This article will look at a few of the most common mistakes PMO leaders make when setting up or evolving a PMO. The big lesson will be—you need to identify your organizational appetite and needs.
Mistake #1: Assuming your organization needs a PMO without identifying the business priorities
What Works: The first step is asking yourself a few fundamental questions to determine where your PMO can provide value. What does your PMO solve? Are leaders concerned about time to market? Is it brand and industry reputation? Is technology costing too much to implement? These business challenges should be easily accessible to you by reviewing the mission and objectives for the organization and paying attention to what’s going on around you. The leaders of the organization, once they trust you, will tell you what’s really going on. If it’s a public company, do your research. You will find someone talking about what is or isn’t working with the company from the outside, as well as the inside. Chances are high that this is what the CEO is thinking about. If you find a way to tie what you are doing to solving those pain points, you will have a reason why your PMO needs to exist.
Knowing the business challenges is only half of the battle: You can’t ignore the politics that are circulating at those upper levels. Understanding what motivates those business leaders will help you secure your PMO’s position. Those senior leaders are still human, and each leader has their own personal motivators that will color how they see you as either an asset or a threat to their success. Pay attention to the clues and figure out whom you can trust to fill you in on the way business really operates at that level. Yes, it can be as simple as learning that they will help you if you make them look good. We may not like it, but ignoring it can be detrimental to your PMO survival.
Mistake #2: Spending too little time on the people within the organization, as advocates for future success
What Works: Take the time to get to know the organizational culture and appetite for a PMO. Every organization has people in it that will resent what the PMO represents—more structure and oversight to what they do. As will be mentioned many times in this article series, the first thing you need to do is figure out the three categories of people to identify in an organization—those that love you, those that hate you, and those that don’t care.
Once you have placed the people into their categories, spend some time working with people from all three categories; learn where their pain points are and both what they want from the PMO and what they fear most. Never start with a hard sell for any of these categories. You have to start by giving them the solid and honest impression that you want to solve their challenges and make life easier for them. If you can’t find that, you can’t be successful. Your promoters will lose interest and your detractors will make your life miserable, all while the indifferent people go along acting like you don’t exist. Warning: Those indifferent people are just as dangerous as those that are detracting from your success!
If you’re lucky, the people that don’t want you around can be pulled into the process to have their voices heard. Keep your enemies talking to you, not leadership, about what concerns them. You can do this by inviting them to participate in an advisory group you create to hear varied opinions. Engage them to help you identify the problems with the PMO, and then ask them what they would do to solve those challenges. If you are building or transforming the PMO, even better! They get to help with the transformation. Before you know it, you have turned those detractors into what? Active participants in helping you build a PMO powerhouse that has a full range of supporters in the organization. There’s nothing like engaging someone in the process to help them own the future state of a PMO.
Mistake #3: Deciding what kind of PMO will work for your organization without doing A LOT of homework
What works: There are many different types of PMO models, all with benefits and weaknesses. Familiarize yourself with the various structures out there and figure out what you are trying to solve before you even attempt to decide how to build your PMO. Hopefully, you have figured out the business problems facing your organization and have combined that with the knowledge of the organizational appetite and people readiness from the prior section. From those clues, you can determine where the center of gravity for change will need to be located.
Is your organization more silo-like, where each business unit runs independently? If so, your best bet will likely be a decentralized model where each business unit has its own smaller PMO. In this case, your organization would likely still benefit from some standardization of templates, best practices, learning and development, tools, etc. from a leaner enterprise-level PMO.
Alternatively, do you have major cross-functional initiatives taking place that require coordination across the business units? If so, you may benefit from a centralized group of strategic change agents that can run the programs that cross the enterprise. In an upcoming article, I will explore many of the popular PMO types and the pros and cons I’ve seen in my many years of experience building various PMOs.