PMO managers have long been considered the ‘data aggregators’ of business transformation. But, according to interim Project Management Office (PMO) specialist Graham Burke, the future heralds a much more agile and strategic role.

It’s no secret that the PMO has suffered something of an identity crisis in recent years.

Ask the senior teams of most large organisations what their Project Management Office is for and they’re likely to talk about arranging meetings, booking rooms or providing yards of PRINCE2 project printouts.

The truth, however, is a long way from that description and, I believe, is set to move even further away in the coming years.

To understand why, it is important to look at the evolution of the PMO over the last decade or so.

In the days when it was common for transformation programmes to take years to come to fruition, the PMO was the engine room for data, reports and status updates. Its tools of the trade were those aimed at gathering historical information – mechanics for assurance against questions such as: ‘Did we hit that milestone?’ ‘Have we looked at that risk in the last three weeks?’, ‘Did we go past that tollgate with the board and was it successful?’.

But in today’s fast-paced commercial environment, the PMO role is evolving to become far more strategic and business-partner orientated. The era of 18-month waterfall programmes is dying and the reality today is that most businesses really need to deliver change within nine months – certainly less than a year.

So gone are the days when a PMO would allocate a three-person team to a big, monolithic programme and not see them for a couple of years. Instead, we’re seeing the rise of a more sophisticated P3O/PMO governance model, with a focus on strategy at its heart.

The future, I predict, takes this a step further. It is one where the PMO is sitting at the top table, thinking about the strategic direction of the business alongside the senior team.

Instead of simply reporting back on historical performance, there’s going to be a significant increase in modelling and predictive reporting. Rather than saying “We’re on track with these 44 projects” the conversation is likely to be much more along the lines of “We’re broadly on track and the decisions today are to prioritise the next two projects given the predicted SME capacity, re-sequence projects X, Y and Z and develop an Action Plan to tackle the predicted benefits shortfall on Programme 101.”

To make this change happen, however, is likely to require a number of things.

The first is that the PMO will need to be given the right mandate. I’m not suggesting the head of the PMO sits on the board, but I think they will need to have a direct link to a sponsor at senior executive or board level. That’s the only way the senior subject matter experts and senior leadership team will bring the PMO into the strategic planning process and extract maximum benefit from them.

The PMO will also have to re-examine the tools and techniques it uses to add value.

PRINCE2 and Excel spreadsheets will always have their place, but maturing into an agile function with predictive modelling as a key service will require the development of new management technologies. Tomorrow’s PMO will play a key role in developing these tools and ensuring they remain fit for purpose in an evolving commercial environment.

Finally, the qualities of the PMO leader will need to change to reflect the new, enhanced role.

Successful PMO Leaders have always been required to be good communicators, capable of grappling with multiple topics and pulling out key themes, issues and the supporting data. But to successfully lead the PMO of the future, I think there will be a far greater focus on the ability to lead and inspire one’s staff and team, and to gain the confidence of the senior leadership team of the organisation.

PMO Leads will need to be able to influence senior stakeholders not only to give them a mandate, but also to invest in the PMO function as a true strategic partner.

The rise of tomorrow’s more senior, forward-looking PMO won’t happen overnight – there are too many knarly old programme directors set in their ways for that to happen.

But make no mistake, if businesses are to develop the agility required to keep them ahead of the game, they will need to re-position their PMO function as a genuine, influential strategic delivery partner.


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