PM...O(h)!

I love a good retrospective as much as the next PM. So what better way to ring in the new year than to look back on one of project management's most beloved institutions, the PMO? After flagging pmsolutions' recent article on the state of the PMO in 2016 days ago amidst the holiday rush, I was thrilled to peruse it over a leisurely cup of hot tea in 2017.

The title of my blog post refers to a phenomenon that I think is pretty common in the world of PMOs. While appreciated by PMs, PMOs can sometimes get a bad rap among project management outsiders for their perceived pointlessness. Establishing or maintaining a PMO doesn't seem like a good idea (at least in the short-term) for those intent on tightening their belts. It's only once the PMO has been in place for some time (in some cases, a year or two) that its critics acknowledge the benefits it has brought to bear on strategic planning, strategic alignment, and organizational efficiency.

Lightbulbs;  www.unsplash.com

Lightbulbs; www.unsplash.com

The pmsolutions article confirmed my suspicions: most "best in class" PMOs have been in existence for several years. It also raised some interesting points with regard to the field of Agile project management. 100% of their surveyed best in class PMOs employ Agile methodologies, suggesting that Agile may be more effective than traditional waterfall methods in achieving organizational objectives. I'd argue that this depends on the type of projects that the PMO is attempting to manage.

But most interesting to me were the findings on project management training. While 100% of best in class PMOs use Agile, only 33% of those companies offer Agile training for their PMs. Only 50% of PMOs have formally established career paths in project management for their employees, but 35% of respondents stated that one of the key challenges that PMOs are facing is inadequate project management skills. Professional services firms are least likely to have PMOs.

This got me thinking about how professional services firms could benefit from having a PMO in place. There are many areas in which I think having a PMO would be helpful; namely, to manage internal affairs that are currently dispersed among a wide variety of teams, such as managing past performance qualifications, invoicing, and onboarding functions. How much more effective would professional services employees be at client delivery and cultivating new business if they could be relieved of some of these more tedious administrative functions? While the overhead costs might be high, having a steering committee/PMO-type structure in place would help firms to better align themselves with strategic objectives and relieve collateral duty staff of the burden of having to fix things like the hiring process or time reporting. The return on investment of having such an organization in place would be substantial.

I also think that professional services firms tend to overlook the value of the PM function as an area of technical expertise. The consensus is that "anyone can do PM," but the distinction is never made between doing PM versus doing it well. Deploying a project management curriculum and career path would raise the profile of this important function within the rest of the company and would also inspire its participants to better hone their own skills. Selfishly, the article alerted me that having good PM skills can be hard to come by. Nothing like ushering in the new year with a little more incentive to brush up on that Agile mindset.