What Makes a PMO an Enabler of Change?

The PMO Manifesto includes the line –

Enabling Change over Restraining Delivery

At the PMO Flashmob back in June, the World Cafe event gave us the opportunity to understand more about what this actually means. The idea behind this part of the manifesto is as a PMO function we prefer to be seen as an entity that enables our project organisations to run better and more successful projects without being seen as a hindrance or ‘project police’. It is about being able to find the balance between  ‘control’ (the restraining part) and the ‘free rein’ (the enabling part) first and then thinking about a future state where ‘restraint’ becomes a word of the past.

In this article there are no conclusions, just thoughts and opinions conveyed by those who attended. I hope the overview is useful. Here’s how the conversation unfolded:

Organisation Maturity

One of the first areas the group discussed was the environment a PMO exists in. If a PMO was to become an Enabler of Change (EoC) what kind of environment must it exist in?

The project organisation must already be matured enough to handle repeatable projects. The programme and project managers within the organisation must already be competent and highly skilled to manage the type and level of projects in existence. There will already be a consistent structure, with supporting methods and processes that supports good project management. In other words, the project organisation has to be at a certain level of maturity fit for the projects being delivered.

As a signpost, the group shared the P3M3 approach as a place to start understanding more about organisational maturity.

photo 3Personnel Maturity

It was felt that too many PMOs are trying to do more with less. That’s less resource in terms of numbers as well as less experienced resources. The EoC PMO is more than control – checking progress reports, updating spreadsheets and logs – and more about supporting the project organisation and the people in areas such as forecasting, scenario planning and developing capability. In order to do this, the right people need to be within the PMO in the first place. This is not going to be an easy ask of any organisation but the fact remains that without appropriately qualified and experienced resources you can only get so far in terms of the services a PMO can offer.

Features of a Enabler of Change PMO

To make the EoC PMO come alive a little we talked about the features it would have.  Apart from having a centre of excellence where good practice is used repeatedly, the group highlighted these:

  • The PMO would match the vision of the project organisation. It the organisation didn’t have a vision it probably wouldn’t be the right time to think about ‘enabling change’. If it did, the vision would manifest itself by the PMO’s services and approach. Sometimes it was felt that the PMO can sometimes feel one step removed from what the senior executives in a business actually want.
  • Integration of workstreams. This was in relation to a project organisation’s structure and the need to ensure that projects are integrated – either as part of an overarching programme or a portfolio of unrelated projects. Consistency in project delivery – the way things are scheduled, reported, costed and managed enables smoother programme or portfolio management. If the PMO can enable consistency, it stands to reason that restraint can become a thing of the past as good repeatability starts to happen.
  • Consistent communication. If there is one thing the PMO can start improving today, it is the way they communicate. If the PMO wants to be seen as an enabler and less a control freak, it needs to get its messages across in the way the people it serves want to receive those communications. This includes the content of messages too!
  • Improvement watch. The PMO is not there for process improvement for the sake of it, nor is it there to log ‘lessons learnt’ and forget about them. An EoC PMO actively looks at the older, repressive ways of doing things – all those controls-  and asks itself, what can be changed for the greater good. There is no one else within the organisation who has this responsibility yet we know that improvements can be made that make everyone elses life’s just that little bit easier. Time for the PMO to step up here.
  • It will have a foot in the strategy and delivery camps. This is not about the PMO muscling into executive level functions, this is about understanding the strategy of the business, how this translates to the programmes and projects being selected and delivered and how the PMO can help in making it go a lot smoother. It’s about having a foot in both camps, not the whole body!

Contentious Point!

Should a PMO be rebranded? The groups were talking about the shift from the kind of PMO they operate today and making the business aware that they had changed their scope to become an EoC. Perhaps it was a reflection on the types of PMOs being represented at the table but the camps were split between:

  1. We definitely don’t need to do this – the change will be obvious when we start doing the right things for the business. Let’s concentrate on this rather than ‘marketing’.
  2. We need people to work with us to help change the PMO – how can we get the help if people don’t know what changes we are trying to make.


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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