In recent years I’ve taken a somewhat anti-PMO stance in my writing.
I’ve felt that the work which many PMOs focus on could be accomplished through alternatives which don’t require setting up a separate department or leadership position.
The function of PMOs which are responsible for the delivery of portfolios of projects could be addressed by hiring competent, experienced project managers and by having governance committees of executives play a strong oversight role over the gated release of funds. If there is a need to establish consistent project management practices, a strategic partnership could be formed with a third-party services provider to deploy and fine tune a methodology. A similar approach could be taken with regards to talent development – the organization’s learning department could collaborate with a third-party to develop a job accountability model and to identify resources to help practitioners progress.
While none of these alternatives are free, they rarely incur the start-up costs and organizational change management churn that accompanies the launch of a PMO.
You may argue that failure rates of PMOs have decreased in recent years, but if I draw an analogy to unemployment numbers, this might be due to companies choosing not to establish a PMO as much as it is stems from improvements in the perceived value of existing ones.
However, the one function which a staffed PMO could perform better than almost any other alternative is facilitating continuous improvement.
While a third-party provider could be brought in to make a transformational change, it will be very challenging for any vendor unless they are effectively acting like an internal PMO to work side-by-side on a daily basis with project teams to monitor, gather and analyze data and refine practices.
A compelling example of such activities is post-project analysis. Other than in projectized organizations, it’s rare to find a situation where project managers or project team members are given sufficient time once a project has been completed to distill, categorize, capture and share knowledge which has been gained through the project lifetime.
Even if a lessons learned session is conducted and the results communicated, the content is usually raw data and worse, if some of the recommendations don’t get baked into daily practices, the lessons are likely to never get learned. Another example is identifying portfolio trends based on project data and using that knowledge to improve practices.
And even if some of this could be performed by project managers coming off completed projects, the development and implementation of practice changes following good change management practices is not easily done on a part-time basis.
A common reason stated for establishing PMOs is to reduce project failures. This is a tactical goal which can be accomplished in many ways. A PMO should strive to deliver sustainable value and one way this can be done is through incremental, ongoing practice improvement.