It can be challenging to restore or build trust from failure and convince others that success can be delivered. PMOs have had a tough time staying relevant, so we ask: Is it possible to revitalise a flailing PMO?
Creating something new within an organisation is always a challenge, no matter what the objective. That task becomes especially difficult if what you are creating needs to be embraced by users to be considered a success.
When success is contingent on an organisation accepting change as necessary, it’s a big hill to climb. But what is more difficult: creating something that has not existed before or resurrecting something from the wreckage of previous failures, possibly even multiple failures?
Failure – and lots of it – is the hallmark of many PMOs. We’ve previously explored why PMOs fail and it has many different permutations. It’s not only our tacit experience, however; there are plenty of statistics on why PMOs fail. A cursory analysis shows that anywhere from 50-70% of PMOs fail, but the elusive stats we can’t seem find is a simple one: Do companies share PMO failures evenly?
If it’s true that 50-70% of PMOs fail, could we accept the general rule that one in two PMOs will fail within any organisation? Or are there particular types of organisations that are over-represented in the ‘failed’ PMO column? Is it true that no matter the expertise brought to bear, some organisations simply will not be able to get a value-add PMO up and running? And if PMO failures are so omnipresent, then what are the chances of reviving a PMO when all previous attempts have failed?
Culture Eats Everything
We’ve said it before and say it again without apology: Culture eats strategy for breakfast. And maybe this is the key to building a sustainable value-add PMO. If the culture will not support a PMO – because the culture does not also support sustainable change and the role a PMO plays in the success of change – is there any chance of it ever succeeding, no matter the burning need for the capability the PMO will bring to the organisation or the quality of the team rolling it out?
And what are the characteristics of this this un-supportive change culture? Perhaps to uncover what a poor culture looks like we should first look at what a good change culture can be in the context of a functioning PMO.
What Does ‘Good’ Look Like?
Organisations that get change and the fact that the business world is being projectised also not unsurprisingly tend to value PMOs. Not the traffic cop variety but the ones that are critical to delivering a change or innovation slate that underpins the organisation’s strategy. These are organisations that culturally understand the need for constant and, we should add, successful change to remain relevant to customers.
High-functioning PMOs are integral to business change success and directly support delivering against the organisation’s strategic roadmap. The change-focused organisations are actively developing the cultural understanding that change is a constant, it is necessary, and it can be managed well to benefit customers.
They also understand the need for fit-for-purpose governance as an enabler for supporting the change slate. The right PMO will anchor in governance and assurance, providing invaluable capability in the essential services of yearly master planning, prioritisation frameworks, portfolio planning, and, when they move through the ‘what’, move into the ‘how’ by leveraging the most relevant delivery methodologies. A quality, relevant PMO ensures that projects have the best opportunity for success.
Will we Succeed or Fail: Culture Matters
So could this be the key to identifying the probability of a PMO’s success or failure? The organisations that culturally struggle to deliver any type of sustainable change – be they internal projects or customer facing – may, in fact, be overrepresented in PMO failure statistics.
It’s an interesting proposition and we’ve seen enough evidence to support it in the conversations and coal-face experience of working with PMOs. Some organisations will even tell us point-blank that PMOs ‘won’t work here.’
But that’s not the whole message; rather than the PMO being the issue, it’s symptomatic of deeper cultural issues within the organisation where change is concerned. The real answer is likely to be that the organisations struggles to manage change and that resistance to change is culturally ingrained, which means that a PMO will never be supported because it’s very function is to help govern and control change.
It’s food for thought for those of us out there espousing the benefits of PMOs, particularly when we have seen success and what it can deliver. Perhaps the next time you discuss the merits of a PMO, the first question should really be: Does your culture support change?
If the answer is ‘no’, then you can probably save your breath and skip talking about a PMO altogether.
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