PMO as a Catalyst

How many different types of PMO are there? There are a number of ways that PMOs can be classified - do you operate at team, department or organisational level? Are you a project PMO, program PMO or Portfolio PMO? Are you resource driven, or results driven? 

I would argue that there is only actually one type of PMO - The Catalytic PMO.

Catalysts, as you may or may not remember from school, are chemicals that increase the rate or chemical reactions. They do this by reducing the amount of energy required for the reaction to occur (see graph below). 

A Catalytic Reaction

Successful PMOs perform exactly the same function - they reduce the amount of energy required to get things done. To explore this a little bit more, I'd like you to do a quick thought experiment: What would happen to your organisation if the PMO suddenly disappeared? When I ask this question at conferences or workshops, I usually get the same response - "Everything would stop working - It would be Chaos!".

But what would really happen? Well, the Projects would still be delivered; Products would still get to market; people would continue to grow the business…. But without the PMO in place, everything would be that little bit slower. There’d be more wrong turns, more false starts, more people not knowing HOW to take their big ideas and turn them into real business value. 

And that's where the PMO comes into play. Whether it is a small, one-man-band PMO, or a behemoth, it should exist to make it easier to get thing done. Consider these typical PMO services:

  • Porfolio Analysis and Prioritization - Snr Management teams have been prioritizing projects and products for years and will continue to do so with or without the PMO. Where PMOs are successful in this space is when they act as a catalyst and reduce the energy expended by Snr Managers, simplify the process through standardization and make the whole process faster. 
  • Resource Management - Resource Management is about getting the right resources working on the right things. Through effective control, oversight and process control, successful PMOs are able to demonstrate that they can get resources progressing on the right projects faster than would be the case if the business was left to its own devices. In other words, the PMO acts as a catalyst for resource allocation.
  • Project Initiation - Initiation is a hugely inefficient stage in the project lifecycle. It requires a lot of energy and can take time to get right. By acting as a catalyst, the PMO simplifies the process through the use of templates and stage gates, and by providing expertise to reduce the amount of energy required to get projects through initiation and to a phase where they can start building value. 

One of the great things about viewing the PMO as a catalyst is that it makes it exceptionally easy to measure and demonstrate the value that the PMO brings to the organisation. Techniques such as Value Stream Mapping suddenly become invaluable, as are metrics focused on Lead time and Cycle time. By capturing these metrics, every service that the PMO offers can be measured in terms of how fast it is and how much effort is required.

What do you think? Is your PMO a business catalyst? Do you measure the speed of your PMO services? Let us know in the comments section below.