The Real Job of a PMO?

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:

  1. The PMO needs to be ale to communicate effectively in terms that are relevant to senior management
  2. The PMO needs to be able to translate project data into management information.
  3. The PMO needs to make sure the information is available where and when needed by the senior management team.
  4. 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?

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One response to “The Real Job of a PMO?

  1. Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist

    Nice points. I deliver a PMO presentation in my never-ending quest to help PMOs change from paper-pushers and process-police to participants in enterprise success. One of the 9 objectives I advocate is: Provide the data needed to make reasoned and rational decisions. This requires a PMO to:
    – Facilitate Understanding Data Requirements
    – Conduct Data to Decision mapping
    – Provide Role-specific Reports

    I tell PMOs to make as many people in their organizations (especially leaders) dependent on PMO-provided data to meet their work objectives. Find out what decisions people need to make, determine if the PMO can be the provider of that data, and get the data to those folks as fast as possible.

    PMOs that become the provider of essential decision-making data will be defended tooth-and-nail by the people in the organization that come to depend on it to do their jobs.

    Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist
    http://community.ca.com/blogs/theitgovernanceevangelist/

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