5 Questions: Next Generation PMOs

By Fabrizio Spademan and Emma Peng

Earlier this year, Strong-Bridge Envision hosted a webinar about the Next Generation Project Management Office (PMO). Peter Kahn, the head of our Northeast Region, spoke with our own Anita Jivani and Jennifer O’Brien on PMO topics ranging from new tools, the value of certifications, and predictions for the future of project management as a whole. The webinar highlighted artificial intelligence and cloud-based tools, which are changing the face of project management and with it, project management offices.

Historically, project managers have relied on top-down management techniques, such as waterfall, to coordinate projects. In recent years, however, hybrid methodologies have gained popularity and visibility, and it is now common to find PMOs that rely on several methods to manage their portfolios. Agile and aspects of lean thinking are all present in the Next Generation PMO. We believe organizations must be able to both adapt to and expand their capacities in these areas.

With this in mind, here are five key questions that emerged during the webinar, as well as takeaways to consider in your own project management.

1. Where in an organization should the PMO exist?

The positioning of a PMO within an organization depends on the maturity of that organization. In large, well-established companies, we tend to see the PMO(s) at the department level—whether it’s IT or business transformation or HR. You may also find an enterprise-level PMO that links to the overall strategy and cascades down. Smaller organizations or those with less formal structures may not have an overarching PMO model at all.

During the webinar, Peter Kahn explained, “Traditional PMOs are focused on the delivery of projects versus the next generation PMO, which focuses on delivering value and realizing benefits.” Regardless of where a PMO exists within an organization, a comprehensive strategy should seek to create an integrated PMO network within an organization, with a focus on strategic and ROI alignment — making sure that the involvement in each project is focused on delivering value to the organization and its customers.

2. What are your observations around project prioritization (project ranking) methodologies?

One of the most important aspects of our work with PMOs is assessing their strategy for prioritizing projects. We see a trend that links project prioritization to the business units’ and functional areas’ strategic objectives, and then considers the other factors such as cost, resource availability, timeline, etc. However, linking all factors to the enterprise’s strategic objectives is also important. As Jennifer O’Brien put it: “The next generation PMO will not only align to the business unit or functional areas’ strategic objectives, but into to the enterprise’s strategic objectives.” When it comes to prioritization, it’s best to consider whether each project aligns with your organization’s strategic plans, and how it will deliver value against them.

3. What level of interaction or governance have you seen between change management and a PMO?

More mature project management offices have a strong and close relationship between project management and change management with an overall understanding and appreciation that many of the enterprise-wide initiatives require significant change. When we think of project management, we tend to have a strong association with organization, stakeholder management, and ensuring that deliverables and milestones are met. Anita Jivani notes the importance of finding a mutually beneficial relationship between the two disciplines: “I think the most successful PMOs are the ones where project management and change management are sitting hand-in-hand and created together so that there’s both a Center of Excellence for change as well as one for project management. Organizations as a whole are facing significantly more changes than they were five or ten years ago. Supporting people and managing change effectively without having change fatigue or frustration are critical to staying relevant in a constantly evolving world.”

4. What education level or certifications do you look for when hiring leaders or members of either the change management team or the PMO?

In our experience, companies may have strict requirements or expectations for certifications when it comes to hiring project managers. Unfortunately, this may cause them to lose otherwise qualified candidates, or to be biased toward individuals who have certifications but might not have as much real-world experience as is desirable. When this question came up, Anita Jivani emphasized that while education and certifications are always a plus, it’s important to look at the full picture and understand the depth of what a candidate can offer:  “I don’t think that just having a certification is the way to go. Bringing that certification to real life and getting the applicable experience associated with multiple methodologies is what leads to good hires.”  In short, certifications are great, but having the ability to understand different methodologies and the ability to apply your skillsets in a variety of environments is what is most important.

5. Will new technologies and management styles lead to the death of project management?

“Instead of calling it the death of project management, I would rather say it’s a shift,” says O’Brien. As cloud technology and management styles evolve, project management will continue to shift. While the tools, techniques, and experience from waterfall and traditional project management continue to form a foundation for the discipline, successful next-generation PMOs will be those that are most able to adopt new technology, such as AI and machine learning, to support their efforts and allow them to shift their management style to focus more on the people side of project management. They will also be adept at considering the larger organizational strategy, as opposed to just the project itself.