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How many different types of PMO are there? There are many ways that a project management office can be classified. Do you operate at a team, department, or organizational level? Are you a project PMO, program PMO, or portfolio management PMO? Are you resource-driven or results-driven? At HotPMO, we believe that there is only one type of project management office – The Catalytic PMO. No matter what you call your PMO, the most crucial role it plays is that of PMO as a Catalyst.

The PMO acts as a catalyst

As you may or may not remember from science and engineering at school, Catalysts are chemicals that increase the rate of chemical reactions. You may even have performed experiments with acidic catalysts such as sulfonic acid or other acid-catalyzed reactions. Catalysts achieve this by reducing the energy required for the reaction to occur (see graph below).

PMO as a catalyst
This is what the PMO as a catalyst looks like in graph form.

Successful PMOs perform precisely 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. Ask yourself this: What would happen to your organization if the PMO suddenly disappeared? I have asked these questions at conferences and meetups. The answer is always the same: “Everything would stop working – It would be Chaos!”.

What would happen to your organization if the PMO suddenly disapeared?

But what would really happen? Well, the Projects would still be delivered. Products would still get to market. And 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.

Project Management Offices make it easier to get things done

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 things done. For example, consider these typical project management office services:

  • Portfolio Analysis and Prioritization – Snr Management teams and portfolio management have prioritized projects and products for years. They will continue to do so with or without the PMO. Where PMOs are successful is when they act as a catalyst and reduce the energy expended by Snr Managers. They achieve this by simplifying the process through standardization and making everything that little bit 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 can 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 by using Project templates, stage gates, and other PMO materials. They also provide expertise to reduce the amount of energy required to get projects through initiation and to a phase where they can start building value.

Measuring the value of the PMO as a catalyst

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 organization. Techniques such as Value Stream Mapping suddenly become invaluable, as are agile metrics focused on Lead time and Cycle time. By capturing these metrics, you can measure every service that the PMO offers. You can compare and contrast them based on how fast they make the organization and how much effort is required to run them.

Speed to important and the PMO is the catalyst

In his article, Adam Fridman argues that in business, speed is everything, noting that “If You’re Not Fast, Your Competitors Will Be.” This is as true for large organizations as it is for start-ups. If your project delivery teams are not moving fast, your organization will not keep pace with the market. This does not just apply to projects focused on R&D and new product development. It applies to shared services projects, compliance projects, and projects to upgrade legacy operating systems and databases. If we don’t move fast with such projects and change portfolios, it is easy to fall behind on compliance and rapidly become consumed with technical debt.

The PMO needs to set the pace and lead by example. A catalytic PMO is striving for faster ways to enable delivery teams, whether by making processes more efficient, finding faster ways to get projects initiated, or creating environments where businesses spin up innovative experiments rapidly. If the PMO puts ‘speed’ on the agenda, it encourages project managers and delivery teams to do the same. By leading the way, the PMO can influence the organization’s culture and create an environment where everyone moves fast, innovates fast, and delivers massive amounts of value to customers.

What do you think? Is your PMO a business catalyst? Do you measure the speed of your PMO services? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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