Understanding the PMO
Ever heard or seen that quote which talks about PMOs closing down every three to four years? If so, this is the book where it comes from BUT that quote is wrong!
What it actually said was a PMO tends to close down or gets reconfigured every three to four years – mainly due to the fact that the business also changes during that time too.
That’s one of the reasons why we started up the PMO Book Club – to read, understand and have a chat amongst ourselves about texts that can help our thinking around the job that we do in PMO.
The book for this session was – The Project Management Office (PMO): A Quest for Understanding
It was written and published in 2010 by Aubry and Hobbs following six years of research. These two researchers have pretty much given the PMO industry a massive boost over the last decade with their research into PMOs.
You might have overlooked this short book due to its published date but we think it really stands the test of time plus there’s a lot in there to provoke great discussion – the backbone of any decent book club.
The book itself is free if you’re a PMI member. It was published by PMI on the back of the research funds they gave to Aubry and Hobbs. If you’re not a PMI member, the book is available to purchase from Amazon, Google, and Abe
The book is essentially an extended academic paper running to 170 pages (plus appendices). For those who are time-poor, there is an executive summary of 1 ½ pages!
In this article, we share the recorded session, the deck and the insights from the book club.
Insights from the Book
The initial study included descriptions of 502 PMOs from across the globe and focused on how they were structured and what functions they fulfilled.
There was then a further study of 12 PMOs in four organisations examined in depth. The question they were looking to answer was, “How and why do organisations implement their first PMO or reconfigure existing PMOs every few years?”
- The average time to set up a PMO is 1 – 2 years and the PMO is a conceptualized entity that plays multiple roles in multiple organisational processes.
- There were no differences in private/public, industries, organization size, project type, location.
- The people who staff the PMO have a significant impact on what the PMO can and will do, as well as on the state that the PMO will have in the organisation. People liked to be seen as strategic, and said they reported to senior management – they may well have been ‘over-selling’ their PMO.
- PMO is seen as an overhead, which is a key issue for PMOs.
- 54% of the PMOs were created in the last two years.
Functions of the PMO
There were 27 functions identified in the research – all deemed to be important, with the average PMO covering 12.7 functions.
Areas for Improvement
Drivers for Change
It was found that the organisation and political context in which the PMO is embedded is the most important driver of change for PMOs and thus determines to a large extent how PMOs are organised and the roles they play.
These drivers included:
Performance of the PMO
- The performance of the PMO will vary depending on who is the evaluator.
- A PMO is legitimate if it can convincingly demonstrate its contribution to organisational performance.
- The organisation’s level of project management maturity has an impact on the perceived performance levels of the PMO.
- When a PMO is deeply embedded in an organisation, the two coevolve.
The Model of Competing Values
Within the book, there is a section about organisational performance, which is how the organisation is performing against its goals. With the book focused on PMO, here we are interested in how the PMO is performing for the organisation. Performance measures tend to be very subjective – based on the different values and preferences of stakeholders.
There is something called the Model of Competing Values – which includes four different representations of the contribution the PMO makes to organisational performance.
The Rational Goal Model is the one we most often focus on – this is the PMO contribution to profit, project management efficiency, ROI and so on.
The Open Systems Model focuses on measures related to growth and benefits.
The Human Relations Model focuses on measures related to human resources development, cohesion and morale.
The Internal Process Model focuses on measures related to how corporate processes link to project management such as methodologies, PPM processes and knowledge management.
The Model of Competing Values is appropriate to describe the contribution of the PMO because it exists in multiple networks – different projects, programmes, portfolios, corporate strategy, and many different functional units.
The figure below shows all four representations with:
- The focus of the organisation – the internal focus is directed towards people and external focus is directed towards the organisation itself and the external environment. The measures tend to be economic and well-being
- The structure of the organisation – flexible and control – stability at one end and innovation at the other
Each one of these should give some insights into how the PMO might consider its own performance in line with that of the organisational performance.
HUMAN RELATIONS MODEL
- Value of human resources working in projects
- Training and development emphasis
- The morale of project personnel
- Conflict resolution and research for cohesion
OPEN SYSTEM MODEL
- Flexibility/ adaptation/ innovatin inproject management
- Evaluation by external entities (audit, benchmarking etc)
- Links with the external environment (PMI, IPMA, etc)
INTERNAL PROCESS MODEL
- Information management and communications
- Processes stability
RATIONAL GOAL MODEL
- Planning goals