The PMO is evolving and as it does, PMO teams need to be able to adopt and adapt new habits to balance out the traditional ones if they are to deliver both predictability and innovation.
Approximately one per cent of people are naturally ambidextrous and if you look at the percentage of PMOs that have developed this capability, it is usually a very small percentage also.
Just as many of our daily tools favour right-handed people (think can openers or scissors), the traditional emphasis for PMOs is to develop ‘right-handed’ habits that focus on predictability – usually at the expense of innovation. Many innovative minded Project Managers despairingly refer to the right-handed tendencies of PMOs as ‘waterfall’, scoffing at restrictive governance structures and wincing when asked for other right-handed artefacts such as a business case.
What they fail to recognise is that whilst today’s high performing PMOs encourage ‘left-handed’ tools such as scrum or Kanban, there is an increasing single-minded focus on developing a PMO team with a high degree of capability and versatility with each hand.
The Two-Handed Skill of Musicians
The modern-day PMO member is less of a process engineer and more of a musician – an activity requiring a great deal of skill in both hands. These ‘musicians’ that staff high-performing PMOs are just as comfortable playing classical music (predictability) as they are playing jazz (experimentation and innovation).
They recognise the ‘left-handed’ movement is well-intentioned and necessary but understand that tomorrow’s PMO must focus on delivering both predictability and innovation for their organisations.
Dexterity is essential in a disrupted project world
It is only the ambidextrous PMO that can de-risk today’s programs, which are characterised by a high degree of technical disruption (digital platforms, artificial intelligence) and delivery disruption (Agile, Lean, Six Sigma, and design-centric principles).
Leading organisations today focus on developing the dexterity of their PMO’s by embracing five principles:
- One-size fits one. Whilst high-performing PMOs have much in common, their design is bespoke and must be developed based on the organisation’s unique strategy, culture (existing mix of ‘left’ and ‘right’ handers) and portfolio. Standardised PMO designs will no longer succeed in delivering sustainable value.
- Distinct governance structures. Effective program governance is delivered though three inter-locking governance forums that each operate ‘top-to-bottom’ and recognise the need to separate and manage ‘strategic’, ‘design’ and ‘delivery management’ governance in a very different manner.
- Program Capability Development. Truly successful PMOs collaborate closely with Organisational Development to develop integrated strategies to proactively deal with the emerging people challenges (new technical skills, the ‘gig economy’, knowledge retention, increasing agility).
- Agile Alignment. Truly effective PMOs know when to experiment to solve new problems – and when to exploit what is already known. Importantly, high performing PMO’s know how to do both and can seamlessly integrate traditional and emerging tools and practices.
- Value-Added Services. High performing PMOs continue to provide traditional support (whilst encouraging greater autonomy within functional teams) but add additional value by:
- Driving capability uplift across the program;
- Undertaking ‘deep dives’ with delivery teams to get to the bottom of thorny implementation issues; and
- Running ‘delivery labs’ to bring together internal stakeholders and external experts (including customers) to work intensively to develop new practical solutions to emerging program challenges.
Finally they also support the business in generating and using evidence (analytics, user feedback) to make informed project decisions, which at the end of the day should be the focus for any PMO. Better project decisions to help advance the business, which should always include the consideration of innovative solutions mixed in with the predictable.
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