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Why PMOs fail?

The introduction of a PMO is time-consuming, labor-intensive and expensive and is likely to fail. Not a very promising start, I know. But you kept reading anyway, that’s good! That means you don’t give up so quickly. It also means that, despite all the adversity, you are interested in introducing a PMO.

It also means that I won’t have to explain why it’s still worth introducing a PMO. We can use this saved time to talk more about why your PMO will fail.

In the following article I will give you some examples of the circumstances that lead to PMOs failing. And by the way, you will also learn what you can do about it.

#1 You’re confusing apples with pears.

Sure that can happen to anyone. In everyday life it is not tragic if you want an apple but order a pear.

However, it becomes problematic if you actually want a project assistant but order a PMO. The other way round, of course, there is the same problem.

So before you place your order, you should ask yourself a few important questions:

Are you looking for an experienced specialist to work directly with the project manager on the project and relieve him of administrative tasks? Would you like this specialist to be assigned to exactly one project and act as the communicative interface of the project team?

Yeah? Yeah. Excellent, then you can save the rest of this contribution! In short, what you need is a projekt assistant. By the way, you can get it here.

However, if you need a long-term unit to act as an interface between your company’s various projects, to manage your project portfolio and to define and implement a project management method, then you need a PMO and should urgently read on.

There are 12 other reasons why your PMO will fail.

But here are 10 great reasons why PMOs are great anyway

#2 Your PMO is miscast

There are not many training opportunities for PMOs. Potential candidates are expected to have the necessary skills.

The most important skills for a PMO are process knowledge, communication skills and project management knowledge. Gaining these skills requires experience, assertiveness and empathy. Unfortunately, these three attributes are by no means a matter of course in the project business.

The PMO is often assigned employees who have no understanding of the role and responsibility of a PMO. The most common reasons for this are incorrect requirements and role descriptions. This ultimately leads to the hiring of the wrong people.

The most logical person for a PMO is of course an experienced project manager.

Project managers can communicate well in a project-specific way in the project and in dealing with project personnel. But as part of a PMO, you need to be able to communicate adequately and comprehensibly with all stakeholders, such as management, departments, partners, service providers, suppliers or customers. Project-specific vocabulary is often not the right language.

So make sure that you do not hire pure “expert idiots” for the PMO.

#3 You haven’t thought through the size of your PMO.

Adequate staffing of the PMO is a lengthy process because employees with demanding skills, experience and characteristics are difficult to find. Therefore, under time pressure, it is often tried to fill the PMO with internal employees and to compensate the lack of quality by quantity – i.e. more employees.

A PMO is thus quickly overstaffed, which leads to confusion. It becomes rigid and incapable of action.

Among other things, the PMO is intended to shorten distances and dismantle barriers. If you do not equip your PMO with the required quality, but with inexperienced people, the opposite is the case.

Logically, understaffing a PMO is also problematic: If the PMO has to do more work than it can, its effectiveness is quickly called into question. As a result, the support within the company dwindles, which can quickly lead to dissolution.

#4 You have not given your PMO a clear order

They were clever and made the right decision between project assistance and PMO. You also found an absolute top staff for your PMO and assigned exactly the right number of employees.

Very nice for you, your PMO will probably fail anyway.

Why?

PMOs are often introduced in the belief that you have to follow the example of others. But that’s not enough, of course.

Companies should have a really good reason to introduce a PMO. Only if the reason for the introduction is clear to all involved will you get the results you want.

You have a solid reason to introduce a PMO?

Excellent, then all you need is a clear and unambiguous mission. Unclear tasks discourage employees and lead to mistakes and rejection.

The classic tasks of a PMO are:

  • Development and implementation of project portfolio management,
  • Definition and further development of the project management method,
  • Definition and implementation of the project management process,
  • Requirements management,
  • Change Management and
  • Provision of project resources (project managers, project assistants).

#5 Your PMO does not get enough public backing from management

The PMO’s mission should ideally be adopted directly by top management. The management should also agree on what it actually expects from the PMO.

If management withdraws after announcing the introduction of the PMO, you can be sure that your PMO will fail.

Without the continued public support of management, your PMO will not get the legitimacy it needs.

So it is management’s job to give the PMO the support it needs and clearly demonstrate its interest in the success of the PMO.

Moreover, your PMO must not become a pawn in corporate policy. If the PMO is only meant to shift problems and resources, it will fail.

Introducing a new business unit that can serve as a scapegoat if something goes wrong is quite clever from an egocentric perspective, but not very sustainable.

#6 Your PMO doesn’t get enough support from the workforce

You have given your PMO a clear mission, that’s good! Your PMO is publicly supported by the management? All the better! Unfortunately, your PMO will still fail.

Why?

Because your PMO has no support from the staff.

The introduction of a PMO poses a threat to many managers. Nobody likes to give up responsibility. Not even if this actually means relief.

PMOs can be used in a variety of ways. This means that in the future countless decisions will lie in the hands of the PMO.

If, for example, strategic planning activities are to be the PMO’s first task, the alarm bells will sound immediately for many of those responsible in your company. Even if they are only related to the project business. The result is a lack of support for the PMO.

It is therefore important that the PMO proceeds step by step and allows changes to take effect.

Don’t expect too much too soon!

Once your PMO has established itself as a strategic planning center, you can take the next step and transfer internal and external benchmarking to it.

Once this has been achieved, cost reduction and continuous optimization processes can be taken over.

If you proceed step by step, you reduce the risk that your PMO will be rejected by your staff.

#7 The existence of the PMO is not known

It will be difficult for your employees to support a PMO if they know nothing of its existence.

This is all the more true for external business units.

Even if the PMO’s existence is known, support can be lacking if people don’t know exactly why the PMO was implemented and what its tasks are.

The previous section has already made it clear that PMOs are quickly seen as a threat anyway.

So make sure the PMO’s mission is known to all involved. Also communicate where the PMO’s powers end.

#8 You rely on quick wins instead of sustainability

I can only repeat myself: Introducing and establishing your PMO is time-consuming, labor-intensive and expensive and is likely to fail.

If you’re looking for quick results, a PMO is definitely not your way to go.

Short-term success and PMO are mutually exclusive. PMOs require time, money and patience.

So it takes time until the PMO has understood and internalized the wishes of the stakeholders.

Dysfunctional project practices are also not uncovered overnight and do not vanish into thin air through PMO.

An expandable step-by-step model, constant and systematic “lessons learned” are the right approach here.

#9 You turn your PMO into a profit center

PMOs can work efficiently and drive change as long as they are not held directly responsible for profits.

In practice, this means that line organizations should provide information to the PMO based on the dotted line principle. Only in this way can knowledge be generated.

The responsibility for profits and losses, however, remains with the division managers.

However, as soon as the divisional organizations report directly to the PMO, the PMO becomes a profit center.

In practice, this can lead to devastating results: Long-term improvements will fall behind, short-term profits will be on the agenda.

The PMO will lose its identity and become obsolete.

#10 Your PMO does not collect and structure knowledge

Let’s assume you did everything right when you introduced your PMO. Now it’s time to make sure that your PMO does everything right too!

The PMO is the guardian of a company’s project management knowledge. It must ensure that information is collected, analysed and disseminated.

Knowledge arises from the collection of “lessons learned” and “best practices”. It results from successes and failures.

If “lessons learned” are not interpreted correctly and “best practices” are not passed on, there is no transfer of knowledge.

As a result, project staff only learn from their own mistakes and not from those of others.

A PMO must ensure that errors are not repeated.

A PMO that does not structure collected knowledge cannot provide valuable information. But this is precisely one of the PMO’s main tasks.

In addition, managers often have little overview of how much capacity is available for additional projects.

The PMO’s task is to transmit this information to those responsible. This is the only way to create a well thought-out project portfolio based on the available resources.

Resource cost planning may be the most important reason why managers support a PMO.

So make sure that your PMO collects and structures information wherever possible!

#11 Your PMO is doing change with the crowbar

People hate changes in their comfort zones. However, PMO is there to drive people out of their comfort zone and introduce changes.

So they can do everything right during the introduction. Nevertheless, your PMO will quickly be rejected and its resolution demanded if it does not have the necessary empathy.

Before a PMO forces any change, it must understand the status quo. Most people understand the need for change, but are concerned about how.

At a US car manufacturer, a young PMO introduced ill-considered changes to the project management method. As a result, some of the decisions otherwise made by the workers were now made by management.

The PMO overlooked the fact that the ability to make some decisions on their own gave the workers a certain sovereignty. This led to more commitment. Abolishing this led to a broad rejection of the PMO.

So before your PMO recommends or even implements changes, it should have exhaustively analyzed the status quo.

“Collecting “lessons learned” and “best practices” often automatically leads to change in the company. The PMO is the leader of this change. Not every change is necessary and some necessary change can wait.

Forcing unnecessary change or fighting against a culture that resists change can lead to the failure of your PMO.

Change is important. But even more important is that change happens at the right time.

#12 Your PMO focuses too much on the profitability of individual projects

It can quickly happen that a PMO takes too much care of individual problem cases and thus neglects others. If a PMO’s employees get too involved in individual projects, they may neglect their actual tasks.

Supporting problematic projects is of course important. However, limits should be set here. The PMO should always serve the interests of the entire company and not only the interests of individual projects.

#13 Your PMO is too successful

Your PMO made it. Despite all adversities, the introduction phase was successfully mastered. A new methodology was successfully introduced and the PMO enjoys a high reputation within the company.

And yet your PMO will still fail.

Once a PMO has successfully developed a methodology, it can easily become complacent.

As a result, the focus is often too much on disseminating the methodology, while the development of new processes is neglected.

After great successes, it is only logical to stick to the game and make the most of the methodology.

However, if a PMO contributes to stagnation, it becomes superfluous.

For a PMO, the status quo should therefore always remain a fleeting phenomenon. It is important to question current practices and adapt.

Also interesting:

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Conclusion – Or why the introduction of your PMO will not fail

I can reassure you: Your PMO will not fail.

You have bravely fought your way through this contribution and are only prepared for all eventualities.

They know that a PMO is not a project assistant and they know that a PMO has to be staffed correctly.

They will also be careful not to over- or understaff your PMO. You will place a crystal clear order with your PMO.

Your management will provide the PMO with all the support it needs. After some initial hesitation, your staff will also commit to the PMO.

Your entire staff is aware of the benefits and powers of the PMO and your PMO can flourish before it has to be successful.

In addition, your PMO has an appropriate budget and the ability to generate knowledge without short-term profits.

Through the freedom your PMO is given, it can take the time to understand cultures and needs before it forces change.

Your PMO knows that it must serve the long-term interests of the company and that individual projects are not in the foreground.

In short, your PMO will be successful all round. And because you have repeatedly told your PMO that stagnation is a no-go, your PMO will remain hungry.

So your PMO has a great future ahead of it!

Do you know why PMOs fail? Then you are welcome to expand this list in the comments and share your knowledge with us!

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