Let's consider some areas where PMOs should be helping and think about our own PMOs while reading... are they helping or hindering? If there is a symptom of lacking anywhere, the time to analyze and fix is today... not tomorrow. Consider these areas and concepts...
Allows for strategic project planning. Maturity comes from best practices working. Maturity comes from planning strategically time and time again for the best execution on projects. Maturity equals project success. Do your project practices seem to be maturing or are they crumbling? Ongoing project success is not happening by good luck. Likewise, project failure is not bad luck – it is a bad sign. A sign that something is wrong somewhere in the PMO.
Align the portfolio of projects with an eye toward future strategy. Scalability and where the corporation is going in the future is certainly something that must be considered in how you run projects, manage the entire PM infrastructure and the skilled resources working in it. Is it prepared for where you want the organization to head? Does it appear like it can support the organization and the customer base next year? In five years? Does it need tweaked? Is it helping you gain clients or is it causing you to stumble in your delivery?
Deliver programs on-time, within budget and according to scope. Are your projects being delivered on time and on budget? Are you keeping a scorecard to know this? If yes and it's good stats, then publish them on your website, in company literature and shout it to current and potential customers because your PMO and resources and methodology are working. Actually working – use that to a competitive and strategic advantage. If the numbers are bad, go back to the drawing board and figure out why. Is it the the resources? Is training needed? Whatever is wrong, in this scenario it is clear that, no, your PMO is not currently providing your organization with the strategic advantage it needs to be serving up and something needs to be changed to stop the downward spiral. Look at the numbers and analyze to see where the symptoms or signs are pointing. Is it the methodology? Are you using the wrong tools? Do you have the right skill sets among your resources to properly deliver successful projects to your project clients? Is it your own product that is the problem? This analysis must be more of an enterprise analysis and it needs to start today.
Understand the linkages and dependencies between various projects in the portfolio. Do you have a good handle on how your projects link together? Is your PMO helping to position you to go after the niche of projects that you are gaining the most success from? The concept of a strong and strategically positioned PMO is to support your project resources and the infrastructure to repeat successes, gain a knowledge base of successes and failures (so as not to repeat and to understand why it failed and what happened), keep focusing on the projects that support your enterprises goals and missions and avoid the ones that stray too far outside the comfort zone and circle of success. Go outside the box indeed, but not too far too fast. Go outside to grow, but don't grow so fast or expand so quickly into other niches that failure becomes a consistent issue.
Improve communication within the program team among all stakeholders. Communication is Job One for the project manager and it is the #1 reason projects succeed of fail. Keeping it strong and improving it along the way is a key reason for having a collaborative and cohesive project office in the first place. If communication is poor, you'll see that in the analytics of project success rates. You'll see that in the feedback from clients and from the internal resources and stakeholders driving your projects forward. If there is negative feedback on the communication direction, take immediate action to correct.
Summary / call for input
The bottom line is this – the project office doesn't have to be part of your PM infrastructure. I feel strongly though, that the larger your organization is and the more project-centric it is then the more reason to have a strong and supporting PMO. But it must be productive and providing a strategic advantage... otherwise it's just getting in the way, slowing the enterprise growth and in need of repair or dismantling and starting over. Which is it for you?
Readers – what's your take on this list? What would you add or change? Is your PMO working strategically for you? How do you analyze that? Please share your thoughts.