Blog Barista: Bob Marquis, CPA, PMP | Sept 26, 2018 | Project Management | Brew time: 4 min

A Project Management Office (PMO) can be of significant value to an organization.  PMOs typically consolidate project managers, propagate standards, and provide integrated oversight of an entire portfolio of projects. A PMO can be a thing of beauty. Or it can be a beast. It can be inefficient and cumbersome. It can slow progress, and even get in the way of your business.

So, is your PMO a Beauty or a Beast?

Project management, like any management, is overhead. For an organization to justify the overhead, the PMO must provide more value than it costs. Most of you may be familiar with the usual line of defense used to justify the overhead of project management–more projects will be completed on time, they will stay on budget, they will have higher quality, less risk, etc.

Unfortunately, what we don’t always realize is that these benefits come at a cost. This cost is often perceived by the larger organization to be more trouble than it is worth. There are processes to follow, forms to fill out, tedious scheduling to be done, statuses to report, change requests to analyze, more meetings to attend, and on and on. All of this instead of “just getting it done.” (Or to put it bluntly, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”) Project managers, and everything they bring with them, are often seen as roadblocks rather than enablers. They are seen as something to avoid when possible, or someone to simply appease when they can’t be avoided. So, are those perceptions right? Is your PMO a cost & time drain for your organization–a Beast? Or is it a valuable enabler–a Beauty?

PMO leaders certainly believe that they are important and valuable to the organization. But as many of you know, the rest of the organization doesn’t always see it that way. The PMO leader has a responsibility to not only shape the perception of its value, but to ensure that it is in fact providing more value than the burden it brings.

Defining Value

So, what is value? A simple definition of value is the importance, worth, or usefulness of something. What’s not stated though, is that value is relative. What is valuable to one person or organization may not be to another. We even experience this in our everyday lives. You may really enjoy concerts and value good seats. The cost of good seats is “worth it” to you. Your peers, however, may have a different perception–they don’t want to pay that cost. Same seats, same cost, different value.

Finding the Balance

A PMO leader needs to determine the value that their specific organization places on project management. Like the example above, this is more than just a quantified measure. And this may or may not be a fair value, but at this point, perception is reality.

In general, the value of project management can be gauged by plotting your cost/burden against the complexity or risk of the project(s). The balance is right down the middle. You are applying just the right amount of project management overhead appropriate in your organization for the project’s complexity or risk.

Losing Your Balance

A problem arises if your cost/burden is not appropriate for the complexity/risk of the project. If your burden is too high for the project, it falls into the Negative Value Zone, otherwise known as “overkill”; it’s not worth it.

You could also have a problem if you don’t apply enough project management oversight for a complex or risky project. These situations often arise if your PMO is relatively new or immature, if there is weak support for your PMO from the business’ leadership, or, to be frank, if the PMO leader has either not been strong or has succumbed to the pressure to “back off” of project management discipline. Of course, it is often a combination of factors.

If your oversight is too low for a higher-risk project, it falls into the High Risk Zone, often known as “penny-wise” and “pound foolish.” It’s going to come back to bite you.

Finding an Even Better Balance

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Besides finding the perfect balance, there is actually opportunity to enhance the value of project management. If you are able to reduce the cost/burden of project management (perceived and real) while still providing the appropriate amount of project management oversight, you move the Balance line. This allows you to provide the appropriate amount of project management discipline but at a reduced burden to the organization. Welcome to the Value Opportunity Zone!

From Beast to Beauty

Remember that even the Beast turned out to be a Prince with just a little TLC! So whether you have a poorly functioning PMO or are considering forming a PMO, know that balance can be obtained. There are measures you can take and even companies who can help.

If your PMO is a Beast and not providing the cost-effective value you believe it should, take action–turn it into a Beauty!


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