PMO problems: 4 danger signs to keep in mind

Whether it’s the UK Government’s Digital Transformation or the doomed existence of Jurassic Park, even projects launched with great fanfare are susceptible to unforeseen obstacles.

In fact, the Chartered Management Institute found that more than a third (36%) of managers have experienced project failure in their career.

Projects often span beyond the four walls of the PMO — making it harder to control and keep on course. But, that’s the reality in project-driven organisations.

The success of an initiative cannot live and die within the PMO. Progress relies on knowledge and expertise from teams across the business.

With multiple, simultaneous projects underway, it can be difficult for the wider organisation to gain visibility into the overarching project portfolio and understand each project’s objective and trajectory.

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Sometimes the lack of visibility and understanding is attributable to a lack of communication from the PMO. Communication deficits can quickly create confusion around an initiative’s alignment with the wider strategic vision of the business. This makes communication paramount to success.

While ineffective communication isn’t always the fault of the PMO, it’s not just their responsibility, it’s in their best interest to address it. A PMO has several options when looking to eliminate redundancies, mitigate questions, and get everyone on the same page.

These four warning signs should make every PMO sound an alarm.

Unclear or undefined mission statements

Rushing into planning and execution without a fundamental understanding of what an initiative is trying to achieve is a common mistake. This is understandable.

In business, it’s easier to be reactive and start a project (especially when the request is from your superiors) than it is to take a step back and start correctly.

However, laying a firm foundation—for every project—is critical for business-wide understanding and due diligence. All project members, both project contributors and the PMO, must be clear on what the project is aiming to accomplish; its mission.

Without this layer of understanding, it’s hard to set a trajectory that’s accomplishable and impossible to course correct and keep a project aligned with its original goals that were never documented in the first place.

Lack of metrics

Without a clear execution framework, it’s extremely difficult to track progress. And if your PMO is one of the 75% still relying on spreadsheets or manual reporting processes, forget it.

Today, managing a full pipeline requires prerequisite data points and a system that can track project data and provide insights into the health of each initiative.

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Liberate project information from spreadsheets. Access to real-time data and aggregated reports makes communicating project status easier to accomplish and decisions easier to make.

Without a systematic approach to tracking progress, it’s difficult to measure the value of the PMO to the wider business and demonstrate how it’s contributing value to the company’s bottom line.

Failure to focus on wider business impact

“Project management office” can be misleading. It gives the impression of autonomy. But a PMO is anything but. Not only do projects require contributors across departments, the outcomes permeate every part of the business.

Though PMOs traditionally play a more operational than strategic role, their decisions must consider the wider strategy and support it. To function successfully, PMOs must be able to make decisions in the best interest of both the business and the projects being undertaken elsewhere in the business.

In fact, the responsibility of consolidating overlapping or redundant initiatives is where a PMO can truly offer expertise and align execution with strategy.

Over-emphasis on success

Yes, it would be great if every initiative was successful and met with a grandiose applause, but that’s not always the case. Some projects fail. Having teams focus only on success or failure — especially in the light of failure — can lead to complacency.

Regardless of project performance, something can always be learned. There’s a well-worn phrase in sports that says you learn the most from a defeat. Rather than burying heads in the sand, the best managers investigate what went wrong and strategise how to mitigate risk in the future.

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Instead of over-emphasising success, PMOs can turn short-term negatives into long-term positives. Transitioning the focus into improvement requires a new mindset and an iterative approach to project management.

It’s a culture change. But the collision of best practices and experience ensures a better success rate for projects in future.

Take action

Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s easier to identify potential problem areas and prevent them from having a damaging effect. The PMO is designed to positively impact a business and ensure it has what it needs to be successful.

Avoiding an insular attitude and embracing an outward focus on collaboration and communication makes it easier to achieve buy-in across the business.

Stepping into a leadership role will help the PMO ensure projects are aligned with overarching strategy. They should be the central hub of project activity—there to correct misalignment before it’s too late.

A big-picture view relies on bi-directional communication. With a comprehensive, informed picture of the enterprise, the PMO can fulfil the critical function of ensuring execution is connected to overarching business strategy.

Sourced by Jean-Pierre Ullmo, vice president, EMEA sales, Changepoint

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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