How PMO Leaders can build on the momentum from the pandemic

Person presenting to the board

The past 12 months have shown how crucial the PMO Director role is: Now the focus shifts to enabling talent and building project portfolios that deliver growth.

The PMO on the front line

The PMO Director has previously been seen by too many organizations as the person who generates reports and shows how far behind schedule projects have ended up. The pandemic has changed that.

After a year in which working from home has become the norm, the PMO has pulled off a tour de force to keep critical projects running, whilst pivoting delivery portfolios and resource models overnight. The challenge for PMO leaders now is to keep up that momentum and not go back to being the people who know how to make Gantt charts look nice.

This is best achieved by harnessing the new positive light the PMO is seen in and enabling the next phase of growth and acceleration. The PMO has been on a long journey from its roots as an administrative function responsible for providing structure and standards within projects, to a new role coordinating large portfolios and supporting strategic decision making. The modern PMO doesn’t administer projects, the modern PMO helps executives which investments they make the optimum use of the talent that is available to the organization.

Covid drove home the value of an Enterprise PMO

In the early days of the pandemic, organizations had to pivot rapidly to survive. We highlighted some of the trends in our article: The Cost of Sitting on the Sidelines back in 2020. But where organizations sought to cut costs, restructure supply chains and accelerate digital transformations, the PMO was recognized, not as a cost to the business, but as an essential part of the decision making and enablement process.

Covid19 medical image

“Exec teams needed data on their project portfolios, and they needed to model scenarios rapidly”, explains John McIntyre, Founder and CEO of HotPMO. “PMO teams were vital hubs for creating transparency, highlighting options, and orchestrating some of the largest realignments of portfolio priorities that organizations had ever embarked on”.

As well as the challenges of supply and demand, organizations had to discover new ways of working. And while some organizations had structures that supported remote working, there were many who were left scrambling as HR policies shifted overnight from a stance where Working from home was a luxury afforded to a rare few employees, to the standard for everyone. IT teams and CIOs found themselves rolling out laptops to replace workstations and increasing the capacity for VPNs and remote collaboration tooling. PMO teams had a major part to play. They supported project managers to work differently and acted as a Center Of Excellence, training and coaching teams to work in new ways to maintain momentum and accelerate delivery.

Where do PMO leaders go from here?

Aligning with Growth Plans

PMO leaders looking to retain their hero status, the Pandemic has done more than show the value a strong PMO team can achieve in keeping the business delivering. It has also given us indications of what to expect from the future when covid lockdowns are removed. “People talk about the dust settling, but the reality is that we are close to the eye of the storm. Businesses need to prepare for more change as the world figures out what the ‘new normal’ will look like. The change will continue on all fronts: supply, demand, and what talent expects from the workplace”.

More than ever, PMOs need to be aligned to the vision and growth plans of the organization. COOs and CFOs are looking to the PMO to enable and accelerate growth – they do not want to hear how your PMO is focused on achieving maturity levels or certifications. PMO leaders need to really understand where the CEO wants to go, and show them how the PMO can help them get there. If your PMO reports to the CFO then you will always be challenged to reduce costs, The smart PMO leader will be looking to get in front of the Chief Exec and see where they want to go. Then you need to tap into your inner entrepreneurial spirit and figure out how you can proactively engage and enable that vision.

Seamless delivery models

The pandemic will have highlighted misalignment in your organization like never before. Highly siloed organizations have struggled to collaborate, and urgent projects have cut across reporting lines and business structures like never before. Now is the time to team up with department leads and champion organizational change that focuses on seamless delivery. Work with business analysts and PMO analysts to identify the friction points in your delivery model. Then identify ways that they can be removed. For PMO leaders who up until now have focused on project management frameworks, this may feel like a radical shift. But it is an essential one. Now is the time to stop focusing on delivering projects in spite of the business and work with leadership to build an organization that is aligned to accelerate project delivery. PMO Leaders operating under the CIO would do well to partner with software architecture teams to understand how teams can be restructured to reduce dependencies and support the future operating model. This is an approach that Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais describe as ‘The Reverse Conway maneuver.’ Now is also a good opportunity to take stock of the different variations of Agile frameworks that exist in your organization and explore how local pockets of success can be replicated in other areas of the business. “Don’t get fixated with a single framework,” John advises.” Just because your developers are comfortable with Scrum doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be using Kanban to optimize work that flows in different areas of the business whilst drawing on ideas from the major Scaled Agile Frameworks to help align teams into a structure that supports seamless delivery.

Team topologies book is a great tool for PMO leaders looking to align organizations for Frictionless delivery.

Build the right teams

For PMO leaders looking to make a difference, it is important to build the right team. The skills that helped your PMO get established may not be the ones that are required for the next phase of growth. Strategic PMOs require strategic thinking and business acumen. This means PMOs need to stop focusing solely on recruiting people from Project Management backgrounds. PMO teams should look to recruit people with broad business knowledge obtained in operations, marketing, and other areas of the business. When considering graduate recruits it is worth casting the net wider than those with Project Management degrees. Look for General Management degrees or specialist skills that will help the PMO evolve, such as data analysis, or process automation.

It is clear that the momentum around the PMO is not just about projects. It starts with aligning the PMO with the company’s plans for growth while partnering with business leaders to provide frictionless delivery. It also involves building versatile teams with people who can bring in fresh thinking and support PMO leaders as they continue their growth journey.