When the PMO becomes bureaucracy

persuasionA while back I set up a new PMO to support an internal restructuring programme. I set up the governance, the meetings and the associated infrastructure to maintain documentation and control.

As PMO lead, my role was to prompt, prod and challenge the programme’s management, ensuring risks and issues were identified, impacts assessed and mitigations put in place. I contributed to project board spotlights and updates and made sure the constituent sub-programmes aligned to the main programme. I also agitated for plans to ensure we could deliver. I was supported by one PMO analyst so this was not abig job.

However, to do the job properly, I had to quickly assimilate the programme’s objectives and get under the skin of the detail. That way, when meeting minutes were produced or spotlights reviewed I could challenge the content as well as the form.

With the end of contracts looming it was time to handover to a new PMO team. This was to be a PMO ‘service’ from a central change function. This ‘service’ didn’t provide full minutes, just actions and decisions. They we’re handle crankers, without the skills or knowledge to really understand the programme. They provided a basic paper shuffling service. There was no value added. The PMO had become a bureaucracy.

Another example of PMO bureaucracy involves an offshore PMO. Their role was to gather reporting information across a number or programmes to create an overall dashboard and reporting pack. The weekly process comprised collecting and collating status reports, milestone lookaheads and risk & issue logs. Their challenges back to the programmes were always valid e.g. you have two risks with mitigation past dates, but never real value added.

They should have been asking what is going wrong with the control processes that allow past due risks to be reported. That should have been looking for underlying issues by tracking the number of times a risk or issue resolution date had been slipped and challenging why. They should have been assessing the status reports to see if the words matched the underlying data and then offered help to resolve any problems.

In other words, they were going through a predefined set of motions and not adding any value. Part of the issue here was offshoring. To really understand the programme requires engagement with the programme team and the stakeholders. This is difficult, but not impossible, for remote team. To engage when remote requires time, effort and inclination. More calls, video conferences etc to compensate for missing what one senior executive described as the water cooler moments. Those ad hoc conversations where the real issues are identified. Where the little nuggets of information come from. It requires efforts from the offshore AND onshore teams. But these add cost so negating the cost saving of offshoring. So they often don’t happen.

So what makes for a value-adding PMO.

It requires two factors

  • 1stthe organisation and the programme management team need to understand and encourage the value-added proposition. If all they want is paper shuffling, then they won’t subscribe to the added cost. They have to recognise that an effective PMO frees up the programme management to manage and to lead the programme. They take away the bureaucracy and the day to day checking allowing management to focus on key issues and driving the programme forward.


  • 2nd it’s the people. A good PMO is staffed with proactive people. People that take an interest in the programme, that want to understand what the programme is about. They also want to take as much off the management team’s plate as possible. Good PMO people seek to challenge constructively. They are not looking to score points, but to help everyone involved in the programme.

Can PMO support be provided as a central service and still be value added? Yes provided the staffing is right and they are aligned to projects so that there is continuity and the opportunity to develop knowledge and understanding of the projects. If it becomes a process factory then no, the value added will be compromised if not completely destroyed.

If you are looking to establish a PMO or re-invigorate an existing one, book a free 30 minute consultation with us. Just click here.

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  1. […] Allen Ruddock observes that a PMO has to be close to the action in order to be effective. Not off-shored, or shared services, but an actual participant! […]

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