Research by Dr. Brian Hobbs, University of Quebec at Montreal, Quebec, Canada published in a White Paper prepared for the Project Management Institute (PMI) highlights the precarious existence of the majority of Project Management Offices (PMOs). Approximately half of the PMO’s in existence are seeing their relevance or very existence questioned.
Whilst PMOs have been popular since the middle to late 1990’s and new PMOs are being created at a relatively high rate; PMOs are also being shut down or radically reconfigured at a similar rate. As shown in the figure below most PMOs in existence today are rather recent creations. The sample suggests more than half the PMOs in existence today (54%) were created in the last two years and only 17% have been in existence for more than five years.
This data suggests a PMO often has only a short time to demonstrate its ability to fit into the organisations culture and create value before it is restructured or closed down. We have looked at some of the issues and challenges associated with PMOs in a Mosaic White Paper ‘PMOs’.
Based on years of observation, the key to achieving an effective start up for a PMO has more to do with the PMO’s management being able to effectively manage their key stakeholders, particularly in the executive suites than any methodology or reporting processes the PMO may import or develop. For more on this see the numerous papers we have published [paper listing]. The key message is technical competence is never going to be enough to justify the existence of a PMO.
Posted in General Project Management, PMOs, Stakeholder Management
Tagged Benefits Realization, Communication, PMO, PMOs, Project, Project Controls, Project Governance, Project Management, Project success, Stakeholder Management, Stakeholders
Three things occurred in the last couple of days that set me thinking about the real value of a PMO.
The first was a short article in our local paper praising a much delayed decision by our local council to erect warning signs on some local beaches. The signs would ‘save lives’. Interestingly, I have never seen a sign rescuing anyone! The ocean is inherently dangerous – it’s full of deep water that’s frequently rough. The only way a sign could possible contribute to beach safety is if;
i. A person going onto the beach is unaware of the inherent danger,
ii. Sees and reads the sign,
iii. Believes the information and changes their intended actions to avoid the danger.
The second was a post I made to a very long running Linked-In debate on measuring the effectiveness of Earned Value Management. 90% of the responses focused on accuracy. Accuracy is an important characteristic of the data. However, perfectly accurate data is as useless as complete rubbish if the information is not used. The effectiveness of EVM can only be assessed based on its contribution to effective decision making that leads to the creation of value. To paraphrase a quote from my paper Scheduling in the Age of Complexity ‘Useful systems are useful because they are used!’ (existence is not enough).
The third was a discussion in the PMP class we are running this week on PMOs and in particular the short life of many PMOs in organisations.
On reflection, my feeling is the failure of many PMOs is directly linked to their inability to make project controls data into useful management information. If the PMO was perceived by senior management as the source of very useful information they (the senior managers) need to govern the organisation they would never consider closing it.
This has a number of connotations:
- The PMO needs to be ale to communicate effectively in terms that are relevant to senior management
- The PMO needs to be able to translate project data into management information.
- The PMO needs to make sure the information is available where and when needed by the senior management team.
- The PMO needs to be trusted by the senior management team to provide relevant, accurate and useful information.
In my experience, most PMO managers and staff are project controls experts and/or system administrators skilled in running the PMOs tools. Their skills are in the wrong direction. Certainly the PMO needs to some technically competent staff but its management need to be effective operators in the organisations executive management space.
Communicating and advising upwards is a different skill set and one we are working on defining and developing capabilities in. Our new workshop The Science and Art of Effective Communication focuses on ‘advising upwards’ as does Dr. Lynda Bourne’s new book: Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders due for publication in 2011.
What are your thoughts and where should the balance lie?
Posted in PMOs, Stakeholder Management
Tagged Benefits Realization, Communication, IT Project Management, PgMO, PjMO, PMO, PMOs, Project, Project Controls, Project Governance, Project Management, Project Management Office, Project Management ROI, Project success, PtMO, Stakeholder Management, Stakeholders
Folowing on from my earlier post ‘A though on PMOs and Project Controls’ , PMOs and projects regularly collect and report on data but you have to ask how often is the data converted into information the organisation can use?
I have just wasted 15 minutes trying to respond to a survey commissioned by our local city council. The structure of the survey was so bad there is no way the data collected would allow any useful information to be gathered. Two of the questions (from memory) were:
When designing this sort of data gathering, you also need to filter out influences like staff culture (the Port Phillip staff are really great and helpful) from systemic issues such as the contract conditions the street cleaning contractor operates under.
Then by compiling all of the various rating for the specific services, an overall rating for the council could be compiled and more importantly the high performing areas noted and lessons from these areas transferred to the less well performing areas.
There’s a lot to learn from this example of bad surveying. Designing surveys and collecting data is not a trivial exercise. There is nothing simpler than bogging a PMO down collecting masses of data that can never be converted into useful information. Do this and the PMO will be seen as a useless bureaucracy and sooner or later it will be reorganised out of existence.
Focus the data collection on a limited range of key factors that can provide useful management information and the PMO will be seen as a real value add to the business.
So how do you rate your PMO overall? Only kidding…..
On a closing note –
The number of really bad surveys seem to be increasing exponentially – I think around 80% of the various project management surveys I look at, mostly from post graduate students, seem to be either designed to support a pre-determined answer or so badly designed the data could be interpreted to suit any answer the researcher chooses. There is a real discipline and skill in developing an effective survey; unfortunately it’s a skill that seems to be in very short supply.
The quality guru W. Edwards Deming said ‘In God we trust, all other bring data’. However, recent developments in the Victorian Government health system offer a salient reminder to any PMO manager on the value of data.
Victorian hospitals are rewarded for good performance and fined for poor performance. One measure being the length of waiting lists another is the time patients wait in casualty/emergency area before admittance. Rumours have been circulating for several months that some administrators were manipulating data to avoid fines and win bonuses – both adjusted against the hospital’s funding for the year (ie, no one personally benefitted from the manipulation). An audit report has confirmed many of the rumours and has found behaviours that in many cases are worse for the patients and worse of the hospital than if nothing had occurred.
One example is transferring patients from emergency care to the operating theatre waiting area to avoid a fine for failing to admit the patient within the prescribed maximum time. The consequences of this action include:
- The patient being removed from an area focused on emergency care to an area with little monitoring capability – a reduction in care to the patient.
- The reduction in throughput in the operating suites due to overcrowding and skilled theatre staff having to spend time on patient care rather than operations.
- A net reduction in the overall delivery of service by the hospital; but improved statistical reports to Government.
This farce was in the interests of everyone except the people the Government and hospital are supposed to serve, the public needing hospital care. Some of the vested interests include:
- The government’s desire to look good by reducing waiting time.
- The hospitals desire to achieve the maximum budget income for the year.
- The administrators’ desire , both in the hospital and the government, to avoid ‘rocking the boat’.
- The built in bias in government spending to fully spend each year’s budget allocation.
Apart from the obvious issue around the intelligence of a system that removes funding from an institution that probably needs more funding to meet the demands on its services – the only practical way to treat more patients is to provide more beds and staff which cost money… there are a number of important lessons for all PMO managers to consider when setting up ‘project dash boards’ and the like:
- What you measure will change behaviours. Focus on things that matter like value and benefits not easy to measure statistics like time.
- Make sure the data you use is validated.
- Identifying a problem is not enough! You should work with the project team and management to make sure an effective solution is crafted. It’s not the PMOs job to solve the problem but it can be a powerful facilitator of solutions by measuring the right statistics and asking the right questions.
This is a more challenging role but also one that can really contribute to the overall performance of you organisation.
For more on this topic see: