Is this the end of PMO?
For projects big and small, an effective PMO (Project Management Office) is integral to its success and has an undeniable influence over the culture in which it operates. As a function, an effective PMO represents the eyes and ears of the programme, ensuring key messages are highlighted correctly in governance meetings, areas of concern are escalated effectively and ultimately provides management with the necessary level of control which is so regularly missing from a given change initiative.
The role of a PMO, however, is often questioned. To a sceptic, a PMO role can be challenged if seen simply as an administrative function, or when not visible enough to the wider programme. Perhaps more commonly, a PMO is only recognised as a value-add function during specific times of the project lifecycle; for example during the mobilisation of a programme, where their expertise is needed to establish programme structure and governance. Such stigmas are unjustified but unfortunately for the PMO professional, they often have to accept that these views come as part of the job.
Is this the end of PMO?
Survey results have suggested that even amongst PMO professionals, the PMO role is greatly undervalued. BCS Consulting recently attended a PMO Conference ‘Future PMO’ (hosted by Project Management specialists Wellingtone), in which results were shared from an annual survey conducted with over 300 PMO professionals. The results showed that as little as 44% of professionals believed PMO roles were ‘clearly defined’ and only 29% believed the PMO role was recognised as a ‘strategic business partner’. Seemingly, the underestimation of the PMO is not only prevalent in external parties, but in internal ones too.
Furthermore, when professionals were asked in the survey to name their core responsibilities, 75% of their roles were dedicated to ‘project status reporting’ and 55% were to ‘maintain project management document templates’. This simplified view of the job role arguably plays into the hands of those that are challenging the value of the PMO in the first place.
At first glance, these statistics would imply that the prospects for a PMO going forward are bleak. Can there really be a future for roles spending 75% of their time reporting? Yet, 80% of survey participants reported having one or more PMOs within their organisations, compared to 71% in 2016. The headcount for PMOs is continuing to grow, but why is this and what does the future hold for PMO?
The Future of PMO
The Evolution of Online Project Management toolkits
The evolution of online project management tools is a major stride forward in utilising more collaborative solutions as a PMO. Within these online project management tools, you could expect to see modules representing different aspects of the PM toolkit such as budgeting, RAID management, status reporting and timesheets. Being able to connect and combine data from various sources would allow a user to visually analyse data, create dashboards, and securely collaborate with others.
With consistent information being used across the programme, these tools would see the end of duplication efforts of MI reporting across multiple tools and templates. The use of these tools are fast becoming the norm for organisations who continue to search for ways to reduce unnecessary time or cost wastage in a programme.
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
Another anticipated trend is the embrace of Artificial Intelligence in Programme Management. According to research specialists, Gartner, the augmentation of AI will create $2.9 trillion in business value by 2021 and recover 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity.. Whether via bots or applications, AI can help a PMO by automating repeatable processes, produce reporting when required and raise alerts to developments requiring attention or human intervention.
A useful example to think of when applying AI to Programme Management would be programme mobilisation. AI could utilise the information being provided in an online tool (as referenced above) and anticipate what additional pertinent information is required and when, leaving no stone unturned. Additional features could include prompting chasers to stakeholders and highlighting unresolved actions when approaching due dates. This is a simple example, but the lengths to which AI can support a PMO – and indeed across all industries – are only just being discovered.
A Bright Future for PMO
An interesting proposition made by Keynote Speaker Stephen Carver at Wellingtone’s ‘FuturePMO’ conference, is that amongst PMO professionals the challenges faced when managing a project can be placed into three distinct buckets of complexity. The first: ‘Structural’ complexity, i.e. dealing with the challenges that arise from the scale and size of a project; the second: ‘Emergent’ complexity from having to manage unforeseen or unpredictable events; and the third: ‘Socio-Political’ complexity faced when dealing with cultural difficulties across the project. Indeed, when participants were asked in the survey ‘which PM Processes when applied well add most value?’ the most popular response was ‘Stakeholder engagement’. Time spent on tackling both Structural and Emergent challenges could be significantly reduced through the use of online tools and AI. As a result, more time could be dedicated to addressing socio-political roadblocks, communicating and working with members across all levels of the programme in a way resource would not allow before. The benefit of having a PMO’s attention hone in on these challenges would be the renewed ability to mitigate programme issues in a focused manner and perhaps even preventing them from occurring as frequently.
Another benefit of introducing these tools can be understood when considering the next generation of PMOs. The “millennial” demographic will be taking up PMO roles within organisations over time and with them, a working style more akin to dynamic and collaborative solutions that mirror their everyday online usage.
“As disruptive technologies create new models and strategic opportunities, the next generation of PMOs are evolving from passive entities that manage scope, costs, and schedules to active, adaptive partners that lead and execute strategic initiatives”
– “The Next Generation PMO” report, Capgemini
In a separate survey, when 529 PMO directors were asked about the impact of disruptive technologies on their PMO, 47% stated that ‘new or different ways of thinking about the work’ was more in demand than ‘new or different specific skills’. The likelihood is that with PMOs finding new ways of working via better tools – programmes can reduce exposure to operational risks that arise from trying to maintain outdated, clunky processes.
There are a wealth of opportunities for a dynamic shift in the day-to-day role of a PMO, which could help to mitigate the issue of challenged value-add in repeatedly requesting updates, to truly understanding the activities of the wider programme. A PMO can begin to practice a more efficient way of working – using accurate MI for reporting, spending more time to analyse this data and subsequently driving better engagement across the programme. The utilisation of these tools and opportunities could be the key to successful end-to-end delivery, by helping a PMO gain back visibility and control of a programme.
Importantly, these solutions – AI in particular – would not replace the need for a PMO. Rather, it would increase the value of the PMO’s new role in driving stakeholder management, strategic decision making and general ‘outside the box’ thinking. PM tools would in theory provide more time for a PMO to perform strategic tasks, changing the composition of the role entirely.
This could reduce the need for professionals to spend 75% of their time on ‘project status reporting’ and instead truly increase the ability to become the ‘strategic business partner’ they should be.
It is clear that the tools that PMOs have at their disposal is evolving – grasped correctly, and the PMO profession could realise benefits above and beyond those mentioned here, and in turn alter the current perception of the profession.
 “The State of Project Management Annual survey 2018”, Wellingtone.
 The Next Generation PMO report, Capgemini