Is the PMO helping your organisation to become ‘project-fit’?

Unlocking the value of a PPM maturity assessment

In a rapidly changing business world, the ability to adapt and apply new information is fast becoming more important than any other skill. It shouldn’t come as any surprise then, to hear that Project Management Offices (PMOs) have come under growing pressure from their organisations over the past few years to become more agile, strategic and value-adding; a point that has become further highlighted recently against the backdrop of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Many PMOs are currently facing unprecedented challenges within their organisations related to the pandemic, and – if they are to survive this – a serious rethink of roles and activities is required.

Not only will the PMO need to align more closely to stakeholders’ value expectations, it must also have a good understanding of the organisation and its project and portfolio management (PPM) maturity.

Defining the PMO

PMOs are largely providers of PPM services, which can include the following:

  • Delivering projects and programmes;
  • Providing an ever growing suite of methodologies, standards and techniques,
  • Providing governance, control and reporting;
  • Resourcing projects and programmes; and
  • Providing oversight of the entire portfolio of projects.

There are many pre-defined PMO types or models out there, such as Gartner’s Four Types of PMOs, the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Three Types of PMOs, and Axelos’ Project, Programme and Portfolio Offices (P3O) model.

And while these models are extremely valuable frameworks to use as a reference or benchmark, the reality is that no PMO is the same and they very seldom fit perfectly within one model over another. In fact, PMOs that aspire towards a certain model often struggle to gain buy-in and support from the business, as they have taken focus away from why the PMO exists in the first place as well as the level of PPM maturity within the organisation.

As a result, we find that some organisations are bypassing the PMO, pushing ahead with alternative delivery methods, in the hopes that this will help solve their problems and allow them to achieve better, faster results. The reality, however, is that more and more of these companies are discovering that it takes more than a PMO or a delivery method to ensure success.

Why identifying stakeholder value expectations is key

PMOs are more than just an enabling or support function. They are service providers, and in order to provide excellent service, they need to understand their stakeholders. It’s quite often because of them that they exist in the first place – and yet, in speaking to C-suite executives and PMO managers across various industries, it is clear that many PMOs don’t understand what really adds value to their stakeholders’ lives.

As mentioned previously, PMOs frequently adopt models to determine what they should be and do, when in actual fact they should start by talking to their stakeholders to understand their environment, challenges, and needs. It’s a very necessary first step.

Understanding the business and its PPM maturity

Organisations’ ‘ecosystems’ are made up of many moving parts, from business processes and applications, to information, technology, structures and people. It is a delicate balance, and if any of these parts are not aligned, integrated and connected, the entire environment takes strain. The same premise can be applied to the execution of projects. A PMO on its own cannot influence strategic success, no matter how mature it might be.

The differentiating factor between companies that seem to be getting it right when it comes to turning strategy into reality, and those that aren’t, is that those on the right track have recognised projects (and programmes) as the key vehicles through which they can deliver strategy. They also understand that the organisation’s PPM maturity is a critical determinant of success as projects involve the organisation in its entirety – not just the PMO or the project management community.

Maturity = Value

If you can’t measure it, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it – James Harrington, The Improvement Process

So how does a PMO recognise stakeholders’ value expectations while also gaining an understanding of the organisation and its PPM maturity level?

A maturity assessment is a very useful tool that an organisation can use as a framework or reference to compare itself against, in order to develop or improve.

Maturity assessments are able to add incredible benefits, such as:

  • Providing the PMO with previously unattainable access to senior executives and stakeholders to gain an understanding of their challenges, needs, and expectations;
  • Giving the organisation access to leading PPM practices;
  • Highlighting what good practices look like and how it compares;
  • Underlining the root causes of challenges and difficulties around project delivery, and related overruns;
  • Facilitating valuable discussions between functions and business areas, and creating alignment on key topics; and, most importantly,
  • Helping organisations to identify what they need to do today to make the biggest impact on their performance tomorrow.
Balancing act

The way in which a company manages its projects is largely driven by its culture and maturity. Therefore, in order to begin delivering true value, PMOs must gain a comprehensive understanding of their organisation – with all its disparate parts – recognising what the business needs from the PMO, as well as identifying the current level of PPM maturity within the company, and then aligning the services it offers accordingly. Only then will it be able to remain truly relevant.

Maturity assessments can provide valuable insights that will answer these questions and allow both companies and their PMOs to evolve and flourish.

Do you have any thoughts or experiences to share with us on this topic? Send your comments to Dalene Grobler on Look out for Project Portfolio Office’s next article, which sets out guidelines on how to select the right maturity assessment model.

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Author: Daléne Grobler

Daléne is the PPM Executive Consultant at PPO. She is passionate about project, programme and portfolio management and her mission is to assist PMOs unlock their strategic value. In her free time she can be found taking long walks, reading murder mysteries and running with fellow Helderberg Harriers running club members, for which she is the Member Secretary.

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