Phoenix rising from the flames that has PMO in it
PMOProject management

Phoenix rising: the rise, fall and rebirth of the PMO

Psoda blog author avatar
24 January 2017

In an ever changing business world it’s not surprising that project management offices (PMOs) need to adapt and change over time. What is surprising is just how short a life-span a PMO has – on average four years.
So why does the average PMO have such an abysmal life-span? As in every situation there are a number of contributing factors   I’ve summarised my opinions below:

The Rise

PMOs are often set up without any formal review or business case being created. It comes about when senior management realise that they have little visibility of the projects that are happening in their organisations.
Enthusiastic staff are recruited that go all out to be everything to everyone. It promises to deliver great things (normally too many things) in an unrealistically short time frame.
The PMO is seen as a brilliant idea and is flavour of the month with money and resources aplenty, and progress in establishing it is swift.

The Fall

Enthusiasm quickly wears off when the PMO is slow to deliver on initial promises.
The processes that have been set up, annoy the people they’re meant to help.
The PMO manager doesn’t have the right level of authority (or often stops reporting to the senior leadership team).
Staff are lacking in project and portfolio management (PPM) training and qualifications.
Senior leadership has placed unrealistic expectations on the PMO that are very difficult or impossible to meet.
Budgets begin to tighten and the first place to look for cuts is in the PMO. This leads to a cycle of neglect, resulting in disestablishment.

The Rebirth

Senior managers realise they are missing key information they used to receive.
Projects begin to go significantly over time and budget.
Staff are often over-allocated to projects.
PPM processes have fallen by the wayside and their absence is hurting project delivery.
Senior leadership demands accountability for PPM.
Someone comes along and says “Oh, I know – set up a PMO, all your problems will be solved” and the cycle begins again…

How can you make sure your PMO doesn’t fail

When looking to set up a PMO, make sure you do a formal business case that clearly outlines the roles, responsibility, remit and accountability of the PMO. Most importantly, get this signed off by senior management before going ahead.
Make sure you haven’t bitten off more than you can chew in terms of deliverables and timescales. There is nothing worse than failing to deliver when setting up a PMO!
Report into as senior a member of staff as possible, preferably someone on the senior leadership team. That way you will know that it actually has buy-in from the people who make decisions.
When launching, make sure you deliver something tangible from the get go. This could be something as simple as a new report template, but make sure it is something that will add benefit from the outset and give you a quick win; therefore giving you credibility from the outset.
If possible, remove project assurance from your remit completely – at least initially. Unfortunately, PMOs have a bit of a negative reputation as project police, so if you can remove that function completely it will help you be seen as supportive instead of being viewed with suspicion.
Finally, make sure the PMO staff understand project and portfolio management – if they’re former project managers, so much the better. It’s worth considering rotating project staff in and out of the PMO so that there is always at least one person with real world project management experience.

Rhona Aylward avatar
Written by Rhona Aylward
Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

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