Project Management

What Makes for a Good PMO Lead?

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By Kevin Korterud

 

The definition of a successful PMO has changed over time. Today, a highly complex delivery ecosystem is the norm in most organizations. So PMOs that serve primarily as a “back office” function, providing only operational support services, are not seen as adding value. They are viewed as a means of reducing costs by assisting project, program and product managers with operational tasks.  

 

The same can be said for the PMO lead in today’s modern organization. Organizations are turning to their PMO leads to share insights, impart predictability and strive towards the preservation of business value. Today, leads need capabilities that to a great degree mirror their project, program and product delivery leadership counterparts. A highly visible leader with a broad perspective across both delivery and business operations is rapidly becoming a key role in a delivery organization.

 

Based on the changing PMO landscape, here are what I see as the three essential characteristics of contemporary PMO leads: 

 

  1. Project/Program/Product Delivery Leadership Experience

The inherent complexity of projects and programs continues to increase as more of the business landscape is automated. In addition, there is growing opportunity for technology and process innovation. Projects and programs can morph into persistent and recurring product development, which in turn creates an environment where delivery is continuous.

PMOs over time have also matured in lockstep with delivery complexity and persistency. PMO service groups have mechanized and industrialized PMO processes to support this growth. In concert, the charter of a PMO has shifted from being just a pure service function; it is now expected to serve as a predictor as well as an enabler of delivery.

These factors put a PMO generalist at a distinct disadvantage. With higher expectations, it’s key that PMO leads have project, program and product delivery experience. These delivery skills provide insights and observations that are more organic in nature and go beyond what is found in status reports; their delivery experience allows them to get to the “so what” insights as well as to realistically predict delivery trajectory. In addition, prior delivery experience makes them more credible as a PMO lead with their project, program and product delivery peers. This also gives them the capability to become an adjunct delivery lead where required.   

 

2. Ability to Conduct Delivery Assurance Reviews    

Organizations today can have hundreds of concurrent projects, programs and product delivery initiatives. In addition, the use of delivery performance metrics and other indicators can vary widely. While metrics have always been a useful starting point to determine the overall health of delivery, they don’t always reveal potential volatility in a timely manner. 

 

Delivery assurance reviews go beyond the metrics to explore the factors behind the current trajectory of project, program and product delivery. These reviews are objective examinations conducted on behalf of an organization’s senior leadership to uncover potential delivery “surprises” not visible in status report metrics. The accumulation of delivery surprises over the entire portfolio can readily add up to a significant loss of value.

 

Leveraging their prior experience, today’s PMO leads are adept at conducting delivery assurance reviews. Enabled with a PMO charter that has been approved by senior leadership to mitigate delivery surprises, the combination of prior delivery knowledge as well as a value-driven mindset allows them to successfully execute delivery assurance reviews. Their organic ability to answer the questions “Where are we, where are we going and will we get there in time?” positions the PMO lead of today as a key team member within a delivery organization.   

 

  1. Ability to Connect With Senior Leadership, Stakeholders and Suppliers

Today’s delivery ecosystem is a highly complex, fast-moving environment that demands a high level of people engagement. As a project, program or product delivery leader, the ability to seamlessly connect with organizational leadership, stakeholders and suppliers has proven a key factor in delivery success. The same can be said about today’s PMO leads.

In the past, PMO leads and their respective teams were viewed more as an accessory to core delivery activities. Their services were employed directly to a project, program or product delivery lead; they rarely interacted with senior leadership, stakeholders or suppliers. However, today’s delivery ecosystem can tax the capacity and capability of delivery leadership. They need a peer partner who will help them achieve delivery success. To do so requires that the PMO lead understand both delivery and business operating models. 

This new PMO interaction model requires that a PMO lead possess a persona that can credibly engage with senior leadership, stakeholders and suppliers. They need to understand both delivery and business operations; the latter coming about from either professional study or exposure through prior delivery experience. While a PMO lead cannot understand every facet of business operations at a deep level of detail, having this exposure makes for more efficient and effective engagement with stakeholders as well as suppliers who are also key contributors to delivery success.

The PMO Lead of Tomorrow

Not long ago a colleague told me they were going to take on a PMO role in an organization. When asked about their motivation to do so, they shared that there were no current project, program or product delivery lead roles open, so they thought this would be a good place to start in this organization.

 

Much to my delight, this person had a strong background in delivery, professional training in relevant areas of business operations as well as plentiful experience engaging with leadership, stakeholders and suppliers. I smiled to myself that although they had no prior PMO experience, they had all of the right skills to succeed as a PMO lead.    

 

PMO leads need all three of these skills in order to succeed in today’s modern delivery ecosystem. For the PMO lead of tomorrow, they’ll require even more skills to deal with ever-increasing demands for project, program and product delivery. This will position them to play an even greater role in the delivery success of an organization.

I’d love to hear from you: What do you think makes for a good PMO lead?  

 

 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: January 04, 2020 10:42 AM | Permalink

Comments (12)

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Great Topic, and thank you so much for sharing.

Experience i have, some time PMO should do driver role, mean PMO need to do more concentration on even small issues.

Dear Kevin
Interesting reflection on the theme: "What Makes for a Good PMO Lead"

Thanks for sharing

It's hard to predict what organizations will look like in a VUCA world

After seeing a Brian Robertson presentation at a TED conference "Holacracy: A Radical New Approach to Management"

I wonder: Will PMOs continue to exist?

Dear Kevin,

Well documented.

Thanks,
Rajon

Kevin,
I agree that the PMO does not and cannot know all the deep levels of the business but being involved with them is key to success.

Thank you for sharing.

During all my years working around, my biggest concern/complain are that most of the PMO's are in the TECH department.
From my point of view the PMO director should have knowledge about business too and report directly to the COO, instead of CIO, or CTO.

Hi Kevin,
Thanks for this article. Working closely with PMO in my previous work assignments have greatly helped me in understanding the role of PMO in a bigger organization. It’s a good way to share project lessons learnt between different project teams to say an example.
Thanks
Anjana

Clear specific and superb vision .
Thanks for sharing ..please keep supporting PMO challenges.
Gustavo

Greetings all...thanks for the great feedback!

Luis...Kelly Johnson of Lockheed started the first true PMO back in the early 1940s...I suspect they will continue to persist...

Mayte...yes I can see PMOs reporting to the COO...not just a tech function anymore

Thanks for sharing. The problem with the topic is what does mean "good". The defintion of this type of terms must be done in the context where the role is performing. What is "good" from some organizations could be the opposite for others.

As individuals become more senior in the organization, or grow into leadership roles, it is certainly the breadth of experience that makes for successful transitions. PMO's are not finite in their respective advisory role and would need a leader that can bring different experiences and ideas to the role and department.

Thank you for your article. PMOs generally have a reporting function but the ability to predict outcomes is the key value of a PMO to the Company and its leadership. There is always temptation for project and delivery teams to hide or colour the true status of a project. The CEO, President or Chairman needs to have a Unit that he knows would always tell him the truth, whether good or bad (even if he says or shouts otherwise).
And people skills are essential to the PMO gaining the access and response that it needs.
think that the PMO should report to the highest

Great share thank you!

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