Lessons Unlearned Again

Within the legion of people some organisations employ to help guide change to a safe conclusion, there are many people doing a difficult and often (sadly, literally) thankless job – the PMO.

Let’s leave aside for the moment discussions of whether Agile doesn’t need a PMO (or project managers) because that’s a different discussion for another time.  A lot of places still have them, and they deliver a lot of value.

It is extraordinary the range of skills you come across in a PMO organisation.  I’ve seen the full range from people who just help out a bit with the administration of projects, right up to people who, if they were to choose to do so, could without difficulty run an entire project and programme management practice, or be a very successful programme director, all called “PMO”.  Some people choose the PMO path because they think that they will help more that way; some choose it as a way into project management; some choose it as a way out.

A PMO within a programme has a lot of responsibility, but also a lot of influence and even power.  A good PMO can make a change leader’s life considerably easier; an influential one can make it much harder; and let’s consider too, there are some change leaders who need their life made a bit harder, because for example they are running their change (project or programme) ineptly, or even with malice aforethought.  As long as the PMO isn’t too entranced by, or unduly influenced by, the change leader, they can act as a brake on things going too far wrong.  That’s one of the good reasons for having a PMO reporting line as a practice which doesn’t run too close to the change leader reporting line.

At an enterprise level, if the PMO is divorced from the day to day realities of make change effective, something else happens. The tendency to focus inwards, on tools and processes and project management artefacts (seldom programme management artefacts I note), seems to increase over time.  One of the most important things for any PMO which includes process or methodology responsibilities (and setting up governance definitely has a large overlap into methodology) is feedback.  Ongoing and continuous, detailed, and evidence based feedback.  When you lose this, the Enterprise level PMO particularly runs the risk of proliferating practice but failing to understand either the impact on the changes, or the benefits (disbenefits…) of the processes they create.

When the number of mandatory deliverables just keeps going up, and the intricacy of the process persistently increases, it is time to refresh your EPMO with an influx of new blood.


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