Oct 12, 2015

How PMOs Are Changing to Cope with Resource Management Issues

Posted by Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin in Demand Management, Project Management Office (PMO), Project Management Research, Resource Optimization | 0 Comments

When you are responsible for portfolio governance, but not resource management, trouble cannot be far behind.

My first introduction to the concept of a “project office” came in 2000, when I covered a Project Management Benchmarking Forum in Scottsdale, AZ for the newsletter then being published by this organization (The Best Practices Report). The forums were the brainchild of a University of Phoenix professor, Frank Toney, who regularly gathered practitioners to discuss issues in the emerging field of enterprise project management. From his copious notes and further research, Dr. Toney published some seminal works in our field. It’s an indicator of how rapidly project management is changing that these valuable research studies have long since gone out of print.

Here’s what I remember: Nobody in the room actually had what we would call a PMO. All of them were project managers who were struggling valiantly to gain access to the resources, visibility and organizational clout that would allow them to better manage projects and programs. They were making inroads; one had the ear of an executive; some were compiling data to show value. None of them had any voice in the selection or management of the project staff they worked with; in fact, the idea of a project management entity that managed project managers seemed far out of reach.

Fast forward a decade: In The State of the PMO 2010, a biennial research study by PM Solutions Research, 84% of companies in the survey had PMOs, and of PMOs of five years’ duration or more, 94% said their value to the organization was unquestioned by executives. The vast majority also performed an array of resource management activities: 72% of PMOs had project managers in their staff (up from 60% in the same survey published in 2008).

By 2014, when we revisited the PMO research, there’s more evidence of a growing trend towards the PMO taking on resource management functions, though it’s not a simple comparison, as some of the questions were framed differently.  The vast majority of PMOs were not only managing project managers, but had added other roles: planners, business analysts, program managers, and portfolio managers. They were also deeply involved in functions that support those resources: training, performance evaluation, hiring and competency measurement.

In addition, new areas of expertise and responsibility had emerged: In 2012, just 28% of PMOs in the study reported being tasked with demand management; by 2014 that had increased to 33%. Our CEO, Kent Crawford, has been encouraging participants in his PMO-themed presentations and courses, to begin thinking in terms of demand management since 2010. According to Crawford, reframing resource management as demand management helps to clarify the relationship between project and program performance and the availability of key resources. By centralizing resource management functions within the PMO, companies can have a shot at realistic resource planning that is linked to the portfolio’s existing and impending demands. And portfolio management is a core responsibility of the majority of PMOs. A list of the portfolio management responsibilities common within PMOs in the 2014 study looked like this (percentage of PMOs reporting that they perform this function):

  • Portfolio tracking (performance monitoring) 72%  
  • Portfolio governance and oversight 59%  
  • Portfolio planning (including resource allocation and scheduling) 57%  
  • Portfolio communications management 56%  
  • Portfolio management process implementation/management 55%  
  • Portfolio analysis (including project selection and prioritization) 54%  
  • Portfolio review and re-planning 53%
  • Project interdependency management 52%  
  • Facilitation of executive involvement 50%  
  • Portfolio management software implementation/management 49%
  • Portfolio resource management 47%

In every instance, the percentage of PMOs performing these functions was dramatically up since the previous study in 2012. But the resource management function remained almost flat. When you are responsible for portfolio governance, but not the resouce management, trouble cannot be far behind.

Crawford quotes Michael Gentle, the author of IT Success (Wiley): “Demand management is usually a nebulous combination of decibel management and organizational politics.” In order to make demand management a common feature of the PMO, functional managers will have to accept an alteration in their role, from resource owner to project resource supplier … and that will take the backing of senior management and the kind of demonstrable results that PMOs can only show if they pay serious attention to tracking project, portfolio and organizational value.

Only one statistic has remained unchanging over the decade and a half that we have been examining all aspects of project management practice: resource management remains, perennially, one of the top challenges. Improving it is always among the top priorities for the coming year, yet little progress seems to accrue. Why? We’ll explore some possible answers in our forthcoming white paper, The Challenge of Resource Management.


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