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How to Improve the PMO Lead Role in Your Company

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Kevin Korterud

In this high-demand/low-availability labor market, we all have to start re-thinking about how to staff one of the increasingly most pivotal roles in large, complex technology delivery: the program PMO lead.

In the past 10 or so years, we have all seen the size and scale of delivery dramatically increase as the business and technology landscape becomes more complex with multiple solutions, architectures, geographies, suppliers and organizations—and enabling layers such as cloud platforms. For new technology solutions as well as transformations, program delivery leads now spend more time than ever navigating this highly complex landscape—which leaves less time for traditional program management activities.

This situation has put an increased premium on the PMO lead role, which typically was portrayed as more of an administrative function. Ever more frequently, the PMO lead role has become closely integrated with the program delivery lead role in terms of guiding the trajectory of delivery…to the point where they resemble an adjunct delivery function to the program delivery lead.

The common dilemma today: Where does one find a PMO lead that can oversee the typical delivery operations activities such as risks, issues, workplans and tools—as well as assist the program delivery lead with critical delivery assurance efforts? In addition, how can we fill a PMO lead role with the right person in a timely manner as not to impair the mobilization progress of a delivery program?

As opposed to the traditional approach of trying to staff at the last minute when demand arises for a PMO lead role, the most effective path is to have the next generation of PMO leads on hand before you need them. Keep these three points in mind:                                                          

1. Recognize that large, complex and transformation PMOs require a unique mix of leadership skills. Programs are typically known to be a collection of delivery projects that directly fulfill a unified set of business needs. However, the landscape of programs has changed over the years where they now have to be implemented in a highly integrated, more complex technical and business environment. In addition, there can be transformative enablement capabilities such as value realization, organization change management and dependency management.

Given this landscape, PMO leads that solely oversee the execution of serial recurring PMO processes will not be successful. The PMO lead of today needs to have skills that transcend pure administrative execution by serving as a broker of conflicts, predictor of delivery volatility, as well as an organizational enabler of progress. In addition, to do so PMO leads now engage at a much higher level in an organization.

To achieve success, PMO leads need to have prior experience with complex delivery leadership, senior executive engagement as well as an ability to quickly grasp the delivery “big picture” in order to take action in a proactive manner. Traditional administrative backgrounds are not enough to prevail in today’s delivery environment.  

2. Domain and local knowledge is highly valuable. In addition to delivery leadership, executive engagement and the ability to sense prevailing conditions, it’s very helpful to have additional knowledge in the areas of business domains, as well as localized organizational characteristics.

For example, the learning curve of a PMO lead that spent most of their career in healthcare would have to be enormous to grasp the terminology and concepts of energy exploration; the converse is also true, when an energy exploration PMO lead serves on a healthcare program. In addition, organizational entities in companies may differ between regions and product lines.

There are a few methods to help ensure that domain and local knowledge needs are fulfilled. Where possible, prioritize PMO leads that have prior business experience in a specified domain area. To assist with understanding the organizational entities, consider the PMO lead shadowing the overall program delivery lead in recurring leadership meetings.

Where there are no available PMO leads with the necessary business domain nor local knowledge, consider providing business domain training as well as conducting immersion sessions for the prospective PMO lead in advance of their start of their role. It’s much quicker to take PMO leads with the right mix of modern-day competencies and incrementally bring them up to speed in these areas than it is to try and instruct a business domain lead on complex delivery.

3. Rotational PMO lead roles build more effective delivery leaders. In order for PMO leads to stay ahead of the game, their role needs to start in advance of delivery activities. In today’s complex environment, any delay in staffing a PMO lead will be detrimental. The best way to avoid this problem is to make the PMO lead role a rotational staff function. This enables it to be a training ground for future delivery leaders.

In the military and other organizations, the notion of a rotational staff assignment is quite common. In addition, it is highly prized given the visibility it provides—as well as the ability it creates to foster further career growth (which might not be found in a traditional assignment).

Current delivery leadership that needs to gain experience with more complex delivery, as well as experienced new joiners, are both examples of candidates for modern-day PMO lead roles. In addition, standard PMO lead training should be designed, built and deployed. Organizations that identify, groom and deploy PMO leads in a timely manner are already starting out ahead of their competitors. This model is not limited to employees of an organization; performing the same function with suppliers is also valuable to reduce the chance of late PMO lead fulfillment.

The function of a program management office has been both an integral and essential component of complex industrial delivery for almost 100 years. Over the past few decades, technology delivery leaders—as well as stakeholders—have gained a similar level of appreciation for the importance of the program PMO lead.

As demand continues to increase with no end in sight to the shortage of capable PMO leads, it’s best that companies start to build their own cadre of future PMO leads; this is essential for both staffing this role in a timely manner, as well as to ensure the growth of delivery capability.

I welcome any comments on what others are doing to help both staff program PMO roles, as well grow this function in your own organization.

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: June 12, 2022 04:23 PM | Permalink

Comments (7)

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Dear Kevin
The topic that you brought to our reflection and debate was very interesting.

Thanks for sharing and for your opinions.

Does the current system of hiring people (body shopping) favor the measures you propose?

Thanks, Kevin, for this post on the care and nurturing of PMO leads. With us, baby boomers, only trickling out of the work market, we can expect rotation assignments to become more prevalent.

Thank you Kevin, This article was an excellent read and helpful in understanding the strategic position that PMOs are in to push for organizational growth.

Excellent paper Kevin; leadership in project execution and PMO are to be digitally linked.

Thanks all for the great comments! Yes quite a popular topic...

Luis...i weigh in on the side of building PMO leads....helps w growth for the future

Dear Presenters,
I appreciate the written explanations about the PMO Lead. The PMO Lead as indicated in the first paragraph is all about Program PMO Lead. But, the PMO is Project Management Office. It can be also Portfolio Management Office as to me. Anyway, I also think that these written post applies to all things (program, project, portfolio as well as operational activities in a new product development or new production activities concerning new technologies or innovations ). Correct me if I am wrong.
Sincerely
Engdaw A.

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