Ensuring PMO Success with the Right Rowers

Ensuring PMO Success with the Right Rowers

A common challenge to creating an effective Project Management Office (PMO) is alignment with the organization around you. Unfortunately, I've seen many PMOs that are perceived negatively; seen as bureaucratic, creating extra work for those associated, and demanding significant cost for not a lot of gain. In those cases, it is no wonder when budget tightening comes around that IT organizations make initial cuts in areas such as the PMO, especially when they are perceive as limited, nice to have, and with non-critical value. To make your PMO a positive force in your business, one key area to focus on is ensuring alignment and support from the groups you serve and those in the PMO itself.

Let's think about the PMO as a rowboat and the goal of effective project and portfolio management as the shore. To get to where you need to go, you want the right people rowing in the same direction towards the shore. To be effective in the PMO mission, you will want to know who exactly is in your boat or who needs to be and make sure they are rowing in the direction you need.

If we carry this analogy a little further, we will find that there are different types of rowers and riders that we need to consider in this journey.

Missed the Boat

There are those you need in the boat who refuse to travel. They won't even get in because they may not understand your destination or trust you will get to where you are headed. These naysayers need special attention.

What to do:

  • Make sure you want them in the boat.
    • Understand your stakeholders and those who will help you on your journey. Some naysayers might not ultimately impact whether you can be successful or not.
  • Focus on building relationships with those you want in the boat
    • Understand their drivers and priorities
    • Understand if there has been a previous experience that has clouded their perspective
  • Demonstrate how the PMO, through better planning and execution, can help them reach their goals faster, cheaper, and better. Show an example of success.
  • Help them understand the benefits of the PMO and the importance of their role to the PMO.

The Loafers

There are those in the boat who aren't rowing. These individuals may not be preventing you from progress, but they are taking up seats and not providing the thrust of someone actively rowing with you. In addition, as in a rowboat, someone is probably having to make up for their lack of activity and work harder. These are the passive supporters of your direction, but not necessarily engaged in your journey. This could be a result of not understanding or not really caring; either way it is important to effectively get alignment with these people.

What to do:

  • Make sure they understand the PMO mission and how they can help. Their best help might be by simply being an active supporter of your processes and design.
  • Make sure employees and project managers understand why the PMO is important, why the processes where developed, and why their support is needed.

Wrong Way Corrigans

Finally, there are those who are rowing the wrong way. Douglas Corrigan was an aviator in the 1930s who flew from New York to Ireland, officially by mistake, after filing a flight plan to California. Unofficially, he disagreed with authorities that his aircraft was deemed unsafe for the journey to Ireland so went anyway.

These individuals are usually the hard workers who are doing what they think is best, but are working counter-productive to the PMO efforts. This group of rowers keep you spinning off course and can eventually prevent you from reaching your destination. Careful consideration and focus needs to be given to these people.

What to do:

Determine why they are rowing against you

  • Is it because they choose to? They have always done it differently and it has mostly worked - so why change? Or is it because they don't support the mission? I've seen this in companies in organizations that historically had loose management of projects and the implementation of PMO processes forces IT (and others) to operate in a more planned and constrained manner. Some of this can be helped by:
    • Better change management activities such as training, demonstrations, and forums for adoption
    • Public support from key executive management to the PMO
    • Management to the new process which may include punitive or at least management level discussions with repeat offenders.
    • As these people may be leaders themselves, it may be necessary to work on a cam-paign to create alignment through proving the concepts and demonstrating the worth.
  • Is it because they do not know any better? Despite communications there are always those that are oblivious to the new processes, or do not fully understand their role or responsibilities. This can especially be true of project leads who take on more in the project management realm or project teams that are used to operating independently. The following may help these:
    • Targeted communication to the specific individuals
    • Training and re-training towards the project management concepts. Lunch and learns are often helpful here
    • Demonstration of effective test cases and showing past successes
    • Enlist support from the managers of those who need to adopt the change

The point is that effective alignment with the groups around you is of paramount important to the success of the PMO. Even if you have the best PMO processes and organizational design around but fail to have alignment with leadership, employees, and your customers, your PMO will struggle to weather the sea and get to your destination. A strong business and PMO alignment will not only have the effect of meeting your project and portfolio goals quicker but project success has a way of generating momentum of other project wins. You can learn more about creating and running an effective PMO with our guide 7 Steps to a World-Class PMO.

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