The literature on PMOs is vast and exciting. From the conception of the term to the role that this “structure” should play in an organization, there is no unanimity among experienced professionals or renowned authors.
With the acceptance of project management by organizations, PMOs gained importance and become recognized as fundamental for increasing maturity in corporate initiatives.
But what is the role of PMOs?
“PMOs exist to ensure the business can achieve the most value from projects.”
This is stated by Andy Jordan, a renowned practitioner and author in the international community and the AgileTimes.News interviewee.
The prominent word in Andy’s statement and the theme of this interview is “Value.”
Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm founded 14 years ago. The firm has a strong emphasis on organizational transformation, portfolio management, and PMOs.
Andy’s career has spanned 30 years in the UK, Canada, and Honduras and has included industries as diverse as banking, software development, telecommunications, corporate education, public sector, and not-for-profit.
In addition to leading major business-critical initiatives and building and running a number of PMOs, Andy has also had operational roles, including as CIO.
Andy is an in-demand speaker and author who delivers thought-provoking content in an engaging and entertaining style and is also an instructor in project management related disciplines, including PMO and portfolio management courses on LinkedIn Learning.
Authenticity defines Andy Jordan’s profile. Not surprisingly, his articles are among the most highlighted and commented on the projectmanagement.com website.
Without any buzz-phrase, Andy gives insightful answers about the many ways a PMO can deliver value [amazon link=”1541758242″ title=” “] to organizations.
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AgileTimes.News: It is usual to find articles that decree the end of PMOs, mainly by organizations focused on digital initiatives that use agile as a delivery strategy. Likewise, many other articles highlight the need for agility in PMOs. What is your perception of the subject? Will PMOs die, become agile, or are there other more plausible options for PMOs’ future?
Andy Jordan: Anyone who thinks that agile will be the death of PMOs doesn’t understand why PMOs exist in the first place – or at least should exist. And any organization that kills its PMOs because it has become an agile organization is shortsighted.
PMOs exist to ensure the business can achieve the most value from projects. It doesn’t matter how those projects are delivered; if the business outcomes aren’t being maximized, then there is a role for a PMO to play.
The problem is that most PMOs were created at a time when the world was largely waterfall, and they are having a hard time adapting. Traditional metrics like on time, on scope, and on budget for waterfall and story points or velocity for agile don’t naturally align, resulting in PMOs either ignoring them or reporting them separately.
If PMOs switch to value-based metrics that better align with why the PMO exists in the first place, it becomes much easier.
Of course, that also requires organizations to acknowledge that PMOs aren’t governance or reporting functions, which can be a large part of the problem.
AgileTimes.News: Does this mean that PMOs must embrace agility and everything that agile philosophy advocates through its values and principles?
Andy Jordan: I think it’s impossible to ignore agile concepts today, but I see PMOs focusing more on ensuring the business is operating in an agile manner when it comes to planning, organizational agility, etc.
How project managers and teams choose to execute their initiatives should be up to those teams, not the PMO.
Of course, the PMO has to understand agile – and hybrid to be able to guide those teams, understand what’s happening, etc., but they should be ‘method agnostic’ in terms of how the work is being done.
AgileTimes.News: In one of your most recent articles, “A disturbing trend with PMOs”, you mention that more and more PMOs are focused on delivering business results at the expense of ensuring that projects are delivered more effectively and efficiently. What are the tradeoffs of PMOs operating this way?
Andy Jordan: Actually, that’s not the message of that article, although it seems to be interpreted that way. The article talks to more PMOs being led by business leaders who have little or no experience in projects, and as a result, are running their PMOs as more command and control style functions rather than allowing the project managers and teams under their charge to operate with a degree (sometimes a large degree) of flexibility and discretion.
Projects only succeed when they enable business results to be achieved, and PMOs only succeed when they create an environment where those business outcomes are consistently delivered. But that only happens due to project managers and teams delivering solutions that can be leveraged to deliver those business outcomes.
When project managers don’t feel as though they have the ability to adjust the ‘what’ of their projects in order to help achieve the ‘why,’ then the organization suffers. The PMO ends up driving more change, and the decision-making shifts away from the experts who are closest to work. And that impacts business performance.
AgileTimes.News: What are the characteristics, whether hard skills or soft skills, that you consider crucial for a PMO leader? I mean, if you had to choose a PMO leader in today’s business environment, what would you look for in that professional?
Andy Jordan: PMO leaders must combine business leadership and project leadership, and if one is missing, I’ll take the business leader without PM skills because those are easier to develop.
They must also be more focused on leadership than management. They must be prepared to make difficult decisions and be held accountable for those decisions. They should be confident in challenging decisions and generally accepted norms.
Andy Jordan – President of Roffensian Consulting
PMO leaders must be disruptors, pushing the business to improve and push project teams to deliver solutions that enable business goals to be achieved. They must embrace innovation and accept that standard ‘cookie cutter’ approaches to delivering projects don’t work anymore.
A lot of that is personality traits rather than skills, and honestly, they could describe the ideal skills for a modern leader in any key position in an organization.
AgileTimes.News: We face uncertain times. Despite all technology focused on data analysis and information based on artificial intelligence, it seems increasingly unlikely to forecast an initiative’s business results, regardless of the approach used, be it agile, traditional, hybrid, or any other variation of these terms. The truth is that most organizations seek predictability. So, how can a PMO collaborate to deliver better business results in a scenario permeated by uncertainties and still provide adequate governance? Is that possible?
Andy Jordan: It’s not the PMO’s job to define what constitutes business success, but it is the PMO’s job to ensure that it is defined – to ensure that someone in the business has defined why the project is being done and what constitutes success.
Sometimes that’s easy – revenue or profitability growth within a set timeframe, for example, often it’s difficult. But that’s not the PMO’s problem. If a business is investing in a project, then there has to be an estimation of how much is being spent and how much is being gained, and how that will be measured. If executives sign off on that benefit forecast, then it is good enough, and the PMO has to ensure the project is managed to give the business the best chance of achieving it.
The PMO’s role is to ensure the benefit expectation is stated, that any proxies or subjective interpretation that will be required (because it’s not obvious) are defined and that all of that is accepted.
If it is, then the PMO manages to it, not just during the execution of the project, but through portfolio management, after delivery when the outputs of the project are in the hands of the business. That’s the kind of modern oversight and governance that actually delivers value to the business.
AgileTimes.News: You wrote one interesting article in 2019 intituled “What Should a PMO Actually Do?” in which you make a provocative question, that is, “What shouldn’t a PMO do”? I will steal your question. To be able to deliver better outcomes, what should a PMO never do?
Andy Jordan: It really comes down to focus. If the PMO is going to enable business value to be achieved, it has to be looking ‘up and out’ at the organization as a whole. If it becomes focused ‘down and in’ on what’s happening on individual projects, what certain PMs are doing, and whether processes or methodologies are being followed, then it risks losing sight of what’s important. On that note, the PMO also shouldn’t define its own mandate.
The PMO is a business function, and just like every other business function, it must have goals and objectives set for it by the organization so that it can develop a business plan that will deliver on those objectives.
Too many PMOs set their own priorities in the absence of guidance from leadership, and that always backfires because when it turns out not to be what the business leaders wanted, the PMO has provided a perfect excuse for the PMO to be shut down.
AgileTimes.News: Is there any difference between a PMO and a VMO besides the letters P and V? Is it more of a theory, or is there a practical difference between the two structures? If so, where are these differences?
Andy Jordan: I am sure some organizations treat their value management offices differently, but in my experience, it’s simply a reinventing of the function and maybe a rebranding to get away from the stigma that many organizations still have around the PMO concept.
Today’s PMOs should be focused on delivering value; otherwise, they aren’t prioritizing the right things. If calling them something different helps with that, then so be it. I see more differences when PMOs evolve into SROs – Strategy Realization Offices or similar, that’s a specific focus on organizational strategy, usually incorporates portfolio management, and is better aligned with the business.
But even there, SROs often operate at the organizational level, with PMOs working at the departmental level in support.
AgileTimes.News: Can you talk a little more about SROs [amazon link=”0655536744″ title=” “] ? Is it a natural evolution of a PMO’s role, or does it have a different connotation?
Andy Jordan: The SRO is an extension of the growth of the CSO – Chief Strategy Officer. This is the individual tasked with executing on organizational strategy, and the SRO is an increasingly common model to support that delivery.
It may combine elements of investment management (ensuring the right initiatives are being committed to), portfolio management (effective execution, benefits realization, disruption-free changes, etc.), and adaptive planning (to keep opportunities, strategies, goals, and execution aligned).
Strategically focused PMOs are often evolved into this function because of the obvious overlap in accountabilities and to make it easier to leverage existing relationships with departmental PMOs to support execution.
AgileTimes.News: With the spread of agile philosophy, we saw the emergence of a new organizational structure that’s called Agile or Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (CoE). Do these Agile Centers of Excellence replace the role of PMOs, or can an organization benefit from both structures, a PMO and an Agile CoE?
Andy Jordan: I see them as very different things. If we compare the functions to what happens on an agile project (or at least what should happen), the Agile CoE is equivalent to the scrum master, while the PMO is equivalent to the project manager.
Some organizations combine those two roles, which generally means the project manager is eliminated, but that impacts effectiveness. Scrum masters exist to help teams apply agile principles and practices, and that’s what I see the Agile CoE doing at an organizational level.
Project managers exist to help ensure the work being done aligns with the benefit that needs to be achieved, and that’s the function of the PMO.
Undoubtedly the two functions have to work together, especially as organizations move to embrace concepts like business agility, but they should be separate and distinct functions with separate but related mandates.
AgileTimes.News: You touched on an interesting point. Some organizations combine the roles of Scrum Master or Agile Coach [amazon link=”B08JQHNWYK” title=” ” link_icon=”amazon”] with that of the project manager, and, in fact, what is observed is the elimination of the project manager. What is the impact of this attitude, both for PMOs and for meeting organizational business objectives?
Andy Jordan: It makes it harder for both PMOs and the organization as a whole. When a PM is eliminated in agile, you lose some of the focus on time and schedule; there is often a worsening of stakeholder communications and relationships; there is often less risk management and less budget management.
The PM is focused on the end goal of the project – enabling business outcomes and without the role in place that’s lost – making it harder for the PMO to manage the overall portfolio and lessening the chance that all goals and objectives will be met.
There is also more pressure on the Scrum Master, who can’t spend as much time supporting the team to coach and guide them through how the work is being done, affecting their ability to deliver.
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