April 24, 2017

The Top 5 Reasons PMOs Fail

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There are many reasons a PMO either thrives or fails, but the most common reasons for failure are often not process or technology issues, but rather related to “people issues” in an organization. Ultimately, a PMO’s success rests in the hands of its team members, spanning across all levels of the org chart – it can’t fall solely on a PMO director or within a single isolated department.

 Here are the top five reasons we see PMOs fail:

  • Executive stakeholders that are not fully committed to the PMO. It’s a familiar story: The executive team realizes there’s a problem with projects not executing properly, contending for too few resources, or just not delivering results. So they authorize a PMO, and hope it solves the problem. But come time to attend steering committee meetings and make hard decisions, they send lower-level functionaries and don’t give them decision-making authority. Then, when projects are once again performing poorly due to resource contention and prioritization conflicts, they blame the PMO and disband it.
  • PMO leaders that don’t know how to adapt. What worked in one company most likely won’t work in another, despite similarities on paper. If a PMO leader isn’t adaptable and tries a “cookie cutter” approach based on experience from a prior job, then a PMO will likely fail. A better approach is to understand the unique drivers and pain points for the organization, the various personalities and motivations of key stakeholders, and whether the culture of the organization supports the ability to develop a plan with achievable goals.
  • The PMO becomes a project manager’s worst enemy. In many ways a PMO director has to be part cheerleader, part salesperson and part coach, making sure that the PMO’s mission/charter is well articulated and all stakeholders buy into it. However, if a PMO becomes part auditor and part methodology police, forcing adoption of ill-fitting methodologies or gathering unnecessary information, it will become a hindrance to project managers and rejected by an organization.
  • No strategic vision. Focusing on tactical, day-to-day execution is fine, but PMO directors and teams need to not lose sight of the bigger, strategic picture. If a PMO leader can’t grasp and articulate the business challenges faced by senior executives, and help facilitate organizational change and alignment to meet those challenges, they will become less relevant in an organization.
  • Lack of a metric-based approach. Unless a PMO leader has an analytical mindset and is comfortable with metrics, a PMO won’t be successful.  For example, when it comes to deciding how many of the top projects can actually be done, discussion too often turns to pure guess work. Without a metrics-based understanding of resource capacity, it is impossible to match demand with the actual supply of human resources.

About Alan Shefveland

Alan Shefveland is the Director of Product Management — Strategy & Innovation at Changepoint. He has more than 37 years of experience facilitating business and technology transformation for companies. For more than 25 years, Alan has demonstrated leadership with project, portfolio, and value management process implementations that span a wide variety of industry verticals, including finance, high-tech, light manufacturing, telecommunications, and utilities.