The PMO as an Agent of Change

Project Management Offices (PMOs) are uniquely positioned to be agents of change within an organization.

Change is hard.  And change is everywhere. Change is one of the most difficult things businesses do.  Project Managers can plan for the change, they can execute the science of the change, but there can be a missing element for business change to be truly successful.  It is the “art” of change, and it has to do with people.

People need to accept the change.  And there are plenty of change methodologies and books and training about how to go about executing successful change.  However, within an organization, you need skilled people to implement change.  A Change Manager or a Change Management Organization is ideal.  A PMO can also be an agent of change.

Think about it.  A PMO is staffed with professional Project Managers.  These are people who get things done for a living.  If the PMO is not taking an active role in implementing change, change will fail.  But a PMO is not, by default, equipped to lead effective change initiatives.  I mean, the science of change, yes.  But not the art.  There are soft skills and leadership skills needed to sell change, to lead people through change, to help an organization embrace and accept change.  And while senior leadership is ultimately responsible, the PMO can help “where the rubber meets the road”.  The PMO is uniquely positioned on the front line of change, and can help implement a successful change initiative.  You just need to make it part of its charter.

The charter of a PMO defines what it does.  If playing an active role in change initiatives is part of the charter, the PMO will then endeavor to hire and train its Project Managers on the skills necessary to support change.  Most of those are already in the DNA of a good Project Manager.  But in most cases you have to build on that.  You have to provide the skills and training needed to be a successful change agent.  These soft skills can be taught and improved with training and practice.

Effective change management can be taught to all levels of an organization’s leadership.  But there is one group that is uniquely positioned to have the greatest impact.  And that group is the PMO.  All major initiatives should run through this group, and a member of this group should be assigned to lead them.  Making sure this group accepts its responsibility for the success of change, above and beyond the key performance indicators of their project, is a critical success factor.  Implementing the new system is not enough.  Adoption and acceptance of the change are also key.  The PMO needs to expand its scope to include these.  And PMO Project Managers are well qualified to lead change.

Improving PMO Performance

So, you have a Project Management Office (PMO), it is fully staffed, has a great set of tools, a well defined charter, and the support of the entire management team.  Great!  So how do you improve the performance of your PMO?

Modern PMOs cannot rest on their laurels.  It is a matter of “what have you done for me lately”?  There needs to be a commitment to continuous process improvement, key performance indicators, and ultimately customer satisfaction.

In this regard, PMOs are not dissimilar to many other business organizations.

Continuous Process Improvement – PMOs need to lead the charge.  This sounds like a cliché, and perhaps it is, but cannot be overlooked.  A lot of PMO complaints circle around how much harder and more complicated the process becomes when the PMO is engaged.  Well, there is a reason for these processes.  But business processes need to be constantly reevaluated and improved to run more smoothly.  Many times the responsibility of a dedicated Process Manager, the PMO needs to lead in this arena, as the PMO is both the consumer and victim of these processes.  Deliverables and outcomes needs to be prioritized, and a focus on the critical success factors is key.  The PMO has to be an active participant.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – the almost ubiquitous RAG (red, amber, green) “status lights” are just the beginning.  Which metrics are really important to your customer?  Budgets are always a good source of KPIs, budget spent to date, forecast, etc.  But be careful in not overdoing it.  Too many KPIs puts a lot of pressure on the project teams to report and it can take away from doing actual work.  Selecting a few KPIs, which may differ from project to project, is an important role of the PMO.  Selecting a KPI has a lot of downstream effects, like which systems will track the data, which processes produce it, etc.  And being flexible is important – new KPIs can surface midway through a project, and some of the ones you started with may lose value.  Don’t keep them for nostalgia’s sake.  Run a lean dashboard.

Customer Satisfaction – ultimately, this is the name of the game.  Who is your customer?  And are they satisfied?  Because regardless of what you think you accomplished, if your customer is not happy, you will not be happy.  Trust me.  In order for you to keep your finger on the pulse of the customer, you need open channels of communication.  You need to solicit continuous feedback.  And you need to respond to it.  Here is where all those communications tools and processes will come in handy.  Keeping your customer consistently informed is half the battle.  The other half is informing them of something they want to hear.  And accomplishing project goals generally tends to do that.  But do not underestimate the importance of continuous feedback and adjust your projects accordingly.

So a PMO that is tied at the hip with your Process Improvement Team (or person), a lean dashboard of KPIs, and open lines of communication with continuous feedback from your customers.  These are three things you will need to improve the performance of your PMO.