PMOs and their power to change

Nov 16
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Establishing and developing the capability of a PMO (Project Management Office) has implications beyond portfolio, program and project management. When driving change, many PMO leaders get bogged down in things they can’t control, like their organisation’s strategy, people and environment. However, what can be changed is process.

PMOs are sitting on an oilfield of untapped potential. No matter what form or variant of PMO you operate, you have the capacity to influence how your part of the organisation enables change and brings value. 

The first question every PMO should ask of itself is how does it add value to the organisation? It should also ask itself the shadow question – how does it detract value from the organisation? This is a critical question. If you add too much overhead or have process for the sake of it, then you are not enabling. You are a burden. Many PMOs fall victim to becoming too cumbersome and complex. Begin by understanding the most fundamental reasons your PMO exists. This is frequently a mix of managing the risk of complicated change initiatives and achieving the efficiency that comes from having a set of consistent ways of doing things. This does not mean pulling out a 1990s methodology and making every project waterfall. Understand the methods but be ready to adapt to support your specific needs.

Change your definition of success

What is often not articulated well is that good PMO process should equally be about helping projects or change ideas fail.  The shift in paradigm changes how you view success. If you make it safe for people to try an idea out and see if they can break it, then you can bypass millions of dollars of investment in something that is hard to roll back.

Change how you view a business case

A business case sets out what the project is to deliver and hopefully what value or benefits should come from that that deliverable. We need to stop treating a business case as an absolute certainty. I suggest thinking of them more as a hypotheses. This changes how we approach our planning. It gives us permission to ask more active and critical questions. How do we keep testing that our deliverable will actually give us sufficient value? What is our threshold? At what point do we say we have learnt enough to halt or to invest more effort? How do we disprove our belief in the project deliverable? What are the questions that help us be less emotionally invested and more objective? What are our early warning signs and how do we recover investment if we have to take an early exit?

This is where the power and value of the PMO really comes to the forefront. Build your processes, reporting, conversations, gates, governance, measures and psyche to influence and be part of change. 

The demonstrable value is the decrease in unsuccessful projects and increase in value form the projects that do fully deliver. The less tangible, but often much more valuable, is how you contribute to change in the way we enable an organisation and its leaders. 

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Submitted by Chris Lawler

Chris Lawler

Chris leads the enterprise Project Portfolio Office at Mater Group, a non-profit health service that also delivers public health services. Prior experience includes 10 years across multiple public sector departments in Queensland. A strong advocate for equity, diversity and giving back to the profession, Chris‘s efforts have been recognized by her peers, awarding her for “Contribution to Women in Project Management” at the Australian PMI National Awards for 2015.

Chris is a member of the PMI Organisational Project Management Global Advisory Group. She was the first Australian to gain the PfMP credential and holds multiple graduate and post graduate qualifications.

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