Surviving the Program Management Office (PMO) Shakeout – Shifting From Policing to Supporting

by Jim O'Farrell

Project management professionals are facing a serious PR issue. One of the biggest challenges that PMOs face is overcoming the perception that the department is unnecessary overhead. Yet according to Terry Ross, PM expert and professor at the University of Washington’s School of Industrial Engineering, the need for project management discipline, structure, and consistent procedures are just as necessary today as they ever have been in the corporate community.  

When you look at the fact that on average, only 52% of all project managers actually report in to a formal PMO, this perception issue begins to make a bit more sense. More and more, project management responsibilities are dispersing out to other parts of the enterprise. Cross functional teams are able to bring innovative ideas to life – quickly – without going through a traditional, process-heavy approach to project management, long thought to be preserved by PMOs.

In today’s world where everyone is a project manager, there is still a very important role for PM professionals to play. Recently, Ross and Smartsheet customer MOD Pizza joined us for a webinar to share their perspectives on how PM professionals can remain relevant by shifting from a model of policing project activity to supporting best practices, processes, and governance by empowering the everyday work leader.

The Case for Change

Ross discussed research from PM Solutions and shared that the average age for most PMOs is about five years. That’s a short runway for PMOs to demonstrate value across project governance, company training, and productivity.

“I’m currently consulting with a corporation that eliminated their project management office because it was too structured, too focused on following the intent of the procedure, versus focusing on the success of the projects,” shared Ross. He explained that implementation and enhancement of a governance process ranks at the top of the priority list for most PMOs, but that mentality, coupled with a general belief that PMOs are a group resistant to change, feeds the negative perception of PMOs.

To survive in a world where more and more knowledge workers are empowered to lead projects and own this type of work, it’s time for PM leaders to re-think the best way to participate in their organizations.

Define a New Model, Change Perception, Deliver More Value

Ross argues that PMOs must shift their mindset and model for working within organizations and go from policing others to supporting them. A shift from a project management model to a project support model.

Project support offices (PSOs) have actually been a part of corporate vernacular for the past 50 years, but with the advent of agile methodologies and rise of new collaboration and work management tools, leading change to become a PSO has never been more important. In the bring your own application age when knowledge workers are arming themselves with tools to manage cross functional work, it’s crucial for training and ease of use / user adoption best practices to be in place. “When project failure rates are high,” explains Ross, “training is coming forward as a critical focus for leaders within PMOs.” A combination of internal methodologies and PM standards assists the rest of the organization with the knowledge to both document and leverage best practices.

Adopting the right technology, identifying the right processes and redefining people’s roles and responsibilities to support this shift does not have to mean sacrificing the controls that are so important in PMO culture to deliver best-in-class work. For more on this perspective, and to learn how MOD Pizza is living this reality, watch the webinar: