Candace Riddle

Candace Riddle

Senior Consultant, U.S. Operations

Great expectations

It is the start of a new year, with new goals, new budgets, and plenty of new projects on the horizon. Accomplishing these goals on time and within budget is simple; templates will be created, a review process will be implemented, and software will be used to track progress. All of this will reside within a Project Management Office. The PMO will make sure that all milestones are met within 365 calendar days, and executives will be happy. Right?

Wrong. Fast-forward six months. Half of your portfolio is behind schedule, a quarter of the portfolio is over budget, you just got news that a new regulatory change is going to require changes to a project already in progress, your competitor may beat you to market, and your company just announced layoffs. You slump into your chair and declare that the process and the tools that you put in place six months ago do not seem to be working, because if they were, this wouldn’t be happening.

The situation described above is probably familiar to anyone who has ever been part of planning or executing a project or program, regardless of the level of the company or function that you were a part of when you experienced it. If you’ve been part of this same experience more than once, at multiple companies, or in different roles, you’ve probably realized by now that nobody is immune to the curse of “PMO 1.0”.

The reality of working in today’s business environment is that change is occurring rapidly, compounded by the need to deliver new solutions, to both internal and external customers, faster than ever before. Today’s business leaders need the ability to proactively make decisions across their portfolios, and have confidence that those decisions align with the company’s long-term strategic vision. The PMO of the past cannot meet these needs with process and tools alone. Thus you are left holding all of the right tools, yet frustrated and confused at the inability to actually create an environment that is proactive instead of reactive.

What is PMO 1.0?

PMO 1.0 is just that; a boring, single-faceted, template and reports generation center that seems to disturb your weekly routines with requests for updates, phone calls, and some form of public shaming for not completing tasks on time; or at least that is how you likely think of them by month six of the fiscal year.

PMO 1.0, simply put, is a PMO of the past. Imagining a PMO that is seen across the company and organization as a champion of strategy, incubator of innovative ideas, and revenue saving center may sound like ice cream that doesn’t melt on a hot day; impossible.

Accepting known norms, like ice cream that doesn’t melt, is what leads to the curse of PMO 1.0. The good habits of weekly routines, standardization of templates, and oversight of progress are still good project management skills that have been around since the beginning of the profession. They still have applicability today as part of a PMO, but do not withstand the heat of today’s business environment when used alone.

So how do you prevent the curse of PMO 1.0?

The PMO of tomorrow: PMO 2.0

You must begin to use the people, processes, and tools that are available to you differently. This often does not require a complete makeover, but rather subtle adjustments to how you approach business problems and provide solutions.

In fact, one such makeover to the approach, did result in ice cream that resists melting. In the summer of 2017, Japan's Biotherapy Development Research Center, in Kanazawa City, was working on a project to assist strawberry farmers in the area who were affected by the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Project managers and researchers who were working on the solution changed their approach and began to use existing people and tools differently. They enlisted the help of an unlikely expert, a pastry chef, to test a strawberry extract known as polyphenol. By changing their project’s people approach, and bringing an unlikely pastry chef into a biotherapy research center, the team helped local farmers and are now enjoying additional returns on their project investment in the form of ice cream that doesn’t melt.

Subtly changing the way you use classic project and portfolio strategies can transform your PMO 1.0, into a PMO 2.0. PMO 2.0 will be seen as the “go to” source for helping the organization address immediate and unexpected needs, such as layoffs or regulatory change; and will evolve into a function that drives organizational capability and development, strategic planning, and innovation.

PMO 2.0 doesn’t have to be positioned at an enterprise level only. It can exist at a business unit level or a function level. Regardless of where it is located, the mission should be the same: to act as a constant champion and enabler for achieving the long-term vision of the company and organization.

By utilizing the following 5 Principles, you can begin to move your PMO 1.0 to a PMO 2.0:

  1. Act as a neutral voice of reason that constantly aligns immediate needs to the long-term vision of the company. When the heat is turned up and the tendency is to react, the PMO can evaluate the current portfolio, consider the longer-term vision, and provide unbiased guidance to the company and organization leaders. This non-biased approach and constant re-prioritization enables executives to make proactive decisions that ensure value-add activities will be executed first.

  2. Know the maturity level of your organization and capability of the people, processes, and tools available to you. The maturity and capability of the organization are key success factors that can be the difference between success and failure when executing against a plan. PMO 2.0 provides advice and insight regarding the skills and talent needed, and has a plan in place to increase the capability of the people, processes, and tools; and thereby the organization’s maturity.

  3. Be a master networker and strategic resource. PMO 2.0 positions itself at the crossroads of the company’s overarching strategy and the people responsible for achieving that strategy. Silos are constantly eliminated by managing up, managing out, and managing down. As a result, PMO 2.0 is the “go to” resource, company-wide, when attempting to un-silo work, reduce redundancy, reduce risk, reduce costs, and increase successful outcomes.

  4. Be an incubator for innovative ideas. Encourage ideas that may have been seen as too risky by PMO 1.0. Provide a place within the organization for ideas to be piloted prior to scaling them into larger projects and programs. By balancing the risks and costs in alignment with the overarching goals of the organization, guidance can be given on how to define the key metrics necessary to measure success that is capable of scaling.

  5. Act as an expert translator. Know how to constantly translate the vision of the company and organization to the individual contributor in a way that enables them to understand how their role and daily work contribute to the achievement of that vision. Furthermore, be able to translate the needs of the individuals and project teams back to senior executives and decision makers in a way that enables them to make proactive decisions that continually mature the capability of the organization and achieve the vision.

By incorporating and constantly applying these guiding principles, PMO 2.0 can be created and the curse of PMO 1.0 avoided. PMO 2.0 protects against the heat of today’s business environment, while renewing excitement for the vision and trust for the PMO function across the organization.

About this author

Candace Riddle

Candace Riddle

Senior Consultant, U.S. Operations

Candace is a Certified Project Management Professional and Scrum Master. She assists clients in designing, implementing and optimizing their portfolios, programs and projects. Candace has prior experience in both the public and private sectors focused in compliance, IT, contract management and organization transformation across financial ...