Before the debate started, we wanted to give the attendees a chance to think about the motion. Were they for it, against it, or undecided?

Those against it felt that there was no evidence to support any decline, in fact there were more job advertisements for PMO, the publication of P3O and a feeling that PMO is in more demand especially in smaller companies. Those for the motion suggested that the PMO has become an organisation dumping ground, confusion on what it actually means, another layer of administration in a business and the PMO has an inability to define its value. For those sitting on the fence, it was their lack of experience of other PMOs that made them indecisive, there doesn’t seem to be a baseline or consensus about PMOs, the definition differs everywhere.

The debate started with the affirmative speaker – Lindsay Scott argued that the statement or motion is true. Here’s how she did it:

There are two areas that specifically needed focus to support the statement:

1. There are less PMOs in businesses today

2. The strength and value of the PMO is also in decline


The problem is that PMOs are still coming under fire for adding little value to a business and worse seen as an overhead.

The problem is leading us down a path to which PMOs will be totally dismissed and abandoned. This of course is a concern to everyone in this room.

Part of the problem of PMO decline is the difficulty in clear definition, objectives and its implementation.

Another is the lack of clear roles and responsibilities, skills capability required and training available to the people who work within a PMO.

At the moment PMOs are only useful entities when supporting projects, the administrative side of project management. In fact the majority of PMOs are only qualified to do this type of work.

If PMOs are in decline and face the prospect of total disbandment, the alternative solution is that high level , specialist and experienced work should be decentralized and given back to the departments with the personnel experienced to deliver them, for example, the finance, HR, Quality, Training departments and the Project Managers.

Point 1 – PMOs are already in decline in terms of the number of organizations that have them

There are a number of well publicized reports that support this:

1. PWC Global PM Survey in 2012 stated that 66% of organisations have a PMO (down from 80% in 2007)

2. Equally Portfolio Offices have not increased during this time despite it being the so-called flavour of the month or magic bullet.

3. The KPMG PM Survey in New Zealand (2013) also reported a 30% decline in the number of organisations with PMOs (88% to 60% since 2010)

4. The Hackett Group (2012) reported a 20% decline since 2009.

From a recruitment point of view (Lindsay is the Director of Arras People, a specialist in PMO recruitment), PMO vacancies have also declined, whilst project management roles have continued to increase. In fact, one large insurance firm have decided not to use a PMO on a large programme of change due to previous failings.

Point 2 – PMOs are failing to help most businesses

1. In the same Hackett Report, it was noted that organisations are giving up on PMOs since the recession, calling them “large bureaucratic organisations with myopic views.” It was also found that PMOs don’t drive better project performance. Surprisingly somewhat, organisations with low or no PMO involvement have found that their operating costs are 32% lower.

2. In the ESI PMO Survey in 2013, they found that fewer and fewer PMOs are being challenged. Stating that “it’s good to be challenged, a role worth examining, refining and redefining”. Without the challenge, the PMO appears not to be worthy of the attention.

3. In the PWC survey mentioned already, the report stated that the optimum time for a PMO to be in operation before making a significant difference to a business is 6 years. The report goes on to state that organisations with PMOs less than 6 years old report similar success rates to those >6 years old. A contradiction that perhaps highlights the discrepancies of PMOs across different organisations?

4. In a PM Solutions report from earlier this year, the figures supporting the challenges PMOs face included:

  1. 47% of organisations see the PMO as an overhead
  2. 43% think the PMO has inadequate resource management capability
  3. 43% are unable to demonstrate the value the PMO adds
  4. 51% are resistance to changes instigated by the PMO.


Point 3 – PMO Practitioners are contributing to the decline through inexperience and a lack of skills.

1. In his 2009 paper, ‘Identifying and overcoming challenges of implementing a PMO‘, Singh et al identified that:

  1. There is a difficulty in staffing a PMO with the most experienced personnel
  2. There is also a lack of stability and continuity of PMO resources.

The problem of finding PMO staff which have the right level of skills and experience for the more ‘advanced’ models of PMOs (programme level, portfolio level or centres of excellence) has long since been an issue in the recruitment market in the UK.

2. The PMOSIG, which started back in 2000 and subsequently became a formal part of the Association for Project Management a few years back, have since not to this date issued any clear guidelines on PMO career paths, there are no competency framework models, no training & development guidance or indeed anything else that would denote the PMO moving forward as a serious business service.

3. In 2010, Arras People published his annual project management survey with a section on PMO competencies. The report highlighted that PMO competencies were all of a PM nature (planning, reporting) with a low behavioural skillset. It also highlighted the difficulties in developing as there is no recognised path to increase these skills other than become a PM.

4. Finally, PM Solutions this year, identified a major PMO service – resource planning as being a prominent skill gap in PMOs.

In her experiences as a recruitment specialist in PMOs, there has consistently been an issue recruiting PMO people with planning ability, another major area of PMO services.


How we did the debate:

  1. There will be an “affirmative” speaker – someone who will argue that the statement is true, and the other, the “negative” speaker will be arguing to disprove the statement.
  2. The debate will open with the affirmative speaker. They will be using reported statistical and anecdotal evidence to prove that the statement is true. They are allowed 8 minutes to open up the debate.
  3. The negative speaker will then present – offering a rebuttal of the affirmative speakers claims. They too have 8 minutes to address the audience.
  4. The debate then moves to the floor and the audience are allowed to offer up any evidence of their own – this can be anecdotal or based on their own experiences. The time allowed here is up to 15 minutes.
  5. The affirmative speaker then has the opportunity to offer rebuttal of the negative speaker’s argument and offer further evidence to support the statement. Again they have 8 minutes.
  6. The negative speaker has their second opportunity to respond. Another 8 minutes are available.
  7. The argument is taken to the audience once again for further discussion and during this time they can ask questions to both speakers or present further evidence. The time on this part is 15 minutes again.
  8. The final part of the debate is the vote, which side of the debate do the audience agree with?

We decided to go with a debate for the July PMO Flashmob because it is a great way to review all the reports that exist in terms of PMO which can prove or refute the statement. There are also lots of anecdotal evidence from both the speakers and of course the audience. This is the primary aim of the PMO Flashmob – to provide an environment that enables the attendees to learn and network and the debate is an ideal activity to support that.

So, do you agree or disagree with the statement? Feel passionately about it either way? Open to having your mind changed?

>> Read the counter argument next


This brilliant video sums up a debate perfectly – and what’s not to like about Axel F too:

About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay is the founder of PMO Flashmob and a Director at PMO Learning - the sister company to PMO Flashmob and the best training company for PMO people in the world! She's also the creator of London's first dedicated PMO Conference; Director of Arras People and PMO enthusiast. Loves dogs and gin.

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