As IT organizations continue to focus on reducing cost and improving efficiency, executives report they are seeing increasing strategic value for the role of a Program Management Office (PMO). CapTech's experience with clients confirms the challenges PMOs face and helps illustrate the importance of a close relationship between project delivery and program oversight in the evolving role of the PMO.

The PMO : A Competitive Edge

Research by Forrester reveals that business executives are seeing how a mature PMO capability can become an important business differentiator. This might be seen as a significant change from only a few years ago when PMOs largely served in a command and control capacity or as a reporting ‘clearing house'. Now, PMOs are becoming seen as an important management lever by providing transparency into an organization's objectives and its capacity to deliver more.

CapTech's experience with clients reveals some of the difficulties on the way to becoming a mature PMO. Stakeholders report functions such as schedule, scope, communication and risk/issue management (i.e., ‘delivery' functions) as the most challenged. Root causes can be traced back to a lack of clear program standards and processes at the project level such as:

  • rigor in defining and managing program milestones,
  • clearly defining project scope of related projects,
  • decision making authority and ability to arbitrate competing priorities,
  • consistent criteria to communicate project dependencies, risks and issues.

In contrast, PMO ‘oversight' functions (e.g., program integration, performance management) are generally considered to be less problematic and not key areas of concern. Unlike the ‘delivery' functions, these may be more focused on the needs of senior managers and, as a result, have less impact on the day-to-day activities of project teams.

The divide between ‘delivery' and ‘oversight' comes through as a common theme in client conversations, surveys and PMO assessments. Interestingly, digging a little bit into these comments reveals a useful insight – the importance of program leadership's direction setting and involvement at the tactical level. Creating a clear understanding of project scope and measurable deliverables requires alignment with program objectives and strategies. Moreover, involved leadership is often critical to effectively resolving important cross-project risks and issues. It's not surprising that PMO practitioners and analysts point to the importance of securing active executive involvement and support in aligning tactical project activities and priorities to program objectives and strategies.

So…what?

A wide range of factors can impact PMO success. But, directionally, this helps underscore a key point: project delivery and program oversight are closely integrated and need to be managed that way. Providing transparency, proper coordination and generating confidence in reported data are essential to a PMO's success. PMOs that can actively engage their leadership about the scope and standards of their responsibilities for the ‘delivery' functions will be in a better position to reduce overhead, provide guidance and develop strategic relationships within their organization.

References:

¹ "Are You Ready To Transform Your PMO?" Forrester Research, Inc., April 8, 2011.

"Making The Case For The Next-Generation PMO", Forrester Research, Inc., October 16, 2009