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The Biggest Challenges in your PMO in 2017

Bringing together a combination of sessions from last year’s PMO Symposium, the PMO Conference and PMO Flashmob – I look forward to 2017 and highlight some of the challenges that PMOs are facing this year. Here I cover ten challenges that your PMO could be facing in 2017:

  • Improving the maturity of PPM in the organisation
  • Implementing new processes
  • improving staff capability
  • Increasing the value of the PMO to the organisation
  • Staying in touch with the business
  • Improving tool use
  • Evolving the PMO
  • Staying in existence
  • Making improvements in key processes
  • Doing the basics


1. Improving the maturity of PPM in the organisation

The PMO is primarily there to support PPM delivery in the organisation – as part of this support role is the work required to improve the overall maturity of PPM – this includes looking at portfolio, programme and project management methods, processes, techniques, tools and people. In order to improve the maturity, often the first step is to assess the current level (as-is) before understanding what future states are acceptable and required by the organisation (to-be).

Assessments like P3M3 can be a useful exercise for the PMO – that external validation can help when the results come in and activities are highlighted which lead to improvements.

Equally, PMOs can lead this work themselves – creating their own maturity models – or adapting industry standards that fit their own type of organisation.

2. Implementing new processes

The business changes and so does the PMO. As projects become more complex, or risky, or adopt new ways of delivering such as Agile, the PMO will have to ensure that processes, control, governance and review are all newly created to keep in step with the changes.

For this – the PMO should consider how well equipped and experienced they are to create and roll out new processes – from using frameworks like Lean Six Sigma, service management, change management and design thinking.

3. Improving staff capability

The PMO is changing to respond to the needs of the business – be that in portfolio management, programme management or project management. What was a good skill set to have in the PMO three years ago, might not still be fit for purpose today.

PMOs needs to consider their own competency assessments alongside the changes that are coming down the line. Understanding where their current strengths and weaknesses are – as individuals and as a team. Without this, number four becomes an uphill battle.

4. Increasing the value of the PMO to the organisation

The value conversation is already big news in the PMO community with the question often asked because someone in the delivery organisation is struggling to see what the PMO are doing to support the delivery of PPM.

The first challenge is to understand what the actually value is – what the senior management want it to be – and work on those gaps between the two.

This might mean providing evidence – metrics or KPIs – or it might mean getting on with the functions and services it says it provides and doing the job well.

5. Staying in touch with the business

With the thinking from PMI with regards the talent triangle – that project management professionals should consider the third area of their role as ripe for development – the business understanding, this is a nudge for the PMO to also remember that their role sits within a larger ecosystem.

The PMO does need the understanding of business strategies and planning activities taking place in different areas of the business – and how these will impact delivery through portfolio management before seeing the execution through programmes and projects. The PMO needs to understand the business cycles and timetables; the financial results; the resource capacity and capability of the wider organisation and so on.

The PMO can’t be seen to be an entity that doesn’t know where the next programmes and projects are coming from – to understand that, you need to understand the business.

6. Improving tool use

Another year goes by and its potentially another year when the PMO doesn’t have the right tools for the job.

Be that simple planning software or an enterprise solution that helps to join up the dots from strategy to portfolio decisions to actual work on programmes and projects.

With MS Excel still the main ‘tool’ that PMOs use – it will be another year of manual data entry and pivot tables. Not what you would want nor expect from an entity tasked with supporting an organisation’s most important activities.

7. Evolving the PMO

Be that from an enterprise PMO to incorporate portfolio management or a project office to incorporate Agile – or even a Centre of Excellence to an Academy. As the business changes, the PMO may need to evolve its practices or become an entirely new type of function.

“Evolution not revolution” is the mantra in the PMO community today – the challenge comes from knowing what evolution needs to take place.

8. Staying in existence

The old stat that PMOs can cease to exist after three years has followed PMO professionals around for years like an albatross around one’s neck. The current conversations about adding value (see point 4 above) is another extension to this.

It’s become a bad legacy that PMO professionals keep in the back of their minds that at any moment they could get shut down. And for some it will be a reality, for others, see point 7 and make sure you avoid this fate.

9. Making improvements in key processes

Every PMO needs a MOT, a health check occasionally to ensure that what they do well continues to go well and never become complacent. One of the key areas is the methodology used on programmes and projects – often the most visible and used by such a wide variety of people in the delivery organisation. The PMO is the custodian of the methodology so it stands to reason that its contents are something which are regularly reviewed by the PMO.

But how many PMOs carry out this type of activity, instead opting for the “if it ain’t broke why fix it” until it’s too late?

10. Doing the basics

It’s worth remembering that there are challenges each day in the PMO just to get the basics done right. A smooth process for project status reviews; an uncomplicated timesheet process; a quick way to obtain approval for procurement, even just booking a meeting room for a project meeting. Often it is the things that seem to simpliest and easy to do that can derail the work of the PMO.

In 2017, PMOs could opt for doing one or two basics very well before taking up the challenge of the other nine listed here.


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About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay Scott is Director of Arras People, the programme and project management recruitment specialists. Lindsay is the project management careers columnist for PMI's Network magazine and co-editor of the Gower Handbook of People in Project Management. Lindsay recently created and hosted The PMO Conference and hosts the monthly PMO Flashmob

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