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Whatever You Do, Don’t Call It a PMO

What’s in a name? When it comes to PMOs, a lot! Have you been paying attention to the PMO space recently? I have. More and more organizations are moving away from the title PMO for the organization that facilitates the planning and execution of business strategy. I’ve seen “business transformation office,” “strategic planning office,” “strategy execution office,” “enterprise strategy execution team,” and on and on… anything but PMO, please!

Why? PMOs have gotten a bad reputation.

Why? Because many of them haven’t been delivering in a high-impact way.

There are some PMOs out there that are rock stars! I know—I’ve seen them myself. And then there are the rest of them… too much time, money, and resources spent on building templates and process or running through the steps of a project without actually delivering maximum impact for the organization’s investment. In the eyes of the business leadership, they take too long to get set up and start seeing value. The business gets bored/impatient/frustrated and moves on.

This is where doing things “right” conflicts with getting results. I talked about process getting in the way of progress in this article that I encourage you to read. I dive deeply into the specifics of that problem we create for ourselves when we put getting the tools and templates created before we start having an impact.

Now, I want to go beyond that. Let’s say we are delivering our projects on time and within budget, even meeting the business requirements. Great! Now why isn’t the business happy?

We need to turn our heads to an even bigger differentiator between those PMOs that will survive the next several years and those that won’t. The data is there—the PMO isn’t about project management anymore. It’s about delivering the maximal impact possible based on the investment, in other words, return on investment (ROI). It’s not just how we are doing the work or even that most of it is getting delivered. It’s also about focusing our energy on the right things.

Imagine this. You have a project portfolio dashboard and 80% of the projects on that dashboard are green or going as planned. We are rocking and rolling! But what if the 20% that aren’t moving forward are the ones that have the biggest impact on the organization’s bottom line or ability to meet strategic objectives? Eighty percent of the impact your PMO could be having on the company is tied up in 20% of the projects and they aren’t getting done. Not looking so hot now, huh?

That 20% that can move the company forward should get first dibs on focus from the organization (money, time, effort, etc.).

And guess what? It’s your job as a PMO leader to help make that happen. You have to make sure that the right conversations are taking place to facilitate getting resources realigned, information where it needs to go, and decisions made. It’s also your job to make sure that you handle the “don’t touch my project” conversations and behaviors that are prevalent whenever you have limited funds and resources—which is always. The ones where project managers are fighting each other for resources when the priorities are clear.

You know what I’m talking about. They make it look like resources they have look fully utilized even if they aren’t, just so that they don’t lose them when they need them… and who could blame them? A good project manager will fight to the death to make sure their project gets all the resources they need to make sure their project gets done. Their job performance is judged on whether or not their projects are performing.

Maybe being a good project manager is not enough. Maybe we need more in our PMOs of the future.

What if, instead, we allowed project managers to be in a safe collaborative place? A place where the PMO has their back. A place where the PMO could decide that PMs are judged on their ability to help the entire portfolio perform optimally, even if it means their own project gets shuffled lower on the priority list.

Crazy idea, I know.

You have a role in determining where PMOs go from here. We’ve seen that they aren’t getting much love from the business community. But we’ve also seen this rebirth in titles for these organizations so as to make it clearer that this is about the business and delivering business value. But I would like to go even further. It’s not about what you call it. It’s about being as impactful as possible on the business. It’s about maximizing return on investment.

Or as my friend Mike Hannan has suggested, maybe the next iteration of PMOs should be called RMEs: ROI Maximization Engines. What you call it doesn’t matter. What it delivers better.

About Laura Barnard

Keynote Speaker, Consultant, Coach & Trainer. Owner, Impact by Laura. Founder and CEO, PMO Strategies. Founder and President, Project Management for Change, 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Laura Barnard has spent more than 24 years helping business leaders in a broad range of organizations, from nonprofits to global financial institutions, get the results they crave. She shares her experience and stories in her blog titled, “I wish I had me when I was you... ™” Laura runs several training and coaching programs that help organizations and individuals deliver high-impact results on their projects and drive organizational change. Laura is best known as “the PMO lady” for her extensive experience in building and running PMOs that Get. It. Done. for the business and teaching others how to do the same. You can learn more about Laura at https://impactbylaura.com.

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