Project Management

The Ethics Of The PMO

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at

The PMO is an interesting animal that for many companies reflects the worst of matrix organizations: all of the responsibility, none of the accountability, and with two audiences to serve--the project managers and senior management. Like the servant with two masters, this creates an ethical dilemma that many struggle with: To which of our customers do we owe the greatest loyalty?

While on the surface it may seem like a theoretical exercise, it results in a number of real and tangible difficulties. Imagine a situation where we are providing mentoring and coaching services to a project manager. As a result of this engagement, a member of the PMO staff becomes aware of an issue where a project manager is being given directives to manage a vendor situation in a way that violates corporate policy. Because of the political situation that the project manager finds themselves in, they feel strong pressure to comply with the directive.

Does the PMO staff member have an obligation to escalate this problem to senior management? For many of us, the answer is probably a straightforward "yes." But what happens when the directive is being issued by the same senior manager to whom the PMO reports? Or is an executive vice president or the organization's CEO? Do we still feel comfortable reporting it? To whom? And with what expected consequence?

Yet consider a different scenario...where…

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