Why some PMO fails or are challenged?

Why some (or maybe many) Project Management Offices fail?

What are the gaps in PMO implementation?

What is the organizational impact?

Why failed PMO might damage project management in the organization or at least dilute its value?

Many questions we are posing here to open the discussion.

We will share some observations but here and now we stress that we do not have all of the answers or a scientific evidence, although there have been some studies on this subject done globally, and we in SUKAD did a survey also in West Asia and North Africa. Therefore, what we post here is our views derived from observations and interactions with numerous organizations in additions to the studies.

Stakeholders Alignment Gaps

Most project management practitioners are familiar with one version of the following image or another. We cannot credit the source of this image since unfortunately we do not know the source.

Scope-Communication-and-Stakeholders-Alignment

Stakeholders Alignment: Failure in defining, scoping, planning, and implementing a project due to lack of stakeholders alignment

Our hypothesis is that the challenge we face when we implement project management offices (PMO) is the same kind of challenge presented in the above illustration; primarily, but not limited to, the first and last frames.

So what are the challenges in PMO implementation?

In the prior two articles, we did provide some explanation on what is a PMO and how we differentiate between different types of PMO; please refer to these articles for a quick review.

In today’s article we will discuss

  • The Executive Factor,
  • The Consultant Factor, and
  • The Suggested Solution

Our hypothesis is that despite the fact PMO have been around for many years, they are still misunderstood, especially by executives who do not have project management expertise or proper awareness.

Here is the scenario.

  • Let us say company Z have had some issues, challenges, or even failures in implementing projects.
  • Company Z executives have been hearing about project management and the value of project management.
  • They also hear about this thing called “PMO”.
  • They hear about these things maybe from a professional journal, an employee, or a consultant eager to sell services.

With the above scenario executives decide to implement a PMO.

If we go back to the last frame in the above illustration, what do the executives really want? Do they want a PMO (a project management office – the office) or do they want to improve the performance of their organizational projects? Is there a difference? Absolutely – as we will explain below. In our humble opinion, effective executives are after organizational performance and not just adding an office. The office (PMO) can be a facilitator, a bystander, or a leader …  it all depends …

Now let us go back to the illustration and focus on the first frame, “what to executives ask for?” Typically the answer is PMO. Why? Because they think (or are sold the idea) that the PMO will lead the performance transformation.

The fundamental issue here is that executives are asking for PMO … thinking … that they will have improved projects’ performance. In other words, the requirements is for a PMO but the expectations is improving performance.

What executives do not realize is that just by implementing a PMO (the office) with 1, 2, or more employees in reality they are only structuring an office for project management. This office might end up being responsible for reporting or a bit more. In other words, this office become another layer between management and project managers … in blunt terms: more bureaucracy /// or worst /// policing force; which is a turn off.

With the above months later or maybe a year or two later … the organization might accomplish improved reporting but performance of projects might not improve or improve significantly. If the executives are patient enough and understand project management (partially) they might assess the situation and see if a change in the PMO could solve the problem. If they are not patient enough … they will likely dismantle the PMO. What could be worst? Executives losing trust in the domain of project management. The consequences: lost opportunity, wasted effort, and damaged reputation … or leading to potentially more projects failing or challenged.

The Consultant Factor

We will not expand on this factor much today, one of our Guest Authors have an article on this topic that we will share later.

The main point that we want to raise here today is the difference between expectations and requirements. Traditional management and project management teaches us to focus on requirements and deliver our projects per the requirements. Since a PMO implementation is a project than consultants comply with the requirements and implement a PMO. In this case, the consultant focus is on the “office” since no one asked them to do more.

The reality is: a good consultant must drill down for the root cause of the request in order to identify the client’s expectations. By drilling down we might find out that the client is not interested in another layer but for a PMO to lead the transformation. We know that some consultants will jump now and say this is not our job – the client has to provide clear requirements; we say otherwise since as the illustration shows: executives might have one expectation but what they ask for is requirements … expecting that an experience consultant will guide them through the maze.

The Suggested Solution

The suggested solution we derive from the last paragraph. In SUKAD, our first guideline in the Quality Management System is to insist on our business consultant when they work with perspective clients is to drill for the expectations and not just follow the requirements.

The real question today is how to avoid PMO failures?

In our professional opinion, what we really need is to combine PMO implementation with project management system implementation. By project management system we do not mean IT System or Tools … we mean the full system from governance and strategic aspects, adding project management methodology, down to the processes, professional development and competency. In our learning solutions we offer two separate programs, one is about Building the Program Management Office and the other is Building the Project Management System. We do this to emphasize the need for both.

In future articles, we will discuss a failed implementation. We will also share a maturity model that we developed to help avoid the risk of failures.

What do you think about what we present here?

Do you have an opposing opinion to share?

We would love to hear from you!

 

22 thoughts on “Why some PMO fails or are challenged?

  1. SUKAD Admin

    This
    comment was posted on PMLink – Project
    Management Link – Project, Program & Portfolio Managers, PMP, PMBOK, PMO
    group by Hitesh
    Thakkar,
    https://www.linkedin.com/groupItemview=&gid=59531&item=5944062956726665217&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5944062956726665217%3Agroup%3A59531&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5944062956726665217%3Agroup%3A59531

    I myself being PM reporting and reviewing with
    PMO had experience and impression getting that I am talking to secretary of top
    management rather than PMO. Review meeting and action items are only one way
    PMO to PM as PMO.
    With irony that,
    despite PMO reviews, steering committee meetings with customer officials have
    been always with confused updates from PMO and PM 🙂
    I personally felt
    goals of PMOs need to be defined based on either CTB (Control The Business) or
    RTB (Run the Business) methodology to make the expectation clear.

    Reply
  2. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMLink – Project Management Link – Project, Program & Portfolio Managers, PMP, PMBOK, PMO group by Hitesh
    Thakkar,
    https://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=59531&item=5944062956726665217&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5944062956726665217%3Agroup%3A59531&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5944062956726665217%3Agroup%3A59531

    I myself being PM reporting and reviewing with PMO had experience and impression getting that I am talking to secretary of top management rather than PMO. Review meeting and action items are only one way PMO to PM as PMO.
    With irony that, despite PMO reviews, steering committee meetings with customer officials have been always with confused updates from PMO and PM 🙂
    I personally felt goals of PMOs need to be defined based on either CTB (Control The Business) or RTB (Run the Business) methodology to make the expectation clear.

    Reply
  3. SUKAD Admin

    This
    comment was posted on LinkedIn PMLink – Project
    Management Link – Project, Program & Portfolio Managers, PMP, PMBOK, PMO
    group by Anders
    Mølløw Jensen,
    https://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=59531&item=5944062956726665217&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5944062956726665217%3Agroup%3A59531&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5944062956726665217%3Agroup%3A59531

    Important PMO is supportive and facilitating –
    it must not just become another task and controlling stakeholder

    Reply
  4. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMI Lebanon Chapter group by Rushdi
    Marchan, PMP

    https://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=1486547&item=5944384003036438531&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5944384003036438531%3Agroup%3A1486547&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5944384003036438531%3Agroup%3A1486547

    Organizing the relationship between Clients and PMOs, understanding the responsibilities and duties of each other is a key factor

    Reply
  5. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMO group by Janetta
    McDiarmid
    https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Why-Some-PMO-Fails-Are-106439.S.5944267229037158403?view=&gid=106439&item=5944267229037158403&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5944267229037158403%3Agroup%3A106439&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5944267229037158403%3Agroup%3A106439

    PMO offices I have worked in have failed because the focus is on the short term report and how they look. There is little focus on real improvement of the actual quality (not just perceived) of the projects output.

    Reply
  6. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn ISO 21500 Project Management
    group by SUKAD Group

    https://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=96642&item=5944062172140163074&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5944062172140163074%3Agroup%3A96642&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5944062172140163074%3Agroup%3A96642

    Dear All – please check this as a follow up to the points being raised herehttp://blog.sukad.com/20141015/is-building-a-pmo-the-right-answer-or-do-we-need-opm/

    Reply
  7. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn ISO 21500 Project Management group by Michael Huy

    https://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=96642&item=5944062172140163074&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5944062172140163074%3Agroup%3A96642&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5944062172140163074%3Agroup%3A96642

    Great comments.
    The comment about “clear, shared, understood definition of the [PMO’s] mission” is especially poignant. Ken’s comment that the group members, responsible for ensuring the paperwork is complete, are SO,SO much more important than they may let on. Those paperwork pushers have the data and they can give themselves so much more influence if they allowed themselves that freedom. A strong management team must encourage these paperwork pushers to become strong guiders in their own light. (I ended up using guiders when I had first used the word managers when I realized that guiders may or may not manage people and that that word has less connotations associated with it.)
    I have difficulty with stating that projects have to “add value” or have “importance.” All projects are important to some people, less important to others. (Here is a little
    rant: all items on my action list are important in some perspective. In some
    way, maybe an action item is important to my health, another is important to my
    job, etc. Importance is difficult to measure, because many different aspects of
    your life have their own importance, contradicting with other “important.”
    It is the same aspect with driving. 95% of all drivers think they are good
    drivers, because they are evaluating using their own criteria. One may say,
    “Safety in driving is the most important. I give myself a 90% in safe
    driving, so I am a good driver.” Another may say, “Attentiveness in
    driving is important. Sure, I may drive quickly, but I am alert. I am always
    attentive, so I am a great driver.” These two drivers would think the
    other driver is a terrible driver. Why? Because of the different criteria in
    measuring importance.)

    Reply
  8. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn ISO 21500 Project Management group by Ken Ritzman

    https://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=96642&item=5944062172140163074&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5944062172140163074%3Agroup%3A96642&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5944062172140163074%3Agroup%3A96642

    A primary issue I have encountered over the years with our PMO is a lack of direction from PMO management. The sense from that group is that they are responsible for ensuring the paperwork is complete (plans, schedules, etc.) when in fact they can bring much more value and potential for success if they work with the project areas to instill an understanding of project steps, success points and pitfalls. A strong management team is needed to provide clear direction and assistance when working with project teams. This starts at the concept phase through to final cutover and completion of the project

    Reply
  9. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn ISO 21500 Project Management group by Dave Rochford

    https://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=96642&item=5944062172140163074&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5944062172140163074%3Agroup%3A96642&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5944062172140163074%3Agroup%3A96642

    Great comments. I would add lack of the right skills in PMOs- especially stakeholder skills, PMO should be treated as a project ie should have a charter plan and business case and should be central-at the heart of the business and involved in strategy development,change management and implementation.

    Reply
  10. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn ISO 21500 Project Management group by SUKAD Group

    https://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=96642&item=5944062172140163074&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5944062172140163074%3Agroup%3A96642&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5944062172140163074%3Agroup%3A96642

    Dear All – thank you for the feedback
    Michael – quite a good list. In our experience one of the leading factors for PMO failure is not adding real value to the organization. Value in term of improving performance

    Reply
  11. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn ISO 21500 Project Management group by Tony Milsom

    https://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=96642&item=5944062172140163074&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5944062172140163074%3Agroup%3A96642&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5944062172140163074%3Agroup%3A96642

    When considering a question such as this I like to recall a very simple formula which states that ‘time = work / …

    Reply
  12. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn ISO 21500 Project Management group by Filippo Larceri

    https://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=96642&item=5944062172140163074&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5944062172140163074%3Agroup%3A96642&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5944062172140163074%3Agroup%3A96642

    I tend to agree with Michael. Most of the points he mentioned can be then clustered in another issue: is there a clear, shared and understood definition of the mission of the PMO ? This is a key point. When it is not the case, failure probability is pretty
    high.

    Reply
  13. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn ISO 21500 Project Management group by Michael Huy
    https://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=96642&item=5944062172140163074&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5944062172140163074%3Agroup%3A96642&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5944062172140163074%3Agroup%3A96642

    A) Lack of upper management buy-in, initially

    B) Lack of
    commitment or persistence from upper management

    C) Lack of
    awareness of effects of actions by upper management

    D) Lack of
    awareness of effects of actions by the leading proponent of the activity

    E) Lack of
    awareness of effects of actions by the project manager

    F) No timeline
    associated with project plan

    G) Lack of a sense
    of urgency in executing said plan

    H) Doers and action
    people don’t partake in the planning meetings and feel that any input that they
    may have will not be included

    I) Doers and action
    people have been given other priorities from Upper Management that directly
    contradict this activity, so they don’t do the activities associated with the
    new project

    J) Doers and action
    people are already so busy with current activities as to not have any
    enthusiasm for a new job/project.

    What do you think
    of this list? Can you think of others?

    Which are the most
    common, in your experience?

    My experience has
    found that the most common are D, G, and J.

    Reply
  14. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMLink – Project Management Link – Project, Program & Portfolio
    Managers, PMP, PMBOK, PMO group by Mitchell Rodriguez

    https://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=59531&item=5944062956726665217&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5944062956726665217%3Agroup%3A59531&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5944062956726665217%3Agroup%3A59531

    Hello to all. I have
    read this “study” and found it too be interesting, In my opinion and
    I believe everyone knows what they are like a PMO needs to be both a
    Facilitator and a Leader that is a PMO. The Executives are usually looking at
    the Bottom line and nothing more. That is Business. That being said the PMO
    should be doing the same for the good of the Company if likes what He or she
    does.

    Mitch.

    Reply
  15. SUKAD Admin

    This comment was posted on LinkedIn PMLink – Project Management Link – Project, Program & Portfolio
    Managers, PMP, PMBOK, PMO group by Steve Canfield

    https://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=59531&item=5944062956726665217&type=member&commentID=discussion%3A5944062956726665217%3Agroup%3A59531&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_CREATED#commentID_discussion%3A5944062956726665217%3Agroup%3A59531

    I agree with your observation that PMOs are
    often implemented simply because a company is struggling to complete projects
    successfully. The “right” PMO can certainly help address this, but it
    takes work. To implement a successful PMO you need upper management support,
    understanding, and buy-in, and you need a strong educational plan for the
    project managers and project teams. That takes time to build. If executive
    management hopes to implement a successful PMO but doesn’t allocate resources
    (e.g., “Go build a PMO in your spare time but keep doing your other
    work.”) they will have set the PMO up for failure.

    Reply
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  18. Mounir Ajam Post author

    Dear Mr. Assaf – thank you for your feedback.

    Unless I missed something I do not believe we generalized in this article. We are talking about organizations that are implementing PMOs. In that case, most organizations who are involved in capital projects … and engineering or construction companies – are indirectly excluded from this article since these organizations would not be implementing PMO for the fact that they are likely to already have PM Departments since, as you said, for these companies PM is not a option but a necessity.

    Reply
  19. Ahmad Assaf

    I liked the fact that the PM office should help clients translate their expectations into plans.
    I would also suggest you don’t generalize as some industries like construction are project driven and project management is not an option , it is their only way to stay in business
    Regard

    Reply

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