New Roles for the PMO: "Whatever Makes Sense for the Business."

Posted on 05 Mar 2014

According to PM Solutions CEO J. Kent Crawford, "In some companies, PMO is a bad word." But that may still be good news for project management leaders.

Crawford was just back from a few days onsite with a PM Solutions client in the manufacturing sector, where he has been working with a Continuous Improvement (CI) group to integrate the PM Solutions PM Maturity Model with their CI Maturity Model. The company is using Organizational Change Management (OCM) to drive PM process improvement, but after less than stellar project management performance in the past decase, setting up a separate organizational structure for project management isn't a popular strategy. Instead, says Crawford, "The company is using this integrated process model to ensure that the processes they are developing become enculturated within the organization. They are trying to create an overall methodology that unifies the various process life cycles. And they are looking at all facets of process, from executive buy-in to user adoption."

Some companies are employing Six Sigma practices on all initiatives. At a recent event in Cincinnati, an executive from a major grocery chain described how, using big data, they analyze traffic flow at individual stores to optimize resource assignments in order to elimate lines at the checkout counters. By cross-training stockers as cashiers, they are always prepared for traffic surges. This kind of predictive analysis, says Crawford, is a project with a "product" that is information and feeds into other projects (training, store design). The groups that oversee these initiatives may not be called PMOs but they function like PMOs. They work on both tactical and strategic projects that are often aligned with each other by a common theme, even though they may not be though of as a formal program that needs PMO oversight.

Elevating PM's Role

What can we learn from these examples to help us elevate project management's role in organizations? "At the PMO Symposium," says Crawford, "we heard over and over that we need to focus on strategy.' But the way forward that I see working on client sites lies in merging PM with other processes such as Continuous Improvement, Organizational Change Management, and Six Sigma." This can mean restructuring the organization in ways that PMO leaders might not anticipate.

One former enterprise PMO director that Crawford has met with lost the "enterprise" title and with it, the cachet of reporting directly to the CEO, in the restructuring that followed a merger. This might have been viewed as a demotion, but Crawford's advice was: "Embrace it! Really, PMOs don't establish strategy, nor should they. They should support it." In the new structure, he explained, "You'll have more clarity about what winds up in the portfolio, which makes your position stronger."

As this example illustrates, today's PMO leaders need to be ready for all sorts of new organizational configurations. Crawford points to Paul Ritchie's recommendation that PMO directors become "agile dancers" ... and he isn't reffering to Scrum but to professional flexibility that welcomes change and capitalizes on it (see sidebar). "The merger and acquisition space in particular is one that is ripe for the benefits that project and program management can bring," Crawford notes. "But it is disruptive in nature, to both organizations and processes. Project management leaders need to be ready for whatever organizations need from them - even when it means our cherished notions about what organizational structure or career paths should look like."

Continous Improvement, Six Sigma, Organizational Change Management, predictive analysis... the need for project management has not dimished, but more and more it becomes integrated with other business processes. Crawford is optimistic. "I think the future will see PMOs shift and adjust to be whatever makes sense from the business point of view. And whatever makes project and program management more deeply integrated into the business is a win for the project management profession."


by Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin



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