It is believed that the first-ever PMO established was a “Strategic Project Office”, in the 60s, by the US Navy Department. The reason for this? They had an important mission of ensuring the successful completion of Polaris, a submarine-launched ballistic missile. While the value of such a PMO seems to be in the annals of history now, for today’s PMOs the scenario is a bit different and we are inundated every year with studies and reports of failed PMOs. This is why it’s so important to future-proof your PMO.

According to The State of Project Management 2017 Survey, 89% of firms have a PMO in place yet, just 45% see their role recognised as a value add business partner!

Does this then pose the question: what about the future of the PMO? Will the role of the PMO still exist in 10-20 years’ time?

The best way to predict the future is, still, to create it.

5 Ways to Future-proof Your PMO

1. Build Relationships

Most PMOs start by creating a suite of project management processes to guide how projects are run in the organisation. While processes are important, sometimes PMOs get too obsessed in ensuring that they are followed, ultimately leading to a climate of fear within project teams and to a bad reputation for the PMO.

Stop being the process cop and start being BFF with your project managers. Relationships are at the core of what project management is about. The relationship with key stakeholders can make or break a project.

The same is true for PMOs. How you communicate and collaborate with project teams, sponsors, other departments, or with the PMO team, is essential to manage expectations, build engagement, gain commitment and buy-in. Make no mistake: no one destroys what one helps to build.

2. Strive for Embeddedness

When asked what distinguishes a high-performance PMO from others, the answer from Professor Monique Aubry. Someone who is an important figure when it comes to PMO research, her view is clear – embeddedness. Contrary to what you may think, it’s not the PMO type, the functions performed, or their context that explains the variance in PMO performance.

Although these are valuable predictors, they account for just 28% of the variation. When it comes to PMO performance, it’s all down to how well the PMO has been embedded into the business. This means that the PMO needs to ensure that its mission is well understood and its expertise is recognised if it is to receive collaboration from other project participants and the support of upper management.

The PMO shouldn’t try to boil the ocean, instead, it should pick its fights wisely and win them. It’s better to just do the basics and do them well, rather than try to do everything and do them wrong.

3. Sync your Portfolio

This may sound like an odd one but certainly sounds better than “align your projects to strategic objectives”!In fact, alignment represents the extent to which projects are in sync with the strategic objectives of the organisation and should be a vital criterion for selection of which projects it puts forward.

PMOs can play a key role in ensuring alignment since they are by nature, enablers of alignment on the strategic, operational and cultural level. While projects are said to implement strategy, PMOs help bridge the difference between the company’s vision and the company’s day-to-day by liaising with Project Managers and Executives or by coordinating (align) high-level strategy formulation with the strategy in-the-trenches implementation.

Bearing this in mind, PMOs that want to survive in the years to come to need to enhance their catalogue of functions and services towards the mission of alignment, starting by developing Portfolio Management capabilities and being business-oriented.

PMOs that push for strategic alignment, business case review, or support in the selection and prioritisation of the portfolio pipeline ensure, that only the projects that are aligned and can deliver business benefits are carried out. This means projects which are not aligned and are not worthwhile are stopped.

Alignment is what saves your company money and steers it in the right direction!

4. Be agile

Just to avoid any confusions: I don’t mean ‘Go and become a Scrum Master’ or ‘Start having daily stand-up meetings with your team’. In my view, the mindset is more important than the toolset, that is, being agile bears more value than doing agile.

Agility is the ability to rapidly respond to changing conditions in the organisational environment (e.g. new products launched by a competitor, client needs changing, etc.) by re-configuring your original structure. Allowing you to quickly react, adjust, innovate, and take advantage of emerging opportunities.

Remember the quote from Darwin (which, by the way, does not actually belong to Darwin!): “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”? This is what agility is about – how quickly you adapt.

Organisations and complex projects are operating on the edge of chaos, the delicate distance between stability and total randomness. Thus the challenge for PMOs is to enable the right balance between the governance and control that brings predictability to organisations and the agility and flexibility that allows them to innovate and respond to change in an effective way.

Moreover, even PMOs are still sometimes accused of being too bureaucratic and inflexible in their approach or processes, hence agility comes not just as a response but as a real need for the sustainability of PMOs.

5. Love your uniqueness (and share the love)

There are as many types of PMOs as there are companies in the world. Each PMO is unique and so will the value they add be. Trust me, there’s nothing wrong in that. You may not be performing all the 27 functions identified in research but as long as you are delivering services that are perceived of value, relevant to the business and meaningful to your key Stakeholders, you are a step closer to future-proof your PMO.

It is said that value lies in the eyes of the beholder, making it a pluralistic (sometimes even contradictory.) concept, difficult to capture. It is thus essential that the PMO poses the question “what is value to you?” and understands from its key stakeholders what their expectations and concerns are and how these can be met by the PMO’s services. Remember that value is not just subjective but also context-dependent thus don’t be afraid to re-think your role and re-invent your unique selling proposition over time.

Most importantly, love your uniqueness and communicate it! To build reliability, trust, and accountability, it is fundamental for PMOs to continuously show how they are adding value by measuring and reporting their key performance indicators and by communicating how they can serve their stakeholder’s community. Social media and the digital revolution is here to stay so make use of the wide selection of tools at your disposal. Pic or didn’t happen, they say.

When it comes to how you can future-proof your PMO, we must agree with the wise words of the great Yogi Berra, Baseball-player, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future”.

Nevertheless, we must also not forget that it is in our hands to build the future that we desire.

In my view, the PMO of the future exists in a world where the profession of PMOs gets the same recognition as of Project Managers.

A world where Project Managers are not pushing away the PMO but where PMOs are indispensable for Project Managers and for their projects to succeed.

A world where Executives cry out for a PMO in their organisations because they know that a PMO will bring value.

In a nutshell, the future of PMOs happens in a world where PMOs are critical to the business.

Want to know more about the latest ways to future-proof your PMO? Why not attend our 1 day PMO conference; FuturePMO.