PMO The Toddler Years

PMOs: Surviving the Toddler Years

My son is two and a half. Two and a half and full of toddler curiosity and stubbornness. The ubiquitous “why” question gets asked a thousand times a day. My answers are often challenged with yet another question, seeking further explanation. I regularly witness him try something, fail, consider his options and adapt. Little time is spent lamenting failed attempts, he is clearly motivated by achieving a definite goal and knows he will get there.

His focus and determination in achieving his objectives (admittedly some more questionable than others when it comes to safety!) got me thinking about my experience working as a PMO consultant in Aspira’s Advisory team. We have often been engaged by clients to assist them to grow and evolve their PMO or assess the maturity of their current PMO with a view to building a roadmap for improvement. In many cases it has become evident that, despite operating effectively, the PMOs lack a clear understanding of where they want, or indeed need, to be.

When establishing a PMO it may seem like an obvious starting point to understand the drivers behind setting up such an initiative and to understand what success will look like and how it will be measured. But the reality is often not so clear-cut. PMOs are established for many reasons and often organically evolve or adapt to meet particular business needs or solve a specific challenge, meaning not all PMOs have longer-term objectives defined nor a plan in place to achieve them. Consequently, little strategic thought may have been given initially to the vision and scope of the PMO (why is this being set up and what is it setting out to achieve) and its roadmap (what is the PMO setting out to achieve both now and in the longer term).

With this in mind, it may not come as a surprise to many people that statistics show that more than 50% of PMOs fail to graduate the ‘toddler years’ and are shut down within 2-3 years of inception. Of course, there is a multitude of reasons why PMOs fail, ranging from lack of sponsorship and senior management support to the perception that the PMO adds little or no value to the overall business.

In my experience, however, PMOs usually fail due to poor stakeholder expectation management. Sometimes the perception is that the PMO is going to solve every problem the organisation has ever had, so even if it does a wonderful job it will still be perceived to fail!

Whatever the apparent reason for failure, if you don’t know what you are setting out to achieve in the first place it is very difficult to demonstrate success. Unless the PMO is aligned with the strategy of the organisation it supports and, perhaps even more critically, with the expectation of its customers and stakeholders, it will not be positioned for success.

Listen to your customers

We have all heard the adage “it’s never too late” and this applies to the world of PMOs. It is never too late to re-assess the value the PMO is delivering to the business and put in place a plan to get there. But where to start? A simple, yet effective exercise that can be carried out by the PMO team is a “Voice of the Customer” activity.  This process facilitates the gathering of crucial information on what customers think and feel about their experiences with the PMO. The overall goal of this activity is for the PMO to learn about its customers’ current satisfaction and expectations regarding its services and functions. There are a number of different ways to carry out an exercise and these can be tailored depending on what is most suitable for the particular organisation, but what is crucial for its success is that the right questions are asked. Questions could include:

  • Is the PMO currently doing the right things?
  • Is it doing what it does successfully?
  • What should the PMO stop doing?
  • What should the PMO start doing?
  • What should the PMO continue doing?
  • Does the PMO have the right mix of people and skillsets to get things done?
  • What is the current perception of the PMO from the stakeholders?

Of course, the real value of carrying out an activity such as this is not in gathering customer feedback but analysing it and in putting it to work. Following a Voice of the Customer activity, the PMO should now have an understanding of what is perceived to be working well and not so well, and also be in a position to identify specific areas for consideration or improvement. It is critical the PMO team now set expectations as to what the PMO can realistically achieve by any PMO improvement initiative and, together with key stakeholders, work to define and agree on a vision and mandate for the PMO.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be overly complex. For smaller PMO teams this could simply be the production of a PMO Playbook or document that outlines the purpose of the PMO, who its customers are, and what services it provides.  For larger or more mature PMO organisations, once the vision and mandate are in place, developing a PMO Roadmap should be a key next step. The PMO Roadmap is a tool that outlines what the PMO is setting out to achieve, and when. It is an actionable implementation plan that moves the organisation towards a target maturity or goal. An effective roadmap should not only identify, and plan prioritised initiatives for delivery in the short, medium, and long term, but should endeavor to deliver “quick wins” in the immediate term to build momentum and secure stakeholder buy-in.

Whatever approach the PMO takes to refocus or reinvent itself, communication is crucial. An effective communication plan will educate organisational-wide stakeholders on the value of the PMO and make them aware of the services the PMO currently offers or intends to offer.

Measuring Success

In order to continue to survive, and evolve, a PMO must measure and promote its value to the organisation it supports. There is a wide range of Key Performance indicators (KPIs) to assist in this, and these may include:

  • Reduction in programmes and projects started for the wrong reason e.g. number of projects or programmes stopped,
  • Increased predictability of delivery e.g. % increase of projects delivering on time, in scope, and within budget,
  • Increased customer satisfaction scores.

A key way to measure the success of a PMO, and identify areas for improvement, is through a formal, independent, and objective assessment. An assessment of this type enables the PMO to continually develop and evolve the nature and scope of the services it provides to the business.  Whatever the approach taken, once the PMO review is complete, the team should stop lamenting the perceived failures of the past and strive to continually look forward – confident in the knowledge that they have both clear goals and objectives defined and a plan in place to achieve them.

To position your PMO for real success Aspira’s Advisory team can carry out an independent, maturity assessment of your PMO function and work with your PMO to create a tailored PMO Roadmap specific to your organisation. Please reach out to our team at:

Emma Daly - Head of Business Consulting

Emma Daly - Head of Business Consulting

Emma Daly is Aspira’s Head of Business Consulting and comes from a broad background of Project & Programme Delivery and PMO Consultancy in both the public and private sectors. Emma, and the Business Consulting team, partner with our clients to assist them fulfil their business needs both at strategic and operational levels. Emma has also worked as a senior project and change management consultant in Aspira’s Advisory team.

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