14 May 2024

Is the PMO its own worst enemy?

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2024 PMO Research Report

The recently released 2024 PMO Research Report from The PMO Squad emphasises in its introduction that organisations need talent, tools and capability to drive them forward with a faster rate of change. 

While not statistically significant, the research findings do raise some interesting questions about the current state of PMOs. 

Some of the key insights: 

Executives lack understanding of PMO value
Unsupported PMOs 93%
No formal process around assessing value
PMOs 70%
PPM features actually being USED by organisations
PMOs 50%
No formal definition of success
PMOs 23%

Organisational Mismatches

The Process section of the PMO Research Report attempts to understand why there is a disconnect between what PMOs ask people to do – and what those people do when delivering change. 

It explores ideas about organisational capability and acceptance, but the real issue is that 34% of PMOs reported that their purpose is process/governance. 

While important to the PMO, process and governance are less relevant to the rest of the organisation. A purpose-driven PMO is a good thing, but that purpose must align with what is important to the organisation because, without that alignment, the PMO is living on borrowed time. 

A harsh truth is that while project management professionals are busy arguing on LinkedIn about the merits of agile versus waterfall, the rest of the organisation couldn’t care less about How to deliver, the differences between Repeatable and Defined processes, or whether their PMO is “World-Class.” 

The survey also finds that many PMOs are not accepted as strategic partners in the business. However, considering the misalignment of purpose and lack of a formal way to assess value or define success, can PMOs complain about a lack of understanding from their perspective?  Perhaps the PMO lacks an understanding of what the organisation needs from them. 

The right tools for the job

In 2022, Excel, Microsoft Project, and Jira were reported to be the top three tools used by PMOs. Not much has changed in 2024. 

When specifically asked about PPM tools, the most significant limitations cited were the lack of collaboration features and reporting capabilities. This is consistent with some of my recent LinkedIn polls, but it does beg the question: What do people expect from Excel and Microsoft Project regarding collaboration features?

The PMO Research Report doesn’t explore the lesser-used 50% of PPM features or functionality or explain how that statistic is derived, but I very much suspect that they are things that the PMO assumed that people wanted rather than what they needed to get their work done.

Was the PMO distracted by shiny new technology unlikely to be leveraged to its full potential?

Perhaps the organisation didn’t need a fully featured PPM tool at all?

In this article, I highlighted that the implementation of a PPM tool is a perfect example of business change; what I will also highlight here is that the successful adoption of that PPM tool will very much depend on how much the wants and needs of stakeholders beyond the PMO have also been considered – the “what’s in it for them?”

The PMO often advocates for better tooling. However, this approach often emphasises the benefits to the PMO rather than the broader organisation – and it doesn’t provide Executives with a compelling enough case for investment compared to other, more pressing organisational needs.

There ARE solutions out there that can meet the scenario modelling and capacity planning needs of the PMO – without breaking the bank or causing major disruption to the wider community who, let’s face it, are quite happy with tools like Microsoft Project or JIRA for getting their work done and are not compelled to change.

In conclusion

We live in an era when technology is often considered first. Executives are making great efforts to create “tech-first” or “data-driven” cultures, and practitioners are spending a lot of time determining how generative AI can help them in their project management careers. 

Media outlets speculate on the jobs that AI could potentially replace in the near future, highlighting the transformative potential of technology. Even the Project Management Institute (PMI) is keen to state that the future of Project Management is “a perfect blend of AI and human ingenuity”; its generative AI product, PMI Infinity, is already being positioned as “the world’s most trusted and comprehensive knowledge platform.”

The choice is clear: adapt or become obsolete. This powerful message is a constant reminder in our lives. 

Should AI features and functionality for project management be encouraged? After all, lessons are still not being learned, and delivery success rates don’t seem to have improved despite the many best practices, courses and certifications available.

The evidence currently available from a LinkedIn browse suggests that we are further away from that near future than some might believe. Collaborative articles seem to regurgitate text that is, at best, nonsensical—and at worst, dangerous to the untrained eye. This article by the University of Cambridge offers another perspective on the value of generative AI.    

What does seem apparent to me is that if PMOs continue to articulate their purpose as process / governance, and fail to implement ways to assess value or define success, then they will be forced to adapt to avoid becoming obsolete.