Focused on Governance
In general, new PMOs and those looking to re-energise their offering are guided by lists of services that others claim make a good PMO offering. One of the better lists out there can be found in Appendix F of the P3O Manual. A typical plan for the new (or improving) PMO is to implement these services as part of a well controlled project that aligns to the overall drivers of the organisation. However, too often and too soon these initiatives become an exercise in making operational a series of services from the list. The measure of success becomes the number of services provided, with little focus on the KPIs that might drive organisational outcomes.
Whether using a structured list of services or not, many PMOs make communications and reporting the business driver for their unit. This is in keeping with the principle that being the organisation's information hub for project related queries is the position of greatest utility. It is an approach that works, but has limited benefits.
The deadliest approach is one that focuses on methodology. This happens when the organisation adopts one or more standards to regulate project management and the PMO assumes the role of standards policeman. This is done based on the assumption that if everyone adheres to the standard then success will be inevitable. Sadly, standards don't guarantee success, but worse: people resent standards that seem too removed from the reality of the obstacles they face. This resistance means that some people will spend a lot of time trying to get rid of the PMO or at least making it irrelevant, as in 'safe to ignore'.
When I suggest that the focus of PMO should be Governance, meaning that governance competency should be the lens through which to assess the list of services that a PMO should provide, I sense the panic in client's eyes. They interpret this as a focus on methods, a standards police, a textbook-driven exercise lacking any pragmatism.
I need to explain myself, because a focus on governance is the key to success for PMO.
First of all, there is no question that a successful PMO is a business-driven PMO, in the sense explained and documented by Mark Perry in his books, podcasts and seminars. We will re-visit that concept later, but for now it remains our starting point.
Next, let's clarify that a focus on governance means not the policing of standards but the continuous improvement of the best possible "delegation" flow. The implications of an organisation's strategy (insofar as it relates to change managed through projects) needs to be cascaded unambiguously and quickly. In return, the escalation of deliverables, risks & issues and requests for decisions should flow back upwards in a timely and clearly directed manner. Enabling and improving all aspects of this two-way flow represents the greatest added-value that a PMO can bring to the organisation.
Finally, it is important to note that choosing a list of PMO services that is appropriate for the organisation, at a given time, remains a key ingredient of success. Positioning the PMO as an information hub is also conducive to success. My argument is not that these things are without value. My argument is that without a focus on governance in the sense explained so far, all these good tactical things that PMO can do give the organisation a chance of success that is (at best) a little more than even.
It is only by ensuring that the whole project environment is as aligned as possible, from top to bottom, that a PMO can contribute to the steady gain in the returns on the investment that the organisation makes in Change, managed through projects.