Should PMOs Come With an Expiration Date?

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Categories: PMOs

Projects and programs aren't for life. So as the home for project managers, projects and programs, should we not consider the project management office (PMO) in the same light?

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)--Fourth Edition contrasts projects with operational work by stating, "operations are ongoing and repetitive."

Without an end goal, the PMO will become purely a home for operational activity. And if the PMO is only seen as the home of process (methodology) and the body of control (policing) then it will become as exciting as working in -- well, I better not be specific -- but I'm sure you understand what I'm getting at.

I'm not saying PMOs should only be around for a very short time. I'm merely suggesting that because of the nature of what they contain, PMOs must continue to evolve and ensure they're really creating value.

Anyone leading a PMO has a responsibility to consider the end game. We typically know what it is that we are trying to improve, resolve, correct and direct -- but I don't believe that this should be done in a way that creates a permanent need for the PMO.

What we must avoid is the deliberate removal of a subset of project management skills and the replacement of these skills within a permanent overhead community: a PMO. In other words, a PMO should not regularly take on any of the project management tasks. For example, PMO leaders shouldn't say, "We'll look after the risk management and you, project manager, deal with the rest of the project manager's tasks."

It is said that operations end when they stop delivering value, and projects end when they do deliver value. The PMO should aim to end when there is no longer a need for it to exist because it has delivered the value. And that lack of need should be engineered into its strategy.

What do you think? Are PMOs meant to last forever?

Posted by Peter Taylor on: September 24, 2010 04:22 PM | Permalink

Comments (11)

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Thiago Toledo
Maybe the PMO tend to become a subset of a process office.

I totally agree to the fact the PMOs should not be doing regular routine task (e.g. risk management as mentioned in the article above) but I disagree with the notion that PMO should have expiration date.

In my view PMO should be modeled around Research Labs.

As Research labs of a company strives to bring innovation in technology and infrastructure components used by company, the PMO office should work towards bringing innovation in terms of processes, procedures used in the company for project management activities.

As a robust research lab enforces the efficient use of technology, so should the robust PMO enforce the efficient and effective usage of processes and templates.

I strongly believe that there is always a scope of innovation with respect to project management activities and hence the PMO office can continue till eternity without doing the regular mundane job.

Claudia Vandermilt
I like the idea of a time limit. Maybe not a set-in-stone time limit, but a reevaluation of the system. Is it still creating value? Is it out of touch? Do we have other, better options we could use now?

Yves Vandooren
It all depends on the initial objectives why the PMO was created:

In the case of an educational role for project managers to get to the right level and follow the organization environmental part of the project management culture, its life will be related to the life cycle of the personnel assigned to project management role.

Alternatively if the initial mandate of the PMO was to serve as a deck to standard benchmark all organization projects, it is to predict that its life cycle will be as long as the organization will execute projects, meaning will be quite extensive.
So answering the question about PMO life cycle is, according to me highly related to the 6 or 7 different missions that a PMO can have.

Juan Carlos Castañón
I think the PMOs should be managed in accordance with the wave of quantity, technical specialization and size of projects. In other words, PMO’s size should be dynamically tailored in order to the quantity of value to achieve to the company and its strategic objectives.

And instead of disappearing PMO, it should be in standby (cryogenic) until new projects, portfolios or programs are needed, so they should be totally prepared to deploy the PMO and should not have an expiration date because they are the standardized way to execute for unique changes.

In the case of Projectized Organizations, PMO’s life should be linked to the life of the company.

Ron Goris
Peter, while I agree with the fact that a PMO needs to continually evaluate its value proposition, I for one do not see the arrival (in the near term at least) of a time when a PMO or PMCOE will no longer need to exist.

I agree that the PMO (or PMCOE) needs to be more than just the keeper of the methodology and the body "policing" compliance. There needs to be more. What role should the PMO or PMCOE play in both the PM recruitment process and the ongoing development and support of the PM community? In some companies this may already be in place and working well. However, is it working well in all?

Additionally, what role does (or should) the PMO or PMCOE play in keeping business and project/portfolio/program information sharing and communications flowing to the benefit of the entire organization?

Now don't get me wrong. I am not proposing that PMO's or PMCOE's continue to grow and expand at alarming rates and become empires unto themselves. Quite the contrary.

I believe that they, like other areas of the organization need to expand and contract as needed while still demonstrating true value to the organization. That is why it is crucial that the definition of the value that they add is reviewed, assessed and modified as needed over time to ensure it is meeting the needs of the organization.

One concern I have had recently is with the notion of the disposable PMO or PMCOE. They are established in response to a specific need but the definition of value is treated as a short-term objective. Once reached, abandon what got you there and surprisingly they find themselves back in the same mess that necessitated the creation of a PMO/PMCOE in the first place, and the cycle starts all over again.

Would be interested in others opinions on this as well.


Jim Duggan
If it is accepted that projects will always be underway at least to some degree within any given organization, what is the PMO if not an operational "home" for projects and project managers?

The PMO is not a unique set of work with a beginning and ending date.

The PMO is a strategic business unit (SBU) of and to the organization that plays a critical role in achieving business goals, objectives and capabilities.

Without the PMO, project portfolio management processes (PPM) cannot be successful in that the PMO and the PPM governance (functional managers) work together to manage capability, market opportunity and ROI initiatives.

Without the PMO, continuous improvement, project capability maturity and project performance management will either not occur or decay as a result of shutting down the PMO.

However, the PMO must be more a hybrid of an operation and SBU because it must provide lead and guidance regarding emerging methodologies, philosophies and practices.

The challenges facing a successful and sustained PMO notwithstanding demonstrate the very need for PMO existence and internal continuous improvement for the sake of the organization more so than the sake of project management.

Hadas Wittenberg
PMO should provide a strategic value to the organisation. It's purpose, regardless the mandate, is building organisational capabilities in the areas of portfolio/projects governance, project/ programme good practice, benefits realisation etc.

I agree that the PMO should walk the talk. It should have a vision, a business case and a road map for achieving the vision.

Once achieved and relevant responsibilities have been transitioned to 'Business As Usual,' it should end. If a PMO ceases to exist and the organisation reverts back to alower level of capability, then the PMO failed.

Mounir Ajam
Absolutely not! Can the finance department come with an expiration date? Can HR departments come with an expiration date? How about marketing or sales? If not - then why should the project management department / function / PMO come with an expiration date --- unless it is specific to managing a single project or program?

Project Management is a function of an organization and yes, it is an operational department that has responsibility for the function to establish methodology, to build the system, to manage the PM System, to own the career framework for project management.

In my view we should not confuse the role of project management function (represented by an organizational unit) with the management of specific projects.

Patrick Weaver
It rather depends on your PMO…

A Program Management Office set up for a program should run for the life of the program and close. A similar approach should be taken for any other specific purpose PMO.

However, the critically important PMO that every organisation should have (and very few do) is at the executive support level. This type of PMO assists with data management to support portfolio management decisions, is a key link in the organisational governance chain and acts both as a two-way translator between project speak and executive language and as a trusted adviser to the ‘C-Suite’ executives.

At this level, the PMO should be a permanent part of the way the business does business for as long as the business is ‘doing projects.’

The different types and functions of PMOs with a focus on executive support and governance were discussed in a paper presented at the 2006 PMI Asia Pacific Congress, Supersizing PMO Performance: This paper is still relevant today!

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