Challenges to Project Management Office (PMO) implementation can be addressed by following best practices and proven techniques
Creating and designing (planning) a Project Management Office (PMO) is half of the work – seeing it through (executing) is the work itself and it is a very important component for any newly established PMO. Furthermore, understanding the challenges that surround a newly formed organization and knowing how to address them are the two main keys to ensuring success of a PMO organization.
I am sure for all of those who were involved in creating a PMO, after all the hard work that went into creating and structuring a PMO, a question comes to mind, what is next? Do you believe that now that your PMO has been created, your work is over? Wrong, your work has just begun.
In a previous article, I covered the requirements for creating a PMO and the elements for successful existence of a PMO. I will focus this article on the challenges that face any newly formed PMO as well as the actions that have worked for me to address these challenges.
Figure 1: Summary of the Elements for a Successful PMO
PMO Implementation Challenges
Challenge #1 – Complex Processes & Methodology
While it is great to have processes and an agreed upon standard methodology in place, it is counterproductive when processes become the center of the work and only for the sake of processes and do not serve the organization as a whole.
For example, following the same rigor of procedures or protocols, templates and guidelines without consideration to the efforts involved and the size of project will make the PMO be perceived as a bottleneck function, and soon the PMO will lose credibility among project managers and organization leadership. The answer to that is building lean processes within a appropriately structured methodology, always remembering that expanding processes and evolving procedures can take place based on an organization’s need.
Starting small and focusing on the pain areas is much more effective than building everything at once and then tripping in the rollout or having the organization reject the PMO due to a lack maturity. If it is project close-out that an organization does not do well, then efforts should be spent on that activity, especially at the start of the PMO’s efforts. If it is project initiation that does not go well in an organization, then the focus should be on working that phase first. Do not to take on more than what can be addressed successfully, unless your organization from the Project Managers up to the leadership is ready to assume the large magnitude of change. Please remember primarily, the reason for methodology and processes are to allow for better delivery and improve productivity and efficiency, not to create bureaucracy for project managers and the organization as a whole.
Challenge #2 – Project Managers’ Skill Level
Another challenge for a PMO is failure to assess project managers’ (PMs’) skills set correctly. A PMO will be caught by surprise when it is ready to roll out the processes and / or methodology to be faced with a huge gap between its PMs’ skill set and their knowledge of the methodology, tools, etc. The gap in the PMs’ skill set may delay or prolong methodology rollout and / or adoption. Some of these gaps might be due to previous practice that is not necessarily wrong but does not work with that particular organization; sometimes simply this is a new position for someone; or someone ran projects like a maverick and does not understand why they need to comply with the new rules.
To overcome this challenge, the work of creating methodology and assessing and educating PMs’ must happen in parallel and in unison with the development of the PMO itself. While creating the methodology, there should be an assessment of the levels of maturity and skills level of the organization’s project managers, whether they are existing PM’s or new PMs or those promoted to a project management position, to determine the education required to bring all to a similar level, so that performance measurements can be made. After all, they are the drivers of these methods and tools and educating a driver on how to drive is essential to success (driving safely).
Challenge #3 – Do not Forget Your Organization’s PM Portfolio
Portfolio management can be very simple to very complex, and could require sophisticated tools. Nevertheless, the basics are focused on selection criteria, monitoring and control which can be achieved in a simple excel sheet or in a very sophisticated portfolio management tool. The challenge with portfolio management is that it is easy to become very tactical and focus on project delivery at hand and forget linking these projects to the strategic investments made throughout the year and budget cycle.
Addressing portfolio management ensures that any project has a budget and a matching portfolio entry that will be recognized. As projects are juggled (dropped, added, or changed), there should be a mechanism that links these projects to the overall portfolio; otherwise, measuring a single success on a project does not reflect benefits that can be realized by an organization as a whole.
Challenge #4 – Project and Portfolio Tools
As we all know, in any implementation it is people, process, and then tools. The biggest challenge in implementing any tools before having the earlier two (people and process) is recognizing that this is a recipe for failure. Even if the processes are simple and the methodology is not completely polished, there should be a process in place that governs the use of the tool and how people will use it, and identifying the outcome PMO is trying to achieve.
Any new PMO should be careful about imposing a project and / or a portfolio tool before having people educated and processes securely in place. The second challenge comes when the PMO does not know what needs to be accomplished by the tool. Often PM tools are imagined mistakenly as a desktop MS Project on steroids. However, they are far more sophisticated and they not only serve the PM, but they are a complete platform of applications that allow for project building, tracking, budget monitoring, document collaboration, analytics and reporting, etc. The Project Management Institute offers a list for evaluating project management and PMO tools.
Adopting the correct approach to PMO tools starts with understanding the organization’s requirements for project and program management, and the tool requirements themselves. Remember that relying on a 3rd party (tool vendors) to tell PMO what they would get out of a tool is fatal. Become fully educated on tool capabilities and limitations, tool and the organization’s requirements when approaching a project or portfolio tool and treat it as you would treat deploying any organizational system such as CRM, ERP, etc.
Challenge #5 – Monitor and Control PMO Adoption
Some of the challenges in this area are due to rushing tools and methods rollout, or continuing to develop tools and methods without having a base line to measure and use for reports. To address this challenge, the focus should remain on guiding the PMs with the PMO’s mission and objectives, and providing the organization with the expected results. This does not mean improvements or enhancements should stop, but they will be treated through change management.
Changes should be logged, assessed, budgeted and rolled out in agreed upon releases so they allow time to capture each change and allow time to measure the effects. Another challenge is training and ensuring the use of the methods and tools are balanced by all project managers. If PMs are left with no guidance from the PMO, everyone will default back to their habits or practices and the gap in measuring and monitoring will soon widen with diminishing benefits.
Challenge #6 – Establish Best Practices
With newly formed PMOs, best practices are often neglected either due to the unavailability of man power that can be dedicated for that purpose, or because the PMO is working on the next level of expansion and not taking the time to measure and assess current state before moving on with any improvements.
In another article I will elaborate on establishing best practices and taking PMO to the next level. For now, I would like to address the “best practices” challenge by saying it is never too late to start gathering best practices data whether documenting lessons learned, methodology improvement, effective tools usage tips, etc. Retaining all of the best practices documents in a centralized place that is easy to access is very important. Also, communicating often the updates and changes so that everyone stays up-to-date with the changes, enabling all levels of an organization to benefit from the collection of PMO best practices.
Challenges will occur in every endeavor, certainly in newly formed Project Management Office organizations. Every stage will have its own unique challenges to be addressed, including the implementation phase. It is important for any PMO to continuously celebrate successes and overcome challenges as well as to confirm directions and next steps with the organization leadership.