The Reports of Its Death Have Been Exaggerated: The PMO is Alive and Well!

This is just one of the messages from opening keynote speaker J LeRoy Ward at The PMO Conference on the 11th June. LeRoy is a great speaker on PMO. He’s both inspirational as well as delivering insights that might make painful listening for PMOs. That’s what the PMO Conference is all about. Let’s talk about the challenges we face but then focus on what we can do to get better.

Here is LeRoy in his own words:

LeRoy Ward - Keynote speaker for the PMO ConferenceThere is no topic that has held the interest of the project management community more intently than the PMO. Attend any gathering of project managers conducted by associations around the world and the sessions on the PMO are typically SRO. Multiple “PMO of the Year” awards are bestowed annually to PMOs in organisations of all types, and in all locations, who have evidently proved their worth, and expense, to their CEO, or even better, their CFO.

So, why is it that we are reading in print and hearing at conferences that PMO’s are providing little value while only adding costs? That PMO Directors are more interested in cramming a project management methodology down the throats of unsuspecting project and program managers than in the business outcomes of the endeavors themselves? And, that the average life span of a PMO is only four years and getting shorter? In short, that the PMO has apparently come to the end of its useful life and that something else, never mentioned of course, will take its place?

We’re hearing this because in some sense there is truth to some of the criticism, but it largely ignores the good, if not great, work that many PMOs do day in and day out. Negativity sells, and if you’re a company that sells PMO courses, consulting, PMO methodologies, or anything related to helping an organisation build and run a PMO scaring them into your products and services is simply one strategy that can actually work.

Moreover, such criticism makes excellent “grist” for the presentation and publication “mill” as well. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I added a few of these “eye catching” stats about the sorry state of the PMO now again in my presentations. If nothing else, it keeps folks awake!

PMOs are alive and well and they’re here to stay simply because they work.

They do provide value to an organisation because they do the following:

  1. Provide the visible manifestation of the value of project management in the organisation
  2. Drive good project management practice, in the form of methods and procedures, throughout an organisation
  3. Help to develop a career path for project managers ensuring that the organisation recruits and retains top-notch talent
  4. Identify and develop the requisite skills and competencies in project staff to successfully complete the most simple to the most thoroughly complex projects and programs
  5. Provide a forum through a community of practice for its project and program managers to learn from one another
  6. Convert strategy into action by engaging with senior executives through the process of portfolio management
  7. Conduct on-going risk assessment of key projects to meet customer demands and business outcomes
  8. Provide ongoing, and real-time, mentoring, coaching, and support to project staff
  9. Regularly apprise senior executives of the “health of the portfolio” through sophisticated project dash-boarding tools, techniques and methods


I like to look at the PMO has being a “change agent” because it is through projects, programs and other initiatives that major change is delivered to an organisation. Think about it. How else does change happen in your organisation if not through projects and programs?

When reading all the criticism leveled at PMOs I keep asking myself if the PMO wasn’t there who would do all the work I described above? Well, if you look back far enough, at a time when there weren’t any PMOs to speak of, this important work wasn’t being done very well at all. It was diffused throughout the organisation being tackled by people who had other things to do, and whose other things took primary importance.

As a consequence, projects and project management suffered. Project failures were commonplace, project managers were untrained, project management practices had not been codified leaving it to the imagination and creativity of each person running a project to think it up as they went along, and the role of project manager was an “accidental” one, taken up by some unsuspecting poor soul who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when the organisation went looking for a PM to do the job.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think we should ever return to that past. Organisations can’t afford to. That’s why the PMO is here to stay. They are doing good work and they can do better work if their organisations provide more resources and authority to let them do their job. Let’s right the wrongs (perceived or otherwise) and work to strengthen the weaknesses we see in our PMOs. They’re the best hope for the future of a professional project management practice than the alternative, which, by the way, no one has offered yet!

LeRoy provides the opening keynote session at The PMO Conference, find out more about him and if you like the way LeRoy thinks about PMO, make sure you book your place at the conference too