Thursday, 03 July 2008 04:40

From Good to Bloody Excellent

Written by Ilya Bogorad
I recently wrote here about the lack of strategic value in typical project management organizations. Since then, a few inquiries came in, all asking essentially the same question: “What is your vision for a highly valuable PMO and how do we transition there?” I will attempt to answer this question here, since more than a handful people may be interested. In this entry, I’ll describe the vision. Next time, I will offer some ideas on how to get there.

It has been discussed many times over that there is a continuum of choices when it comes to the model and modus operandi of a PMO, ranging from a highly decentralized community of practice to a centralized professional project management team, which tightly controls execution of all projects within the organization. Whatever form it takes, I envision a PMO that represents a prudent investment, not simply a recurring expense. Let me explain.

In the past few years the Project Management Institute has become the envy of many professional organizations, due to the exponential growth of its membership base. This growth, in my view, has occurred for a few reasons:

  • The PMP accreditation provided an “easy” way for hiring managers and especially HR to qualify candidates, and, hence, gained broad acceptance.
  • Most professionals in such industries as engineering, construction or IT, are charged with running projects at some point in their career. The potential membership base is therefore vast.
  • Barriers to entry are incredibly low and rarely enforced.

Such membership growth may appear to be a good thing but, in fact, it is not dissimilar to a common scenario which involves your holding shares of a public company and the company issuing more shares to finance its operating or investment activities. This is called dilution, which decreases the value of the shares you hold. In the case of the PMI, weak entry controls have allowed many individuals with weak management and leadership skills to enter the profession, driving the expectations of employers down. I know a receptionist with no practical project management experience, who has earned a PMP designation. Today, Workopolis is rife with project management job postings which state that the chief requirement for the job is a familiarity with MS Project or some such tool. What happened to leadership, strategic thinking, contracting skills, or people management abilities? Not surprisingly, the average remuneration has also plummeted: I routinely hear seasoned project managers lament about being offered $60,000 per annum full time or $45/hour on contract.

It seems to me (and this is one time I really hope to be wrong) that more and more, the market views the role of project manager as that of a bookkeeper of sorts, a type who prepares project schedules and shuffles papers. When viewed in such terms, a project manager represents an expense, which everyone should look to minimize. And there you have it – it has already happened, as I mentioned already.

The same idea applies to the corporate PMO. Fill it chock-a-block with bookkeepers from project management, albeit with fancy tools and frameworks, and in the shoes of a C-level executive, and I will fail to see much value in it, but rather an expense I have to carry, reluctantly. Organizations with prudent financial management strive to minimize expenses. That’s a hint.

Organizations with prudent financial management also look for worthwhile investments, and your PMO may be positioned to become one. Here is how I envision a highly valuable PMO.

Appropriate Model.

There is no such thing is one size fits all, when it comes to the PMO. This came out loud and clear, at a panel discussion at ProjectWorld 2008. I was one of the three panelists at that session and the large number of participants reconfirmed the panel’s unanimous opinion on this beyond our best hopes. If the model is not right, it won’t work, period. Which one is right for you is impossible for me to tell without knowing a little bit about your organization.

Competency.

The PMO has a decent level of knowledge, well above the level of PMBoK, in such core management disciplines as strategy, people management, finance, marketing, MIS. It maintains and applies excellent knowledge of project management tools and techniques, and an understanding of their advantages and drawbacks, so that the appropriate ones are used every time.

Business Acumen and Alignment.

The PMO shows excellent awareness of the current economic realities, state of the industry, market conditions and current business priorities. It is fully aware of the corporate strategy and structures its activities so that they further the organization’s positions towards strategic goals.

Presence

Armed with leadership skills and business acumen, the PMO is a key contributor when it comes to the formation of project portfolios, making strategic decisions during the execution of projects, and development of project alternatives. The PMO is not afraid to push back and is highly regarded for that.

Innovation

The PMO is always on a lookout for better tools, techniques and practices, based on its experience and the best industry standards. Its business skills make it possible to suggest to the business, projects and approaches that have not been thought of. The PMO incessantly promotes project management skills within the organizations and acts as a “go to” entity for all questions related to it, thus improving the quality of project management across the whole organization. Is it a tall order; too much to ask for? I don’t think so. Moreover, I am convinced that almost any PMO, with professional help, can be made into an “investment grade” entity of considerable value.

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Ilya Bogorad is the Principal of Bizvortex Consulting Group Inc, a management consulting company specializing in IT- business alignment and located in Toronto, Canada. Ilya can be reached at ibogorad@bizvortex.com
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