Holding goals, plans and success.

Top Five Reasons PMOs Fail

Failure is lack of success or the omission of a required action.  In some PMO organizations, a charter can describe some of the actions it promises to take.  A vehicle’s lack of success could be that the doors will not lock, one of the tires needs air, the navigation system leads you off on a path you did not want to go, or does not protect you when the airbag fails to inflate.  In all of those cases the engine continues to run, the vehicle still takes you places you’ve repeatedly been, and will even report to you when its requirements aren’t met.

Whether the PMO is program, project, or portfolio centric, there are five fundamental reasons it could fail.

  1.  The focus is on anything but resources.

Any organization that puts methodology, governance, financial reporting, and delivery, over project managers, program managers, project analysts, financial analysts, managers, and administrative personnel are sure to fail.  The very core of your PMO is the resources which you entrust to deliver your projects, and much of your investment needs to drive their improvement.  A new project management suite of tools that allow for better reporting to the customer or a PPM solution that will overhaul the way you deliver projects has no value if the resources you charge with utilizing it on a day to day basis feel as if they are no more valued than the systems you invest.  Some project shops or PMO leadership teams throw certification reimbursements or annual one or two-day training seminars at their project teams as an offering for professional development but without a rigorous development plan and career strategy you’ve already lost.

2.  Lack of vision

Even when new PMOs are created their sense of purpose may be obscured by a mandate of project control urgency.  That mandate, whether it’s one month old or ten years old, lacks vision when your project resources aren’t reminded consistently.  Project Managers already know that in any organization the skills they use to control projects can be assimilated in most any environment so this urgency for an organization can seem outdated.  Many organizations have the systems and tools to link project manager performance at the project level to the PMO level and then to the organizational level.  Don’t leave your project managers sitting on an island.  Develop ways to consistently report and link their performance to operational, tactical, and strategic dashboards where they can understand individual and team goals.  These dashboards have one common theme – your vision.

3.  Inefficient use of skillsets

Understanding your team’s skillsets is an important factor in project resource planning, but that doesn’t just entail knowing that Project Manager A has a history with Java programming skills and Project Manager B can configure a Microsoft SharePoint server.  This means understanding the level of project and program management ability for each one.  Some technology project organizations can be inundated with small, one-off projects, which do not pose a high-risk and support multiple customers.  As well, customers may have experience with the PMO and request specific project managers or teams.  While customer satisfaction is a benchmark and should be taken into consideration, you may be doing a disservice to your organization as a whole by working inefficiently.  Small one-off projects are a great springboard for less experienced project managers or a good track for developing a project analyst role within the PMO.  Your team can also build a program development committee to understand how project assignment could be enhanced and create new program roles that offer more experienced project managers a chance to flex their muscle.

4.  Poor structure

In a burgeoning PMO, it is the perfect time to assess and understand the value your team may bring to the organization when it comes to managing technology projects.  That chance, if you have read this far, is probably past you and your structure is already set.  You probably even have the results of an assessment somewhere in the dusty electronic corners of your PMO folder on a shared drive.  Your team may have even made a few small changes post-assessment.  I’ll wager to say that once a few minimal changes were implemented that everyone got back to the business of executing projects with less fuss about it.  As the machine of work continues day to day, we deal with the daily grind and can’t much see past the Friday that brings so much pleasure, much less, how the structure of the PMO in three years will be.  Your PMO leadership team should understand how its structure supports the organization and how that can drive value.  You will not be able to do that without developing a team structure that supports your core values, allows top project managers to flex their muscle, pushes new project managers to exceed goals, develops under-estimated talent, and builds in a PMO support team that knocks obstacles out of the way!

5. Lack of transparency

One of the reasons I liked software development projects using the agile methodology was because they had huddles.  I loved how the daily standup worked, and each team player knew their role and what was expected of them.  Huddles aren’t just for project teams, and the transparency of the agile methodology can fit just about anywhere.  Unfortunately, sometimes the word transparency can be overused but I don’t think I could say it any clearer than a quote I found by David Balter on Harvard Business Review, “it means providing some insight into your thinking and considerations so that those around you can feel involved and empowered”.  He wrote that in 2007 but still rings true now.  No matter what the technology is that your team develops this transparency encourages your resources to be better, more creative, and less apathetic.  In some organizations, the push to check off the drive to better employee responses is not what I’m talking about and often has the negative side effect of hour-long phone conferences where leadership discuss results that seem so far removed from the day-to-day business of driving projects.  Connect those results with what your resources are doing every day!  Communicate the troubled projects, discuss problems, and celebrate small accomplishments — tie it all to the overarching organization vision.


What are some of the ways your team addressed these five challenges?  Please share your insight!

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