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.

Process with a Purpose

Process is the oil that runs the machine of technology delivery. But if that oil is not changed regularly, it gets old and turns into a sludge that could impair the machine.

Process has turned into a modern four letter word for some. In many cases that negative reputation has been earned. Process helps businesses achieve efficiency by defining a repeatable and consistent way of doing things. It helps onboard new employees and keep current ones focused and effective. It helps business achieve consistent results. But when process gets in the way of innovation and delivery, it fails to accomplish these lofty goals. I prefer to focus on “process with a purpose”. What purpose does the process serve? How flexible is it to allow for exceptions and individual initiative? How easy is it for others to learn, understand, and follow it? And, most importantly, what value does this process bring to your organization and your customers?

Us humans will, by our very own nature, follow the path of least resistance. A process will either enable efficient delivery or will hinder it. And we will either follow it or work around it. Every single process in an organization should be evaluated in this context. Processes that hinder efficiency need to be either improved or deleted. A process that hinders efficiency is a straight jacket that discourages creative problem solving. Sometimes reinventing a wheel is preferable than spinning one endlessly.

The process of evaluating and improving processes (aka “process improvement”) never ends. A process that was good yesterday may not be good today. You need to recognize the fluidity of modern business and build in enough agility into your process improvement effort to respond to this challenge. There are plenty of proven models and tools to help organizations assess and improve their processes.

I’m a big fan of Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI). I’m also a big fan of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) approach. But I prefer to use these as guides, or as a framework. The reality on the ground will dictate how many of these concepts are applicable and bring value to a particular situation. A focus on value will make a process improvement initiative a lot more successful.

I’m a firm believer in the crawl-walk-run approach. Before you start talking process improvement, you need process definition. Do you have a process library? Or a simple list of all your defined processes? Is it a 500 page manual nobody reads, or is it in an online repository where you can solicit feedback from users and collaborate on improvements with process owners? Working your way from a CMMI Level 1 to a Level 5 is quite a journey. But it requires flexibility and adaptability. It may require unique and unorthodox approaches to challenges to suit the particular needs of your organization and your customers.

As with the implementation of a PPM tool that I’ve written about before, you will need to leverage proven tools and methods of systems delivery and change management. That’s a given. But my advice is to never take your eye off the ball – “Does this process have a purpose?” “What value does it deliver?” If you don’t have good, solid answers to these two questions, move on to the next one. It’s better to have a small set of good processes that deliver value and have purpose than have a 500 page manual nobody reads.