The other day I read a report by a global analyst firm claiming that 30 per cent of all PMOs and EA departments are shut down every year. Perhaps not officially shut down, but depopulated without protest or incorporated into other departments where their work slowly disappears.
That’s a huge number, and it seems unrealistic. When you think about how central the PMO function is to any large company with many development activities, it’s hard to imagine that they disappear at that rate. Until I started counting examples drawn from my own network, that is. On second thought, the right number is probably closer to 40 than 30 per cent.
Why are there so many disbanded PMOs?
My impression, based on the seminars and interviews I attend, suggests three main reasons:
1. Management doesn’t understand the PMO’s actual reason to be, and consequently staffs the function with inexperienced people or those waiting for a pension.
2. The project office is overburdened with way too many administrative tasks, so there’s no time to work up good proposals for management decisions.
3. There’s too much insistence on a comprehensive solution for all processes, instead of focusing on the dimensions that are crucial for management decision making.
I discussed this paradox within Decision Focus and with a few customers. How can such a crucial function so often fail and disappear? There were many answers, and even more references to project models, good governance and certifications. Very plausible explanations, all of them.
My personal take is that the project office has to be razor-sharp in its objectives, namely to provide the basis for qualified management decisions.
It’s not about perfect data quality, detailed drill-down reports or getting every bit of your resource-scheduling logic right. It’s about always being able to deliver management information. It’s about understanding what is just enough to base a decision on. Not about providing the perfect basis for decisions, but making sure management has the minimum viable basis for decisions.
If this approach permeates everything the project office does, then that makes for a “lean” project office. It’s not an off the shelf solution, but a solution that requires a good understanding of management’s success criteria and strategic goals.
One of the best project office managers I’ve ever met put it like this: “Is your project office a weather station or management’s trusted advisor?”
It’s thinking like this that keeps us constantly focused on cutting away the fat and scaling down when we implement solutions – so we can make sure each and every process links directly to better and faster portfolio decisions.