The challenges of a pandemic-impacted project world are numerous and the PMO has never been more necessary for successfully navigating crises and managing the digital investment slate.
One of the driving messages of the 2021 Federal Budget is that Australia is ‘going digital’ and if there is a defining theme running through business projects over the past 18 months, it’s that digital transformation has been occupying much more of the investment slate.
We are increasingly seeing demand for skills such as business analysts, data analysts, data management, data governance, data modelling, integration specialists, and of course, cybersecurity. The need to design, connect, integrate, and secure digital transformation projects is laying bare the importance of getting the processes right so that transformation via new technologies, tools, and systems realise the benefits that stakeholders are seeking across their organisations.
Technology will always outpace governance in terms of how quickly it can adapt and solve problems. But here’s a question: should the PMO adapt and embrace technologies such as bots, artificial intelligence, and blockchain in project delivery to streamline operations and optimise outcomes? And will the pandemic precipitate a permanent shift towards hybrid and virtual PMOs as part of the Australian project landscape?
The ‘pivot’: Getting beyond survival mode
Nearly 18 months on from the first wave of COVID, many organisations have started to move beyond crisis mode to rebuilding or redefining business process so that they can be geared towards digital delivery. We are increasingly seeing some recognition that the role of the PMO in managing this shift needs to leverage the strengths of the more traditional PMOs while also adjusting to the realities of newer technologies becoming part of the project delivery slate.
Portfolio prioritisation and optimisation has enabled many organisations to shift gears quickly to adapt rapid change brought about as teams went virtual and dispersed during the early months of COVID.
As those organisations revisit the mix of virtual, co-located, and hybrid project teams that are right or essential for their business in the post-COVID landscape, it could perhaps be argued that the project management office has never been more necessary to help drive investment into the right areas of digital transformation.
Of course, those of us who have been around long enough in the project delivery game understand the PMO has often been given a bad rap, and not without good reason. PMOs have historically struggled to maintain relevance and support stakeholders to consistently deliver successful outcomes.
That said, the pandemic has given many PMOs the opportunity to shine as they were able to support the business to adapt quickly by providing the right information at the right time to the right people. Well-oiled PMOs are rare, but when they are functioning well, the benefits to a business’s ability to pivot are immense.
Greasing the skids: The PMO as a conduit
As Australian project teams went virtual (and are increasingly now moving back to collocated or hybrid teams), we all became aware of the blessings and curses of digital solutions in sustaining business performance, supporting clients and staff, and ultimately producing a roadmap out of the economic impacts of COVID. While many projects were mothballed or delayed, others had to accelerate.
As teams embraced Zoom, digital watercooler alternatives, collaboration in virtual campfires, and other new modes of communication, the job of the PMO was to keep the information moving in the right direction. The good PMOs were able to recognise that they were in the position to signpost and flag operational challenges due to their reach across their organisations.
A recent PMOFlashmob session illustrated how:
Agile, Lean, DevOps, product management – bimodal, hybrid delivery, whatever we’re calling it, the PMO is supporting more of it…. We continue to understand how the organisation – using a myriad of different delivery approaches – can be supported and it’s up to the PMO to learn how it monitors and reports on progress across all the different projects regardless of delivery approach. There are different parts of the puzzle to work out, either different jigsaw sets to acquire. We’re on a continuous learning adventure.
Can bots, AI, and other technologies help PMOs become more efficient?
As businesses accelerate their digital transformation projects, the integration of APIs, chatbots, process bots, artificial intelligence, and other forms of automation and machine learning are influencing how efficiencies might be gained across the business.
At the heart of digital transformation is the reality that processes and data can deliver intrinsically more efficient insights to business decision-makers – provided they are well designed, well-architected, and properly integrated into the business.
Project reporting is perhaps the most obvious place for a PMO to embrace or build a case for AI-led data visualisation and technologies, but the PMO needs to ensure that it is able to convert data into better information, insights, and actions for stakeholders.
Most PMOs have been largely happy to work with what it has got, leveraging tools such as Excel and PowerBI to create reports and embark on business storytelling as a way of helping to provide the right kinds of insights to support stakeholders for making good project decisions. AI, bots, and other technologies will have a role to play, however, maturing the quality of the data is a long game and requires the investment to make it work.
Before we go too far down the digital PMO road, let’s focus on the PMO basics
PMOs are right to investigate technologies as a means of remaining relevant and valuable to stakeholders, but what stakeholders need more than technology is the ability to have the right conversations with the PMO to take the right actions as we continue to move through a COVID-impacted project landscape.
For the PMO, that means having brave-smart conversations to build the confidence and trust that stakeholders need to act. We all know that this is immensely difficult in a good project environment, but many of us have also had sufficient ‘good-news-only culture’ experiences to know just how hard that is.
PMOs that are comfortable with being visible and vocal, have effective communicators and facilitators, and the willingness to deliver news irrespective of whether it’s good or bad is the goal. Whether that’s virtual, hybrid, or technology-led, the relevance of the PMO is less about technology and more about their ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment.
The PMO is poised to play an important role in the post-COVID landscape, provided it can be deeply connected to the business’s needs and deliver the strategic benefits of effective change management, benefits realisation, and optimisation of the investment slate.
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