Is your PMO too Rigid? Three must-haves for excellence, project performance, and nimbleness to change.
While having a project management office (PMO) (the department that sets, maintains, and ensures standards for project management across that organization) has become common practice (85% of organizations have a PMO in place as of 2016)1, high success rates for PMO performance is not frequent enough.
A 2018 global study by the Project Management Institute (PMI) demonstrated startling results:
- On average, organizations waste 9.9% of every dollar due to poor project performance,
- 1:3 projects do not meet their goals,
- 43% are not completed within budget,
- 4% is not completed on time.2
It’s no surprise that PMOs continue to face challenges around perceived value and contribution. Some try to achieve increased compliance through rigid and bureaucratic approaches to standards while others address the need for nimbleness while still delivering quality, budget, and time goals.
Achieving PMO Performance Success Requires Standards and Flexibility
How can an organization strike a balance between project management rigor and excellence alongside adaptability and agility in their PMO?
PMI’s 2017 Pulse of the Profession the report highlighted that those organizations that align their enterprise-wide PMO to strategy had 38 percent more projects hit the desired business objectives. They also had 33 percent fewer projects fail.
Organizations with a project management office (PMO) can fall into the trap of putting so much emphasis on developing and establishing standards and processes; there may be little thought on creating a responsive PMO that focuses on achieving positive change and performance via culture and behavior.
Rigidity is evident when there is an excessive amount of emphasis on formal structures and control, standard methods and processes, top-down governance with dictated authority, responsibility, and decision making. This is where organizations espouse expectations to follow defined rules and procedures precisely rather than to use constructive, professional project management judgment.
In contrast, responsiveness emerges when project management practices and the PMO are nimble to stakeholder and business needs. PMO leadership and processes emphasize flexibility, adaptability, and customized methods, self-regulating governance with shared authority, responsibility, and decision making. A responsive PMO is attuned to the shifting business environment and can respond to changing priorities while maintaining high standards and performance outcomes.
The need for rigor and freedom, sometimes-viewed as opposing forces, can cause friction between the PMO and its stakeholders. The question leadership must address, “How do you find the “sweet spot” where you can achieve the right balance of rigor without the rigidity?  The State of the Project Management Office (PMO) 2016
 2018 Pulse of the Profession®, Project Management Institute
Three Must-Haves for PMO Performance Success
Must-Have #1: Project Portfolio Management (PPM)
PPM can be described as “The management of a collection of projects and programs in which a company invests to implement its strategy.” PPM is not only about doing projects right, but it’s also about doing the right projects. The main consequence of not implementing PPM is losing control over your ability to impact the business positively.
At SDLC Partners, we believe that project portfolio management is critical to the success of any organization’s PMO. We work with our clients to realize better alignment of projects with business objectives and work to help them improve communication of project insights with all stakeholders. This includes elevating project portfolio management practices so that executives receive vital project information to make informed decisions. The better the ideas they receive, the higher the perceived value of the PMO.
Receiving recognition as a “best-in-class” and fully mature PMO requires relevant information and best practices, as well as effective project portfolio management that is aligned with the organization’s strategic objectives.
Must-Have #2: Integrating Human-Centered Design (HCD)
Digital products are now integral to every customer’s life. This stresses the need for an organization’s PMO to be hyper-conscientious about transforming how products serve real needs with the best experience with the least risk, delivering the most significant positive impact for customers and companies. Human–centered design is a way of thinking, designing, and creating products with people at the center, implementing processes that integrate business and technology to address human needs.
For digital project managers, a growing focus on human-centered design means expanding their skill sets to include Customer Experience and Service Design. Project Managers are now being tasked with helping the business focus on customer insight and to guide the team to architect a reliable human-centered solution—while also keeping teams on track towards the agreed-upon end product.
Must-Have #3: Choosing Between Adaptive and Predictive Project Management
Choosing between an Agile (aka “Adaptive”) or Waterfall (aka “Predictive”) approach to project management is critical for a PMO to deliver successful projects on time, budget, and requirements.
Although both frameworks have similar features, there are drastic differences, and each has strengths and weaknesses contingent on the nature of an organization’s projects.
An Agile project management framework is best when project requirements and solutions will evolve over a predefined period.
Agile embraces adaptive planning in project management:
- A development approach that evolves over time
- Early delivery through incremental deliverables or features
- Continuous improvement
- Encourages rapid response, adoption, and adaptation to change
A Waterfall project management framework is well suited to projects with defined scope and requirements, set goals, and where the probability of the scope changing is low.
Waterfall embraces predictive planning in project management:
- Each phase has a finish to start dependency (e.g., the design will not begin until all the requirements are gathered and documented)
- Provides rigor and constraint concerning phases’ dependency
- Distinct advantages and disadvantages, depending on specific project characteristics
- Lends itself well if, and when, there is little opportunity for constant customer feedback to the project team
Both approaches, Agile and Waterfall, can be useful and provide equal discipline suited to various project types, team preferences, and initiative complexities. The key, however, is having an outside perspective to weigh the pros and cons in light of your organization’s unique project personality and PMO style.
Bring Greater Rigor and Flexibility to Your PMO Performance
If your organization is looking to bring more strategic rigor and flexibility to your project management performance, SDLC Partners can help.
Contact Us to discuss your PMO goals.