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Is the concept of the PMO obsolete? In decline?

Just read this eye opening report from the Projects At Work site on the Hackett Group’s research results on the decline of the PMO. This is a topic that strikes close to me having been involved with PMOs quite heavily for the past half decade. It compelled me to write my own observations on it which you can read here:

From my own experiences I'd have to say that it is true for the most part. I'd like to really know what other professional PM's here think!

Inquiring minds want to know.
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Don, nice post and, per the link, great article that you recently wrote. Absolutely agree with your conclusions and sage advice regarding the traditional PMO approach, "...the first step is to realize that the traditional model of the PMO needs to get seriously reevaluated, revised, then field tested to make sure it works." IMHO, the runaway freight train of "PMO good intentions" needs to be stopped and then started up again with a much more balanced and responsible focus between "means to the ends" such as all of our people, process, tools, and training kinds of things and the "ends to be achieved" such as solving a business problem and/or realizing a business benefit.

My own experience with and observations of PMOs supports the findings of the report. However, I must add that the usual root cause of PMO failure is a tendency to be so focused on methodologies, processes and tools that they become nothing more than overhead and add no value to their customers. In my experience, this is at its worse in IT based PMOs.

So few PMOs have defined their mission, vision, and objectives. They do not operate as a business unit, but more like an overhead unit. Few have objectives and strategies that are aligned with those of the business.

I have often heard PMO managers and PMs say "The business doesn't understand project management, etc." Well, just as often I have heard the business say "The PMO doesn't understand my business." It is much more important that the PMO understand the business of the business. It is not important that the business understand project management in order to succeed. After all, the business doesn't serve the PMO, the PMO serves the business.

Without a strong understanding of the business, its strategy and objectives, the PMO cannot effectively serve the business, cannot meet the needs of the business, and cannot add any value to the business. And we must be aware that the business determines what is valuable, not the PMO.

If PMOs and those of us in this industry do not recognize that we need to focus on the needs of the business and deliver services that meet those needs, we may see the end of PMOs. Properly set up PMOs have little problem demonstrating value and are seen as vital to the success of the organization.

It's nice to have proper research and actual numbers, but the way I read that article, it looked to me like they're saying: "Do it right and you'll get the benefits, do a half-assed job and it'll be more trouble than it's worth". I'm clearly over-simplifying, but that's the gist of it and it isn't really groundbreaking (and can be applied to much more than just PMOs).

One thing I regret is that they don't go into the details of which kind of PMO are the most wasteful and which kind the most successful. Every company tailors their PMO to their specific need and/or understanding of the function, so the end results usually are pretty unique. I would have been interested in learning if there are discernable roles and responsibilities that successful PMOs have in common.

Totally agree with Harland his sentence below sums it up!..

'PMO failure is a tendency to be so focused on methodologies, processes and tools that they become nothing more than overhead and add no value to their customers. In my experience, this is at its worse in IT based PMOs' .

PMO's are trully an overhead that business can do without, it creates a huge organisation hierachy that is a top down organisation - at the top end PMO Director down to the lower end PMO Administrator! PMO's generate more and more processes and documents every step of the way it becomes autocratic and process driven! that can hinder the progress of projects. PMO's showed their ugly heads about 6 to 7 years ago! many large organisations still have them justifying their existence as value for money! in delivering their projects...

The PMO generates functions that can be undertaken by Project Managers and they actually do as part of their job specification! for example, Project Performance, Financial Management, Risks and issues, Communications etc etc, therefore these functions are specific to project management delivery that the Project Manager is accountable - The PMO may see the whole portfolio of projects however, in reality it is the Project Manager that actually delivers projects! the overwhelming methodology and process requirements instigated by PMO's is an overkill !

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