When we build a PM infrastructure or project office, the intent is usually to create project stability, ongoing successes and career growth for the project managers involved. All, of course, with an eye towards project delivery excellence and 100% project customer satisfaction. It's all about repeat customers, reference-able customers and – for your own organization – the increased revenue that comes from an increase in the satisfied customer base.
Therefore, when there are issues with project delivery, corrective action must happen. Why are we experiencing problems, what can we do about it, and how can we not repeat our failures in the future. As we go about this thought process, let's consider a few common causes of ineffective and failing project management offices. Here are my favorites...
Poor leadership. You can have the best project managers that money can buy, but if your PMO leadership is lacking or is basically non-existent then you will always struggle with PMO success and usually fail in the end. A PMO needs leadership and that isn't just the most experienced project manager giving some direction and running weekly PMO meetings. The worst PMOs I have experienced were PMOs led not by a dedicated PMO director but by an experienced project manager who led projects most of the time “acted” in the role of PMO director basically by leading weekly PMO meetings and checking in with project managers periodically on their projects. Being available to discuss issues or lead meetings is not the same as championing the role of PMO director and the career development of the project managers involved as well as the ongoing improvement of the PM knowledge-base, processes and templates available to the project managers leading the projects on a daily basis. Methodologies need to be reviewed and improved from time to time (lessons learned?) - they don't just remain stagnant or non-existent.
Lack of funding. For the PMO to run efficiently and to be effective, there must be sufficient organizational funds dedicated to it. Every department in a company needs funds for raises, supplies, travel, training, certification, and ongoing production... it doesn't just happen. If funding isn't there, an organization will never be able to acquire and retain good project managers to lead engagements, training and certification to make them more successful, or overhead for them to work as a team together... collaboratively... to improve beyond just the normal costs and revenue of running a project.
Lack of organizational support. In order for a project management infrastructure to ultimately realize any degree of success, it must have support and buy-in from the top of the organization down. If the C-level individuals are running their own pet projects through their own project leadership, then the designated project organization is going to have a very difficult time gaining respect and influence in the organization. Eyes are watching the executives, and if they aren't utilizing the central project office, then it won't take long for the rest of the organization to follow suit. They must lead by example.
Lack of certified project leaders. I am not saying that it is a "must have" for all project managers in an organization to be certified in project management. However, certification is going to be beneficial to the project management infrastructure. There are even certifications available for individuals to become recognized experts in setting up an effective and successful project management office and in developing and leading PMOs. Certification shouldn't necessarily be a full-on requirement for all project managers in an organization, but the lack of certification among project managers can make it difficult to attract some large projects and customers and perform at the highest level. Some industries may even require it in order for an organization to be on the preferred vendor list. Again, I'm not saying that certification is absolutely critical to project success, but it is definitely beneficial and it will help an organization land the more lucrative and profitable, visible long term and complex projects.
Communication issues. Communication is Job One for the project manager. And, therefore, if communication channels are poor or muted or if your project management leadership lacks good communication skills, then the ever important flow of necessary and critical communication will be affected. Poor communication makes project successes extremely difficult to achieve and repeat.
Lack of proper tools and repeatable processes. We get by sometimes on experience, instinct and luck. But we realize ongoing success through the use of good success oriented methodologies, processed and templates. Every successful PMO from the beginning of time has those and all succeed by reviewing those processes and templates regularly - at least annually - to continue to improve performance career growth and project delivery.
Summary / call for input
Ineffective project management offices can contribute to many problems within an organization, the least of which may be failing projects with low profit margins. Once projects start to fail, or are run ineffectively, it won't take long for other potential clients in your industry to hear about your organization's failure or inconsistencies on project deliveries. Once that happens it can take years to recover from it – if you even can recover from it. That's why a solid project management infrastructure or project management office is critical to the organization and to the consistent delivery of successful projects to their customer base. Senior leadership involvement, support and funding is critical and any negative performance or consistent failure needs swift reaction, discussion, investigation and research, diagnosis, and corrective action.
Readers – what are your experiences with project management office failures and inefficiencies? Where you able to take corrective action or did you have to start over from scratch? Or give up? Where there any huge repercussions on projects?