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What are the Main Challenges PMOs Face Today?

global-pmo-esi-300In the recent Global State of the PMO 2015 released by ESI in June the PMO respondents were asked about their main challenges for the coming year.

Resource management was the single most cited challenge area for PMOs today.

Yet resource management wasn’t the only area that was causing problems. In this article we’ll take a deeper look into the survey results and find out what other challenges PMOs were facing this year.


Although the report highlighted that many PMOs were gaining recognition and support, it also showed that PMO effectiveness had levelled off and senior management were still challenging the value of the PMO.

For some respondents it feels like everything is a challenge at the moment.

The challenges ranged from not having the right leader of the PMO in the job through, budget pressures and changes at a senior management level, “a PMO is a nice to have not a need to have”.

New PMOs were even still struggling with “establishing a reason for being”.

Problems around the PMO being an accepted function within the business seemed to be linked to their effectiveness, “need to do a much better job during the tasks at hand”.

Yet there were shifting business priorities, restraints on resources (within the PMO), changes in PMO senior sponsorship and an increase in overall programmes and projects to be supported.

These PMOs were feeling the squeeze and admitting they aren’t doing the job as well as they should be doing. Yet the reasons for this were felt to be outside the sphere of control for the PMO.

Adapting to Strategic Needs

23% of PMOs surveyed were enterprise wide PMOs and 26% were strategic e.g., responsible for the alignment of projects and programmes work to corporate strategy. In other words some PMOs were increasingly becoming more portfolio focused – having the remit of a Portfolio Office.

Challenges in this area included “maturity of the processes to ensure consistency on how to identify, prioritise and execute projects that align with the strategic goals”, “maintaining an effective strategic forecast” and “improving the PMO strategic role in the organisation and building stronger support with senior management”.

For some PMOs, this is a new role, building on existing support they already offer to the organisation’s programmes and projects. It is this change that is causing the challenge. Suddenly the PMO is getting involved in strategy and not everyone is happy about that.

“We need to improve the value proposition”, “we need to adapt to strategic needs” and “we need to integrate portfolio decision making with strategic objectives” are just some of the responses that give an insight into where these PMOs are currently at.

Improvement Work

As the business changes, so should the PMO. This next set of challenges are all related to improving the services a PMO provides. Process improvements that were identified which were causing a current challenge included:

Once processes were improved, the challenge of embedding these new ways of working with current processes was highlighted as a problem.

Alongside process improvements was the need to change the way the PMO operates. There were a number of responses that said there was a need to become more streamlined, innovative, show agility, adopt ‘start up’ thinking and introduce scalability of services. The challenge comes when making the changes to PMO operations whilst still operating a good level of service.

Project management tools were also highlighted. Finding the right tool without associated high costs and complexity whilst facing the pressures to improve on increasing MI (management information) reporting demands was a specific challenge that many PMOs today will identify with.

Many challenges were mentioned in relation to increasing the capability and skills of the people within the PMO to meet new demands. “Improving effectiveness”, “ensuring standardization of processes and methods…”, “bringing in consistency across functional areas…” and “providing more support to PMs” are all common challenges.

There were also mentions of adapting to new delivery methods, namely Agile, “adapting to Agile as a PMO has been pretty much non-existent although our development teams have long since moved to this process”

The PMO, like any other business function, will always face challenges. As the business changes, so will the PMO. Change and how the PMO responds to those changes will also depend on many factors for example; how mature is that PMO, how long has it been within the business, what is the remit of the PMO, how skillful is the PMO leader and what are the skill levels like in the PMO to name just a handful.

But let’s not forget, challenges are what make our jobs interesting and taking steps to solve these PMO challenges is a great opportunity for anyone who has made PMO their career.




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About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay Scott
Lindsay Scott is Director of PMO Learning, the PMO training specialist and 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 created and hosts The PMO Conference and hosts the monthly PMO Flashmobs

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