Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Bi-Polar PMO

In a recent special edition of the Project Management, I readan article titled “An Empirically Grounded Search for a Typology of Project Management Offices.” Now normally I stay away from articles with words like typology and empirically, but it sounded like someone had figured out why PMOs are so different. That got my interest.

Well, short story – they haven’t figured out, but they can point out some factors that result in different types of PMOs. I won’t go into everything and steal the fun, but there are a few things that just hit home and I had that “AH HA!” moment. PMOs aren’t normal we’re bi-polar.

We are not individually bi-polar (although I have had my moments). Rather the universe of PMOs trends towards an all or nothing distribution. For those of you lucky enough to have wiped statistics from your mind, a bi-polar distribution looks like a “U” with the peaks at the ends while a normal distribution is like an upside down U – aka bell curve.

Well we are not a bell-curve group. And that was really my moment of realization. I’ve worked in PMOs that had authority, control of projects, project managers and ones that had none of the above. This has been a source of personal frustration. Knowing that an empowered PMO can truly help an organization and being stuck with producing status reports is unpleasant.

The writers talk about what factors lead to placing a PMO on one end of the spectrum or the other. It’s very helpful if you are looking for a PMO manager job as these are very good predictors. Some of the factors are the size of the organization, the maturity (CMM and Project Management), and matrixed v. non-matrixed. As for the poles, they are what you would think.

I would refer to one pole as the “emasculated” pole. Here the PMO has no PMs, no authority and is relegated to producing status reports and bugging everyone else. Did that sound biased? On the other pole we have the PMO that owns responsibility for the projects; has decision-making authority and contains the PMs who are running the projects. This is the “partner” pole.

Unfortunately, the authors do not tell us how a PMO manager can change this on an individual level or how we can bring this distribution back to normal. Or even why it is like this. I think that we have still not arrived where the PMO is a recognized and appreciated part of an organization. Each of us is responsible for this whether we run a reporting PMO or a participating PMO. Those of us at the reporting pole have a challenge to excel and push the envelope. Those on the other pole are challenged to constantly improve.

I see our future as a normal distribution with the average PMO being fully engaged and participating in organization management. Project management is management, and the PMO can become the center of management excellence. No other organization is better suited to this role than we are.

9 comments:

jack dahlgren said...

Hmmm... Not sure why you think that a "normal" distribution is the right thing. PMO's are not really a spectrum. The two types you describe are fundamentally different and there is not really a need for many different types or mixes of PMO's in between them.

In fact, I'd actually say that there are three types of PMO. But then I'd reduce that to two by claiming that the type which merely tracks projects and distributes reports is not a PMO, but rather a PAO (Project Accounting Office).

We don't really feel bad that there is not some creature to fill the gap between dog and bird, so why worry about having some middle ground between the very different types of PMO?

Derry Simmel said...

Good points Jack - maybe trying to homogenize PMOs is not the appropriate view. Maybe we are more than bi-polar, maybe there are more than a few different types? I do think that we are the first real organization that focuses on the practice of management and that there in lies one of our greatest strengths and opportunities.

Jack Dahlgren said...

I do think that we are the first real organization that focuses on the practice of management and that there in lies one of our greatest strengths and opportunities.

I don't really think that is historically correct. Management has been around a long time and people have been focusing on it long before the PMO was conceived. PMO's need to take a deep look at their own strengths and weaknesses and see both what they are capable of doing and what they are expected to do.

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