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Why do we have a PMO?

As Rodney Dangerfield might say, “PMO managers get no respect.” Some have suggested that the initials may really stand for “Presents Many Obstacles” rather than Program Management Office. It is rare for a PMO (and it’s leader) to last more than three years. The PMO leaders I’ve met are smart, dedicated professionals and a PMO can add significant value to the business, so why is there such a high rate of frustration and failure?

The root cause is too much focus on means and not enough focus on ends. It’s very much like the thinking of many “agilists” as described in a blog elsewhere in this site: http://www.go-onpoint.com/blog/1033/lean-agile-means-vs-ends/

Here are a few PMO examples of ”means vs. ends” thinking:
  • Method over mission:  In the absence of a formal mission statement, PMO stakeholders and staff may assume that the PMO exists to support a specific project management methodology.   The methodology may be a means to support a mission, but it should not be the reason the PMO exists.
  • Consistency for the sake of consistency.  The business case, project approach and reporting standards for an enterprise-wide ERP rollout should not be imposed on a simple website upgrade initiative. The objective should be solid project outcomes rather than consistent artifacts
  • Measurement without meaning.   There are plenty of project management tools that can provide an excruciating level of detail about project performance, but these measures are only useful if they lead to an action or a decision by the project team or sponsor.  Otherwise, the details are at best a distraction and a source of wasted effort to collect, manage and report.
  • Process without purpose.   Maybe some of those phase gate reviews are not needed.  Did they result in any useful mid-course corrections for the project teams?  Or were they just a perfunctory step that diverted the attention of the project team and resulted in unnecessary delays?
Implementing PM standards and processes is often a task of a PMO, but that is not the purpose.  The purpose of a PMO should be to achieve a business goal such as solving a problem, improving the linkage of strategy with execution, improving utilization of resources or addressing compliance issues.

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