The Social Future of the PMO

Posted: October 27, 2015 at 12:16 pm

In Delivering Successful PMOs I asserted that true PMO success came from implementing the right mix of initiatives across three streams: People, Process and Technology. Traditionally, you would design an appropriate system of governance and business processes first; engaging and involving key people across the business until the method was understood, adhered to and well embedded. At this point the introduction of enterprise project management technology becomes much easier, empowering and underpinning a proven process and providing the tools for the people to do their jobs.

Emergent social media and technologies are disrupting this. Where PMOs have made steady headway in obtaining visibility and control across the portfolios or initiatives they support, they have done so through a reliance on consistency, compliance and rigour, striving for predictable and repeatable project performance.  Just as order was starting to emerge from chaos, PMOs are now encountering the spectre of ‘Shadow IT’, essentially cloud-based collaborative technologies easily available across multiple devices, often with a social or gamified emphasis. This challenges the role of the PMO as ‘regulator’ and places power back into the hands of the individual project managers who are adopting these tools and finding them easier and more effective than labouring with corporate tools promoted from the centre.

Broadly, this is a good thing. Every project is unique, after all, and each project manager thrives with different styles and has different preferences. The danger is that, as the PMO loses control, the organisation returns to over-reliance on pockets of expertise and individual ‘heroes’ to deliver projects successfully. The social revolution is clearly something to be embraced and, while it is apparently ‘technology-led,’ the balance in those three streams still rings true: we must consider the social implications to our processes and governance and also to our people.

PMOs should be aiming to adjust what they regulate and standardise; they need to become more outcome-driven rather than expecting compliance to specific procedures or templates, for example. More Theory Y than Theory X, if you will. However, this can only occur when there is confidence in two things: the maturity of the organisation and the competence of the PM community. In this way, a well trained project manager who has honed their skills over time into solid competencies should be allowed to experiment with new tools and new ways of working. Similarly, in a mature organisation where good practice and processes have been embedded into the culture, compliance-based PMOs become less necessary and they are free to assume the more valuable roles of facilitator and value-generator.

In the ‘Process’ stream, the whole concept of ‘maturity’ and what it means will evolve with this. Currently, most maturity models revolve around standardisation and an enforced ‘one-size-fits-all’ model but I predict this concept to embrace more flexible, multi-governance systems that account for varying levels of complexity and uncertainty. In short, ‘agility’ will be one of the factors that defines what ‘mature’ means.

Similarly, with our ‘People’ stream, emphasis will shift from skills training to continuous learning and competence development (i.e. the practical application and demonstration of skills over time) and we are now seeing the emergence of new ‘social learning’ technologies to support this. Digital competence will become more and more of a necessity in the modern workplace and a source of competitive advantage for organisations as our three streams continue to converge.

In summary, we shouldn’t panic about the emergence of social technologies, still less attempt to suppress them. However, in the short-term we may wish to evaluate and regulate our social approaches in the same way we regulate an approach to, say, risk management. The degree to which PMOs can step back and relinquish control will be directly related to evolving maturity and the competence of the PM community but these concepts will themselves be shaped by the social revolution. One thing remains true: that all of this takes time. It is a journey that takes careful cultivation so we must be careful of the temptation to run before we can walk.

Ray Mead MBA PMP is Founder and CEO of p3m global, a project, programme and portfolio management consultancy that partners its clients on journeys of capability development. He is author of the recently released book, Delivering Successful PMOs, and of the forthcoming title, The Agile Portfolio: Digital Transformation in a Converging World, both published by Gower.

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