how we are doing the work or even that most of it is getting delivered. It’s also about focus. Focusing our energy on the right things.

Imagine this. You have a project portfolio dashboard and 80% of the projects on that dashboard are green or going as planned. We are rocking and rolling! Feeling good. But what if the 20% that aren’t moving forward are the ones that have the biggest impact on the organization’s bottom line or ability to meet strategic objectives? 80% of the impact your PMO could be having on the company is tied up in 20% of the projects and they aren’t getting done. Not looking so hot now, huh?

We need to focus our energy on the most important projects to the organization. That 20% that can move the company forward should get first dibs on focus from the organization (money, time, effort, etc.)

And guess what?

It’s YOUR job as a PMO leader to help make that happen. You have to make sure that the right conversations are taking place to facilitate getting resources realigned, information where it needs to go and decisions made. It’s also your job to make sure that you handle the “don’t touch my project” conversations and behaviors that are prevalent whenever you have limited funds and resources – so always. The ones where project managers are fighting each other for resources when the priorities are clear.

You know what I’m talking about…they make it look like resources that they need look fully utilized even if they aren’t just so that they don’t lose them when they need them…and who could blame them? A good project manager will fight to the death to make sure their project gets all the resources they need to make sure their project gets done. Of course! Their job performance is judged on whether or not their projects are performing, right?

Maybe being a good project manager is not enough. Maybe we need more in our PMOs of the future.

What if, instead, we allowed project managers to be in a safe collaborative place?  A place where the PMO has their back. A place where the PMO could decide that PMs are judged on their ability to help the entire portfolio perform optimally, even if it means their own project gets shuffled lower on the priority list.

Crazy idea, I know.

You have a role in determining where PMOs go from here. We’ve seen that they aren’t getting much love from the business community. But we’ve also seen this rebirth in titles for these organizations so as to make it even clearer that this is about the business and delivering business value. But I would like to go even further. It’s not about what you call it. It’s about being as impactful as possible on the business. It’s about maximizing return on investment.

Or, as my friend Mike Hannan has suggested, maybe the next iteration of PMOs should be called RMEs: ROI Maximization Engines.

What you call it doesn’t matter. What it delivers, better.


Thanks for taking the time to read this article.

I welcome your feedback and insights. Please leave a comment below.

See you online!


Posted on: July 31, 2017 08:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (12)

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Maybe PMO's need to be sold a little better, many are not performing and this a problem, but many also become the scapegoat for senior management that did not define their vision for the PMO when consulting with the PMO leader, or shifted their strategy/vision after defining it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in this case, value is in the eye of senior management, regardless of the true success and performance of the PMO. Good article Laura.

Thanks Laura for your views. I feel you are a little bit pessimistic. As Sante says the value of the PMO is in the eye of senior management. In our organization the Business will never accept to launch large engagements (Outsourcing program) without a PMO in place. We have standards services to deliver: project management processes compatible with the Customer way of running projects, account risk management, and account portfolio management. The standard timeframe to setup a project PMO is short (2 months) but this setup is based on existing standards and well-trained dedicated resources to fulfill the different roles in PMO: risk management, Schedule management, admin, ....
So I agree with you that PMOs are sometimes underestimated for their ability to deliver value. But it is up to us to demonstrate that we are full owners of the project tactics to enable the delivery of value.

I have to admit it can be difficult for project managers to look beyond their domain of responsabilities. I've had some of my senior managers tell me I should put our company ahead of my project and my project clients.

Someone else's domain of responsabilities is broader than mine. That person should be held accountable, not me.

As per Mr. Vergini's comment, "Maybe PMO's need to be sold a little better..."
Many companies exist without PMOs. A project manager leads a team to execute projects but is not a PMP. The project manager is not included in management's strategic planning. The account or department only reaches out to the PM if there is an issue. The reason that comes to mind first is the lack of understanding out there of what the role of the PMO should be and the value if can bring to the business.
Some executives view PMO as a threat to their own existence because it means releasing some of the control they have had.

The days of the PMO are numbered - even in the hold-out orgs. It's also getting less about projects and more about the continuous flow of value into business operations based on an adaptive and iterative strategy execution approach (spoke about it here

The notion we can lay things down in a plan and just stick to it are long gone.

As a result, PMs are going to need to adapt to this new reality and focus on leadership and facilitation and less on management (spoke about it here

While there are still projects, there will always be a PMO, whether it's renamed, redefined or rehashed.

Very true, PMO maybe doing the things right, are they the right one

Yet another situation where the Paretto principle applies.

Excellent, I like that topic I find your position interesting Laura

Hi, all! Thanks for the feedback. Please do understand I am a very STRONG proponent of the PMO. I've spent most of my career building, running and rescuing them and now I teach others how to do the same. The point of this article is to address the sad state of affairs that is the PMO reputation and challenge all of us to think differently about the purpose and goals of the PMO and all that we CAN do to deliver high IMPACT and value to the business we serve. There is certainly a future for PMOs...and we get the opportunity to shape it, so let's do that in a way that ensures the future and delivers IMPACT.

Hi Laura,

I am catching up with your article a bit late; apologies. Your view about the PMO is more prevalent now than before.

The buzz recently is about Transformational Management Offices (TMO) that looks at getting to the heart of delivering value and not getting all worked up about administration and compliance (seen by many as the bedrock of traditional PMOs). Although, there needs to be some admin and compliance!

In recent times there has been a lot of focus on Agile PMOs. Now, this is very different from a "waterfall" based PMO. And it gets tricky when scheduling and costing using an any Agile approach. But, this is the way it's going to go.

We have to be supple enough to accommodate the changes coming our way.

Best wishes.

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