The Counter Arguments – PMOs are in Decline

Take a look at the opening arguments that support the motion, and those that don’t.

Following the audience debate and the chance to ask questions, Eileen Roden took to the stage to continue her opposition to the statement, PMOs are in Decline.

VERDICTI want to address PMO careers.

I started off as a programmer (I was rubbish at that), then onto project delivery, then HR before I ended up in a PMO. I never wanted to move out of a PMO. We have seen this argument for a number of years, that you can in fact develop a career in PMO. If we take the role of Portfolio Manager – not the Portfolio Analyst (a supporting role) – some people see this role as being a way into a senior position within an organisation. What I’ve learnt over the years is that anyone who wants to be working at a senior level in a business, like a CIO for example, must have experience in a functional role beforehand. As a PMO you are more likely to get that experience than someone in a delivery role like a Project Manager.

We are developing the skills and capabilities where we will have people who understand projects, who understand the value they can have, how they fit into the overall organisation. We will be getting more people on the executive board who have a much wider understanding of how projects fit in to operational business as usual.

In support of this, greater education and training is needed. The P3O of course is not the be all and end all, but it does continue to grow in terms of the numbers of people who take the course and the recognition now that it provides a basic for understanding the value and being able to sell the value of the PMO to the rest of the organisation, even though this shouldn’t be their role.

Lindsay then gave the final supporting arguments that support the statement PMOs are in Decline

The reports clearly show that PMOs are in decline in organisations today, and we have also debated the value (or not) that a PMO can bring to a business. PMOs as they exist today are wholly underexperienced to carry out the role that organisations really want. I proposed that PMOs should be decentralised, that high level, specialised skills should be given back to those departments in an organisation which are experienced and skilled to carry out those roles. PMOs if they continue to exist at all should be limited to providing support at a project level.

In a 2013 article entitled, “Do you need a PMO” from Samuel Greengard he stated yet again that gaining senior level executive support is important to PMOs – yet it is still a challenge. In the PMI report Pulse of the Profession, The Impact of PMOs on Strategy Implementation 30% of PMO Directors stated that PMO value to an organisation is not realized… a lack of understanding by business executives as to its best use.

Now is the time to get back to basics and give the senior executives something they do understand.

My argument would be to concentrate on the areas a PMO is traditionally useful in – supporting projects and not concerned with higher level strategic PMOs. After all, the Pulse of the Profession Report shows that PMOs have “a lack of expertise, senior support and no return on investment”.

Any higher level specialist services should be handled by the people qualified to do so, for example:

  • Training, mentoring, coaching – give it to the HR and Training departments
  • Budgets, costs and forecasts – the finance department
  • Planning, scheduling and control – to the Project Manager
  • Reporting, analysis – hire data analysts.
  • Methods, standards and processes – the quality department

In a 2012 article, “The Fall of the PMO” by David Braue, he highlighted how some organisations are already starting to use the specialists that already exist in a business. He talks about training the finance department to work with business cases; getting rid of the PMO and creating a standardized project flow that keeps the ownership with the people on the floor who use it everyday. It is feasible, it is possible to reinvent the concept of PMO because let’s face it, if our senior executives fail to understand why it is there and what it does, it doesn’t bode well for the future.

The reinvention of PMO services should be led by senior management – not those already working in the PMO. If the business really needs PMO type services it is up to the people who gain value from it that should lead the reinvention.

Finally, one thought about businesses in the past that have faced the same kind of problems and the need to reinvent. I would much rather the PMO services continue under an Apple type reinvention than that of the Ratners jewellery one. How about you?

The audience were asked to revote following the arguments they had heard. At the beginning of the session it was 90% against the motion and 10% for.

At the end of the session, it was 50%/50%.

How would you have voted?

About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay is the founder of PMO Flashmob. She's also the creator of London's first dedicated PMO Conference; Director of Arras People and PMO enthusiast

One comment

  1. Hi Lindsay, thanks so much for posting the debate and I read it with interest from the other side of the world.

    It’s fair to say that I’ve lost my love for the PMO having been a huge supporter of it for so long and I think it’s decline can be largely attributed to the people who lead PMOs and how they position them. I blogged recently that the PMO is still the only department in an organisation that has to write a charter to justify its existence (http://wp.me/p4DKn2-7F) and that’s a clear demonstration that some PMO Managers out there just don’t get it. The best way to justify your PMO is to demonstrate its value in numbers (delivery rates, cost savings, capability increases) as opposed to templates.

    It’s great to see this community thinking about the future (if you ever set up vidcon let me know!) and maybe it’s time the PMO had reconstructive surgery rather than a facelift. We’re great at telling others to shut something down if it isn’t working, so how about we start there and come back with something better?

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