PMOs and project reviews – building project management excellence

PMOs and project reviews – building project management excellence

What’s the point of training people in project management best practices and then not using their new-found skills?

Clearly, there is no point; however, this seems to be an issue among organizations according to the latest AXELOS PPM Benchmark Study 2017 – The Value of Project Management Excellence.

AXELOS’ research has quantified the lack of project management “maturity” in the workplace – in other words, whether or not there are established processes in place and ongoing improvements made on the basis of monitoring and feedback (as outlined in the P3M3® Maturity Model). Fewer than a fifth of respondents ranked their organization at the highest level of maturity, with more than 50% saying they struggled at best to have much process or evaluation and monitoring of their project management efforts.

This matters, as more mature organizations are less likely to experience project failure: almost 70% of mature organizations had avoided this in the past year, while only 47% of less mature companies had done so.

The project management training disconnect

Organizations are willing for people to go on project management training courses, which is laudable. Yet employers rarely offer a coherent introduction to what a project is before expecting their people to manage one. And new project managers often request their organizations to fund some form of training rather than it being automatically provided by their employer.

In the low maturity organizations, if someone has been on a project management course to follow a methodology that their manager doesn’t understand, the default position is to “crack on” with the project without following any form of the project method. This leads to a failure to embed new ways of working that staff bring back from training and ultimately means that nothing changes – including the organizational maturity level!

Investing in training but not in organizational processes means people won’t implement project management methods and their knowledge degrades. Without the encouragement to use the methods, an organization won’t have the repeatable processes that all project managers can follow; consequently, each project manager will waste time “reinventing the wheel”. This inconsistency at project level then affects prioritizing, monitoring and managing risk at the programme and portfolio levels.

The value of a PMO

The need for organizations to increase their project management maturity highlighted in AXELOS’ research points directly at the value of having a PMO (project management office).

Only 50% of organizations have a PMO, according to the research and this poses a problem: without a PMO – including a centre of excellence function setting and monitoring the use of methods and standards – you will get inconsistent application of those methods.

Without having repeatable processes embedded, you are setting projects up for failure as they will continue to repeat mistakes, take longer and cost more. And, in low maturity organizations that rely on external project management consultants, there is a high risk that valuable project learnings for the organization will walk out of the door at the end of the project. Having a PMO will ensure all learnings are passed on to improve future projects.

Equally, having a wider PMO (covering programmes and portfolios as well as projects) ensures there is strategic alignment within the organization. This is important so project managers understand how they are contributing to the organization’s overall goals and make a clear link between what they’re doing and what the organization wants to achieve.

A PMO involved at a strategic level is important to make difficult decisions about priorities, where investment should be directed and addressing the issues of tight timescales and budgets, as highlighted in the AXELOS study. Trying to do too much generally means everything grinds to a halt; making poor decisions about an organization’s capacity and capability to deliver is throwing good money after bad.

Project reviews – preventative medicine for project failure?

Another plus point for having a PMO is the discipline it can bring to conducting project reviews. As AXELOS’ study has revealed, those who conduct project reviews “always or most of the time” are less likely to experience subsequent project failure than those who review either “rarely or never”.

As my project management compatriot, Duncan Wade, has commented, “Lessons learned have been one of the holy grails of project management from the very beginnings of good practice and standards. And we are rubbish at them.” This tends to happen because lessons learned aren’t captured along the way and, by the final meeting at the end of the project, many learnings have been forgotten.

Project managers’ reviews are clearly important to have. However, it’s also worth having independent reviews by a centre of excellence to ensure a project is on track, strategically aligned, delivering what it should and that it’s well-managed and governed. PRINCE2®’s quality assurance approach includes an independent review of the project team which gives stakeholders greater confidence in the team’s project management performance. This also contributes to learning from experience, driving continual improvement.

If a project is going badly, without a review you won’t learn from it. Lessons need to be recorded, acted upon and embedded into ways of working that become repeatable in the organization. When necessary, changing the way you operate means the same mistakes won’t be made again and this – along with repeating the methods that have been successful – is a better building block for future project success.

For more information, see AXELOS' PPM Benchmark Study 2017.

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Current rating: 4 (3 ratings)


27 Jul 2017 John Russell-Hodge
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I could find no mention of the total number of respondents in the report; can you please supply. Thanks.
6 Aug 2017 Simon Harris,
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Important I think to draw attention to the issue here.

I suggest the core is many fold

1) project management is an intensely social activity but qualification training is an intensely solo, even isolating activity. Also
2) the exams are fixated on fantastically detailed identification of juxtaposed elements of the book – I can argue why that is – but it eliminates (reduces at least) ability to share other great practices in training and to humanise the practices plus
3) organisation’s have limited training budgets that squeeze days away and the manual / exam focus fills the week and the evenings and then some…

So the above adds up to “we can’t teach people to question the manual in exam classes and they don’t get a second ‘for real’ class” – indeed peoplecert even flag courses advertised as “for real” or including paraphrased quotes from the manuals that allude to weaknesses in axelos manual as requiring change “because they damage axelos reputation” – these swirling influences and the sort of Spanish Inquisition serves no one.

Now add that candidates find it impossible to use the agency based/ HR operated jobs market without having the filtering criteria of passed the exam and we drive a repeating self-reinforcing behaviour pattern that propagates exam numbers while not driving capability development.

the 2017 revision is great stuff but has not address some root cause issues, nor will adding a pmo.
15 Jun 2020 May Ho
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Interesting facts around how important that is to have a PMO
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