by David Cotgreave

Book your PMO in for a service – before you run it into the ground

Oct 06, 2015
IT Strategy Project Management Tools

Why you should treat your Project Management Office like an vehicle, maintain it and service it regularly to avoid costly breakdowns or new parts.

Did you ever run a car into the ground? You didn’t have the time or the money perhaps to get it serviced? It crept over the 12,000-mile service marker and every time you got behind the wheel you said,  “I must book it in!”

12,000 miles became 13, 14 … 15 … 16 and then before you knew … 20,000 miles had passed and one day you were flying down the fast lane when something blew. You had to take the car to the garage then, right?

At this point, it costs much more to get it fixed than the service ever would have! Factor in the cost of the downtime, the inconvenience and the withering looks and raised eyebrows from the mechanics and you instantly see the wisdom of meeting those regular service intervals.

Chances are though that this has never happened to you. You’re probably smart enough to ensure that your car’s manual has a fully stamped, up to date service history. Furthermore, that’s probably the way you run the maintenance of your home … your personal finances … you probably get regular health checks with your dentist and doctor … and that’s no doubt the way you maintain the effectiveness of your PMO … ah!

Many organisations have a Project Management Office (PMO) to help deliver their IT projects successfully. More often than not they are working efficiently and like that car on its 11999th mile, will carry on working just fine right up until that moment when suddenly, out of the blue – it doesn’t. Like the car, it can be really useful just to drop it by an expert to run an experienced eye over it so that comes back performing better than ever.  

For every PMO that is running well I can show you two that are not – they are underperforming or not delivering the desired business outcomes or they have unclear scope and objectives so it’s impossible to measure success.

Have you ever thought about taking time out to reboot your PMO?

 Now your answer is probably the same as a Project Manager friend of mine recently, “David,” he said, “I’ve just done 16 months of 70-80 hour weeks including weekends and without a holiday. Show me where I’ve got time to take time out!”

 It’s worth doing. Either as an internal exercise or if you’re like my friend with an external partner (more on this in a moment).

You should start by asking, “What is our business strategy and what part does Project Management and our Project Management Office need to play to achieve it?” Take enough time to really think about this, your best results WILL be achieved from a foundation of clarity of purpose. Objectives can be wide-ranging: “Help deliver projects on time and to budget,” “Improve project success rates and implement standard practice,” “Provide reporting,” “Improve transparency and communication to stakeholders” – but with clear stated objectives you have a clear direction of travel. That’s powerful!

Next, carry out capability gap analysis on your PMO.  Identify the key practices that need to be embedded within the PMO for it to improve process capabilities and achieve the next maturity level and really seek to understand (and improve) your organisation’s capability to manage projects more effectively. This can be hard and often an external perspective can look round a few corners and present more creative solutions.

You should treat your PMO reboot with the same discipline you would treat a key transformational IT Project. Know what outcomes you would like to achieve and how they will help achieve your operational goals. For instance, a six-part set of stated outcomes could be;

  1. Align the project portfolio to business strategy
  2. Prioritize Projects
  3. Deliver Programs on-time, within budget + according to scope
  4. Understand dependencies between Projects within the Programs
  5. Improve communication within the Program team and all stakeholders
  6. Optimize + rationalize delivery resources

Returning to my overworked PM friend, as we spoke we agreed that his workload was not sustainable, that it was actually impacting negatively on his productivity and on that of his team and that his weekly schedule was a consequence and a symptom of a lack of available capability within the PMO. Project after project was completing either late or over budget despite him working harder and harder, longer and longer and his creativity and enthusiasm were waning. We were creative in our thinking and were able to arrange the buying in of PM capabilities when they were needed.

What I was able to give him was an external pair of fresh eyes. Like the mechanic at the garage servicing your car who spots your bald tires and saves you from an accident or a penalty, having someone from outside your organisation take a look at your project management operation can be hugely beneficial – providing you have the humility to take a few truths on the chin in the interest of improving performance.

Soliciting an independent view on the performance of your Project Management Office can efficiently help refocus, refine or totally redesign your business Project Management capabilities. It will determine your future requirements and set out productive steps to be undertaken to achieve your operational goals – like buying in Project Management resources to complement your in-house talent when you need them.

Recognizing the importance of an effective PMO in delivering high-quality services and resources management, ensuring project success and meeting business objectives and cost/time constraints is an important first step.

 Booking your PMO in for a service before you run it into the ground should be your critical next step.