Two decades into the twenty-first century, businesses continue to face many challenges including the disruptive technologies accelerating rapidly, geopolitical upheaval creating far-reaching effects in a globalized economy, and the efforts in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on market stability. As PMOs look for ways to navigate the storm, they are shedding outdated methods of value delivery for a more adaptable, future-facing mindset. Here’s how a next generation PMO can move your organization forward.
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What Is a Next Generation PMO?
A project management office (PMO) consists of a group within an organization tasked with defining and maintaining the standards to which projects are executed and evaluated. And though it might seem like a new-fangled term, the first time “project management office” appeared in print was in 1939.
For a traditional PMO, fuzzy expectations coupled with a false dichotomy between strategic and tactical objectives could crater effectiveness. Additionally, a five-year study of PMOs found a litany of complaints, from hidden agendas to questionable value. An old joke posits that the O in PMO stood for “overhead” — a tired nod to the perception of everyone outside the PMO who only saw more costs and micromanagement in exchange for slower and less-than-thrilling results.
And yet, a high-functioning PMO can bring undeniable benefits to an organization. A CapGemini survey found that 66% of stakeholders at high-performing organizations recognize the potential value of what a next generation PMO can achieve. Put another way: Thought leadership at two-thirds of the most successful businesses can see the necessity of an empowered and adaptable PMO, which means it’s just a matter of time before it’s the rule, not the exception.
On the topic of next generation PMOs, it is also important to consider the following.
PMO vault over traditional roadblocks to achieve next-generation status
It starts at the top. As senior management recasts the role of the PMO, from a deliverer of projects to a key enabler of orchestrating the execution of organization-wide strategic initiatives, the office is empowered to focus on maximizing value without being tied down by a narrow project-focused mindset.
Ensuring that a broader focus doesn’t lead to a bogged-down PMOAdditionally, it’s imperative for teams to implement the principles of Agile project management. Working with an Agile mindset, next generation PMOs can quickly adapt to changes while building on iterative feedback from stakeholders.
The critical requirements of adopting an Agile workflow for PMOs
Untangling complex legacy processes, which might include outdated tech stacks, can be daunting for even the most empowered PMO. That’s why determining the right digital platform is a crucial element of a successful PMO evolution.
Overcoming the perception that PMOs exist to police project managers
Instead of ruling teams with an iron grip, next generation PMOs build an inviting sandbox, where stakeholders can engage, experiment, and evolve in an environment meant to foster innovation.
It’s vital that the sandbox not be located at the top of an ivory tower.
PMOs need to overcome the perception that they’re over-intellectual and too removed from everyday processes by positioning themselves as willing students, ready to learn about the more granular challenges facing stakeholders. When the individual people who make up an organization see the PMO as open, willing, and capable of facilitating change, then it will be truly empowered to unleash next-generation value.
Role of the PMO During Uncertainty
There is no way to be absolutely certain what the future holds, however, that doesn’t mean PMOs have to stay stagnant and wait to be acted upon by uncertain forces — with an adaptable mindset, a strong Agile practice, and buy-in from stakeholders across the organization, a next generation PMO can help steer teams through uncertain times.
Take the COVID-19 pandemic as a recent (and ongoing) example. With health and safety regulations still shifting, many organizations are trying to find the right hybrid work model that can unite teams across workspaces and time zones. An empowered PMO can devise a flexible and individualized way of working that doesn’t compromise on delivering value.
4 Elements of a Next Generation PMO
What exactly does a next generation PMO look like? The answer might vary depending on the organization and its industry, but any PMO looking to adapt to the present and prepare for the future will have some guiding elements in common.
As one executive put it, the role of a PMO is essentially choosing the right projects and delivering them correctly. Without the former, there’s no accomplishing the latter, so it’s imperative that an evolved PMO master the art of strategic alignment.
And while traditional, old-school PMOs used to struggle with decision-making under the old strategic versus tactical model, a next generation PMO understands that it’s a false dichotomy — aligning long-term, organization-wide strategic initiatives with the day-to-day tactical actions of individuals is how a high-performing organization succeeds.
Figuring out how to prioritize projects requires access to information, such as feedback and forecasting. But being able to sort through that information efficiently is just as critical as gathering it in the first place — without a way to filter the noise from the signal, the PMO can’t accurately allocate attention and priority to projects.
Finally, as the environment shifts (whether that’s on a micro level within the organization, or globally as with market instability), the goals shift, too. The ability of the PMO to quickly reprioritize projects and reframe success in the face of change is crucial to achieving strategic success.
A next generation PMO shouldn’t be an entity of dread and control for project managers. And if that PMO is truly engaged in Agile practices, it will encourage teams to have as much self-governance as they can without compromising the quality of their projects.
And so, instead of endlessly micromanaging them and getting in the way of the work, an effective PMO should partner with project managers to provide them with just enough governance to be successful. What that level of oversight looks like will inevitably vary from team to team — and it will probably ebb and flow throughout the course of a single team’s work, as well, with the PMO providing more guidance at the beginning of a project or during a strategic shift than it might at later stages.
Maintaining flexible governance requires the PMO to be relentlessly self-aware and cognizant of its impact on individual teams. But knowing when to step in — and when to step back — will help PMOs remain as helpful as possible to the teams they support — and, to the organization as a whole.
As a natural consequence of flexible governance, teams working under the umbrella of a next generation PMO will be more empowered. When project managers can work without wasting precious time and headspace on feeling like the PMO is babysitting them, they have more bandwidth for creative problem-solving — and they pass that freedom to innovate along to their teams.
And, much like the sandbox model above, a new-school PMO understands that inviting teams to be more personally invested in their work results in a better product. And research bears this out: structural empowerment is positively related to job satisfaction and work engagement in employees. Giving teams the reins whenever possible empowers them to do their best work, and empowers the PMO to foster a more creative culture.
While job satisfaction is an excellent by-product of an empowered team, most organizations are motivated by the same goal at the end of the day: creating value. And, of course, revenue is easily the most visible part of the picture. After all, something has to keep the lights on and payroll running.
In times of turbulence, some organizations might be tempted to cut the PMO as a cost-saving measure. But it’s absolutely critical that they don’t.
A next generation PMO is an investment in maintaining value over the long-term.
Without a savvy PMO to prioritize projects, assess feedback, and empower teams, the organization as a whole suffers, and so does the revenue. Instead, executives should task the PMO with figuring out how to weather the storm, since its strength lies in adaptability and resilience.
Evolve into a Next Generation PMO
So if every organization could benefit from a forward-thinking PMO, how exactly do they get there? Because the role is necessarily adaptable and flexible, the evolution into a next generation PMO might look different for each organization. However, there are some basic steps that any business can take to ensure their PMO is at the cutting edge of facilitation, and not just an administrative body between the C-suite and project managers.
The best time to adopt Agile project management practices is yesterday, the second-best time is today. If your organization isn’t already incorporating some of the key features of Agile into its PMO, you can’t afford to wait any longer.
With constant disruption coming in the form of technological advances, geopolitical unrest, unstable markets, global pandemics, and who knows what else, every business needs to be able to effectively adapt and iterate to survive.
Agile principles provide not only a theoretical framework for change management, but also an actionable process that can be adapted and applied to any team. And don’t be put off by the upfront challenges of reskilling project managers or investing in Agile software — you’ll be reaping the benefits for years to come in longevity and flexibility.
Ensure your technology isn’t holding you back
You can’t do the job well without the right software, and chances are, your tech stack could use an update. If your project managers are still laboring under legacy systems with steadily accumulating tech debt, it’s urgent to stop the bleeding and transition to a better solution.
While it might seem cheaper to home-brew a system in-house, it usually costs more money in the long run — bugs arise, developers with deep legacy knowledge leave for other gigs, project management needs evolve. Instead, invest in best-in-class software tailored to meet your needs that will evolve with your business. After all, a next generation PMO needs next-generation solutions.
Keeping up with the times isn’t a one-and-done move you can check off once a decade. No matter how much change you implement from the outset, you’ll still need to check in and reassess, readjust, and change some more at some point in the future (and probably sooner than you think).
But that’s what a high-performing PMO does best — weighing the needs of the organization against the external and internal forces of change, and finding the best way forward.
Change is constant, but it doesn’t have to be constantly challenging. Pandemics, hybrid work, and an ever-shifting economic and technological environment will be around for years to come, if not decades, creating hurdles for modern businesses. But the next generation PMO can stay ahead of disruptive technologies, retrain and reskill project managers, and implement Agile project management practices, taking your organization to new heights of adaptability and value.
You won’t just weather the turbulent times — you’ll thrive in them, thanks to strategic alignment, quick reprioritization, empowered teams, flexible governance, and long-term value delivered by a capable PMO that’s ready for anything.
But you don’t have to do it alone. Partner with Planview to take your team to the next level, with top-tier project, planning, and portfolio management solutions that maximize productivity and minimize stress. Schedule a demo and get started today.