From hamster wheel to strategic unit – Transforming the PMO

Nov 19
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Businesses evolve as rapidly as the people behind them; priorities shift, faster decision making is demanded and delivery cycles become more rapid as a result. 

Project management offices (PMOs) often resemble hamster wheels – churning through projects and providing support to business branches to deliver on ever heightening expectations. Although PMOs are working harder than ever, the role has become largely invisible as they focus solely on tactical program management rather than enabling leaders and strategic vision.

In research performed by Forrester, it was found that PMOs which were strategically aligned with executive management played a direct role in enabling companies to achieve more successful outcomes. 

The study delivered four key findings about successful PMOs:

  1. They have a seat at the executive table – The most effective PMOs are regarded as members of executive management and report to senior leaders ranging from senior vice presidents to the C-suite. 
  2. They are a vital part of the strategic planning team – Successful PMOs are actively involved in strategic planning and strategy development by communicating with executives regarding factors such as performance, labour costs and customer feedback. 
  3. They embrace core competencies – Organisations that recognise the specific role of the project manager and invest in their learning and development are more successful. 
  4. They use consistent objectives across industry and regions – PMOs, regardless of being customer-facing or business-facing, are driven by the same objectives: Drive success through alignment with business stakeholders and operational excellence.

Transitioning the PMO to become strategically aligned, however, is made difficult by factors including inconsistent assessment across current capabilities, a lack of common language hindering planning and execution, organisational resistance to change, and inconsistent project management expertise.

So how do organisations transform the PMO role into a strategic partner? The approaches of the most successful companies are surprisingly consistent: 

  • Establishing a long term vision while remaining vigilant on fundamentals

Setting a strategic vision for alignment with executives is important, as is daily project management. PMOs should assess the current state-of-play to establish a baseline against which to measure improvement before putting the necessary controls in place to create a minimum viable approach. Creating the framework for managing plans, budgets, risks and reporting should follow while allowing project managers to determine the actual approach. 

Common controls for planning, measuring progress and language should be put in place to enable ‘universal’ understanding as well as a tool to increase visibility of project performance. 

  • Making change management a high organisational priority

Rapid change, when not handled well, can quickly descend into chaos. PMO leaders must be skilled in people management, communication and coaching. Companies require change ambassadors who dedicate themselves to achieving fast results while providing continual communication to reinforce the change. 

  • Creating a culture that strives for excellence

Having the right team in place is the differentiator between success and failure. Organisations that have successfully completed the PMO transformation had the right people in place, established project management as a formally recognised role, crafted a defined career path, and provided everyone in the organisation with learning appropriate for their role in projects. 

  • Leveraging transparency to make strategic moves 

With fundamentals in place and baselines for performance established,the PMO and business partners should collaborate in developing strategy and sharing in the outcome. While PMO owns execution and feedback, executives should own the business outcomes. 

To achieve this, PMOs focus on standardising demand and resource management practices as well as creating common KPIs to measure health, progress and risk. Regularly feedback mechanisms should also be incorporated including monthly reviews to inform adjustments. 

  • Learn from case studies and other PMO leaders

The 7th PMO Leadership Forum explores case studies of companies having successfully aligned PMO with the executive function, including Telstra, Transport for NSW and Mastercard. Running in Sydney from 19 – 21 February 2020, attendees will gain strategies to enhance project delivery, gain organisation-wide buy-in and improve PMO visibility. 

Other organisations are taking the opportunity to shift their PMO from a reporting to a strategic role to optimise business outcomes – are you?

Submitted by Criterion Content Team

Criterion Content Team

This post has been written by the Criterion Conferences Content Team. Based in Sydney, we are an independent research organisation, producing over 90 conferences a year across a variety of industries. Our events, attended by thousands of senior delegates from the public and private sector, are designed to enrich, inspire and motivate. Our focus is on providing innovative, value adding content via our conferences and blogs like this are extension of that principle. You can view our conferences by visiting our website

3 thoughts on “From hamster wheel to strategic unit – Transforming the PMO

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