The Top 5 Reasons PMOs Fail - and how to avoid them


The journey towards enhanced project delivery frequently begins with the implementation of a program management office (PMO). Unfortunately these efforts frequently come up short. The reason a PMO implementation frequently fails has nothing to do with process or technology issues. Frequently management sets up a small budget, hires a PMO manager and says “straighten things out”.

In the end this PMO manager has been unknowingly setup for failure. In this blog post we explore some common reasons PMO implementations fail and how to avoid making those mistakes.

1.Executive Commitment

Our projects are late, or we can’t seem to deliver all the projects our business team is requesting. Let’s implement a PMO to straighten it all out. With a strong manager to do “command and control” and implement process and procedures our projects will get back on track.

The PMO manager starts implementing process and tools for project approval, optimizing resource assignments and checking status on projects with great frequency. In essence doing exactly what management expects from them. Senior management believes it has solved the problem and steps out of the picture. Senior management is not involved in key decisions or progress check points. After all, they hired someone to “take care of it”. But projects continue to have challenges and the organization is not achieving the efficiency gains that were the point of the whole exercise. Senior management is not happy and disbands the PMO. They move on to the next knee-jerk technique to try to find efficiencies.

To avoid this situation, a successful PMO implementation needs to have executive commitment, support, and involvement. Senior management cannot be in every meeting, but they do need to empower the PMO manager to make decisions as well as provide political and logistical support to the PMO.

2. Flexibility and adaptability

We’ve got problems in our delivery organization, our projects are failing. Get me xyz staffing on the phone. I want to hire the best PMO manager possible.

So after getting the budget, writing the job description, and finding the right candidate we hire Charlie Jones. Charlie was the PMO manager at our biggest competitor. Charlie will straighten things out for us just like he did for them. Eight weeks later the management team looks into how successful Charlie has been and they don’t like what they find. In fact, things have gotten worse! Charlie gets sacked and the organization dismantles the PMO.

A successful PMO manager knows that “what works at one company does not necessarily work at other companies”. Implementing a successful PMO is not an exact science. The PMO manager needs to constantly access what is working and what is not working and fix what is not working. Each organization has unique drivers, personalities, and pain points. The people, process, and tools that the PMO manager puts into place need to reflect the motivations of the key stakeholders and the culture of the organization.

3. The PMO is a “downer”

While the role of the PMO manager varies from organization to organization one thing remains the same. The PMO is part cheerleader, part sales person, part coach, making sure that the PMO’s mission and objectives are achieved. But the PMO cannot be seen as an obstacle to productivity. They cannot be seen as process police constantly trying to force a process just because there is one. If the PMO is a hindrance to the project delivery teams there will be a revolt and most likely a dismantling of the PMO.

A more successful PMO implementation is one where the PMO is not seen as the “bad guy” following the plan “just because”. The PMO should work within the organization to champion best practices and foster a community of project managers that work to support and encourage each other. Processes need to be flexible, so that unnecessary work with little value is not applied to projects that don’t require the same degree of rigor.

4. Lack of strategic vision

As a PMO manager it can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day rat race of training, educating, and supporting your organization’s project efforts. The pitfall comes when you become so obsessed with your day-to-day activities that you lose focus on the big picture. Remember, the senior management team created the PMO to achieve tangible benefits. They are expecting to achieve those objectives.

The leaders of a successful PMO implementation setup routine checkpoints at regular intervals ( weekly/monthly/quarterly depending on the organization) to review progress against the PMO’s stated goals. Only by checking progress toward the PMO’s mission can the organization measure progress and make corrections to stay on course.

5. Not using metrics

No one wants to spend their precious time gather unnecessary difficult to gather data. But it is important to gather and analyze critical data points that are needed to determine the PMOs effectiveness. Each organization will have different data points that should be collected based upon the organization’s goals and objectives for the PMO. Some examples are “What is the min/max/mean resource utilization rate?”, “What percentage of resource time is spent on projects vs. ‘keeping the lights on’?”, “What is the average over/under percentage on project budgets?”. These are just some ideas; each organization will need to track different metrics.


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