Depending on the research you review, or the expert you talk with, you'll get varying answers to how long the average PMO lasts. What everyone seems to agree on though is, PMOs need to provide value to their organization or they'll be eliminated. While the requirement to provide value exists for all functional areas and/or departments within a company none of the others are being eliminated.
Does the Sales team end with a few bad years of sales? Has there been a global movement to decentralize sales and have the various other departments add a salesperson and take on the sales activities? Of course not, and same goes for HR, Accounting, Marketing, Manufacturing, Supply Chain and so on. The one department which faces elimination is the PMO.
I've had many, many discussions over the past decade with other leaders in our industry exploring how to save the PMO from extinction and should we spend the energy and effort to save them. I've worked with numerous clients helping them build or improve their PMO. I've conducted research and studied research from others. All looking for the silver bullet or magic elixir to save the PMO from extinction.
I've identified 3 questions which PMO Leaders need to be able to answer and the answers need to be aligned with the organizational leadership team's responses. Having your own answer isn't good enough. To survive and meet expectations the PMO leader and Executive team need to be on the same page.
The 3 questions are:
- Why does the PMO exist?
- What Value do you provide the organization?
- How does the PMO stay relevant?
Let's take a look at each of these questions. First, Why does you PMO exist? The PMO Leader is usually able to quickly answer this question. Usually the answer is something like, "ensure projects are delivered on time and on budget for the company". The PMO leader then builds the PMO team, PMO methodology, and PMO Reporting all geared to deliver on that response. The problem is they never take the time to ask the Executives the answer to the question. In the research and interactions I've had the Executive answer is something like this, "the PMO exists to deliver our important projects to ensure we hit our Strategic Objectives and provide Shareholder Value". While one can assume the PMO Leader answer and the Executive answer are the same or "close enough", in reality the two responses are miles apart.
Let's look at the second question, What Value do you provide the organization? The fact we have to ask this question already points to the belief that organizational leaders feel PMOs aren't providing value. Why do we have to answer this value question? This is a challenge for PMO leaders because they are answering the Value questions with the assumption that they answered question 1 correctly. They answer value in terms of schedule and budget while Executives are thinking Value Delivery is defined with Strategy Realization and Shareholder Value. PMO leaders are digging their own grave by assuming their own answers are correct without validating with the Executive team.
Our last question is, How does the PMO stay relevant? The PMO Leader thinks this is the easiest response. Simply keep providing value to the organization. You know where I'm going with this. Since they answered questions 1 and 2 wrong they think this is easy. Oh it's easy. It's easy for the Executives by this time to eliminate the PMO! For years PMO leaders think they are doing all the right things and suddenly they are blindsided by the "please come see me in my office" message. To stay relevant, the PMO needs to be able to adjust to the organizational needs, strategy, and customer demand. PMO Leaders are far too often under-educated in the ways of leadership and are unaware and underprepared on how to meet these demands.
If you want to succeed in the high pressure world of PMO Leadership you need to be aligned with your Executive team. You must have shared expectations. You must be able to answer 3 simple questions, and have your responses match the responses of your organizational leaders. Fail to align and you risk your PMO existence.