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Three Old & New Assumptions for PMOs

Examine AssumptionsThe PMO (Project Management Office) is evolving along with the rest of project management. Today’s PMOs take many forms in terms of scope and structure. It is common to find centralized and decentralized structures, scopes vary from strategic to function-specific, and we even see 100% outsourced and virtual PMOs.

Evolution brings with it changes in assumptions which were previously fundamental. Here are three outdated PMO assumptions along with three assumptions about today’s PMO.

1. Old Assumption: It is all about execution
New Assumption: Project prioritization and resource management precede execution.

PMOs sprung into existence when organizations found that the discipline of project management was effective at improving project outcomes. Early PMOs were typically centers of excellence for project management practices and standardized those practices across the organization. The common objective was to improve project execution for all projects.

Today, execution excellence may no longer be the most valuable function of the PMO. While projects were once just handed to the PMO to implement, today’s PMO is actively involved in strategic planning, project selection/prioritization and resource allocation. A PMO’s ability to systematically assist leadership in project selection and resource allocation allows  an organization to reduce project risks by focusing on the right projects at the right time and with the right resources.

In short, today’s PMO extends the project lifecycle to well before the project charter in order to ensure the PMO is managing the right projects and thus delivering maximum value to the organization.

2. Old Assumption: Quality = On Time + On Budget
New Assumption: Quality = Stakeholder Satisfaction + Value Delivered to the Organization

A.K.A. “Deliver to the plan.” Historically, project managers and PMOs have been evaluated on their ability to deliver on time and on budget. This well intentioned, measurable criteria often put project managers in a position to fight against project changes which may be in the organization’s best interest, but would result in variances to the timeline or budget.

Stakeholder satisfaction and value delivered to the organization now trump timelines and budgets as project success measures. The result is a shift in project manager and PMO focus to ensure satisfaction with outcomes. Timelines and budgets are still critically important tools, but they are now viewed as components of that overall project satisfaction.

As a result, project managers must spend more of their time on communication management, expectation management and change management than on schedule and budget management. Regardless of PM methodology in use (Agile, waterfall, etc.), agility is valued over rigidity when it comes to the original baseline. PMOs which are operating at the level of project selection and resource allocation are better positioned to embrace this agility and enable project managers to react to changing project dynamics, shifting market conditions and newly understood business needs.

3. Old Assumption: PMO Drives Alignment Via Authority
New Assumption: PMO Drives Organizational Objectives Via Collaboration

In the old, execution-focused PMO, the modus operandi is “Do it the way the PMO wants or get out of the way.” When the PMO was measured on execution excellence, this approach was at least somewhat effective for managing to specific timelines and budgets. The authoritarian approach is not effective for today’s PMOs.

In today’s world where PMOs have greater input into project selection and are measured on delivering value to the organization, collaboration is valued over alignment by authority. In order to achieve these standards, regular feedback is sought from subject matter experts to gauge factors such as changing technologies, shifts in the economy, evolving customer expectations, etc.

Today’s PMO is as a service provider for complex efforts with a multitude of stakeholders. It is not practical for the PMO to staff experts in all subject matters thus it is effective to take a collaborative approach with stakeholders and subject matter experts from outside the PMO. When focused on satisfaction with the end project, it is common that improving satisfaction demands changes to timelines or budgets. In some cases, this may even lead to the early termination of a project.

Gold plating is still not a good practice for improving satisfaction as it often does not provide true business value. Instead, the business case becomes a living document, communication tool and key factor in change management to balance “satisfaction” with “value.”

About Patrick Quirk

Founding Member of PMEvolution.com President & CEO of FOQUS Partners, LLC PMP since 2005

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