Having spent most of my career in delivery, I wanted to share my views on what makes a good programme management office (PMO).
It's no secret that, at times, the programme manager and the PMO don't always see eye to eye, so I wanted to explain some of the system dynamics for us all to learn from.
So what did I learn?
I have had the experience of working alongside PMO functions both big and small. The majority of the time the PMO has often operated in isolation. However, there have been times when the PMO sets out to mobilize a robust set of working procedures but, for whatever reason, some of those good intentions get lost in translation.
It struck me on many occasions there needs to be a shift in the way the PMO functions - and how it is viewed by the rest of the programme - which, in my eyes, is to be a critical friend.
I have witnessed when programme deliverables versus PMO processes are at loggerheads, leaving both parties frustrated. The PMO can quickly be perceived as a non-value, added overhead, while programme managers are seen as non-compliant and resisting process. When these two things go 'untreated', it can cause conflict, repetition and scope creep.
Benefits of having an "embedded PMO"
Having worked in each group, I’ve found that having the PMO embedded – rather than a supported function like an “annex” – is valuable. This will:
- Ensure both knowledge and expertise from both sides are shared in a timely manner and immediate requests for specific tools can be responded to quickly. More complex issues, such as the impact of certain risks on a programme, can be discussed collaboratively.
- Build rapport. Inviting members of the PMO to participate in workshops/meetings has helped me to seek assurance and gain an objective view on what is and isn't working well. It also breaks down “them and us” barriers – which leads me nicely in to the next point:
- For the partnership to work in a collaborative way, communication is key.
Benefits of this approach are two-fold:
It builds a better relationship and common purpose between programme manager and the PMO. This would replace the current state of play where PMO requests for information often hinder delivery and appear to conflict with priorities of stakeholder management and delivery milestones.
And, second, the information flow would be accurate, up to date and consistent, so reducing unnecessary noise around a programme. There would be no need for the PMO to overproduce data or put more processes in place to correct errors, because it would be right first time, every time.
Need for a streamlined PMO and multi-skilled individuals
I would go further and suggest that a streamlined PMO function – where the traditional team of specialists working largely independently is replaced with multi-skilled individuals – would be a wise move. This would cut down on both the number of checkpoints and different ways of working within the PMO, so creating a holistic view of the programme.
The bottom line is that programmes are not static but part of rapid change within an organization and the PMO needs to reflect this. It can’t be a slave to its own processes, but should be flexible enough to handle the political and economic developments that may impact a programme's success.
An effective PMO needs to be one step ahead in terms of offering the right, timely support and the necessary tools to help programme managers deliver the overall programme. And you can’t be ahead if you’re too busy ticking boxes and trying to fix everything all at once!