Setting-up PMO 3.0 |The Project Management Office in the Age of Digital Transformation

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Setting up PMO 3.0

Project or Program Management Offices are evolving. They need to keep up with changes in organizational needs and Project Management practices. So, we asked leading PMO thinker and practitioner, Nicole Reilly, to introduce us to her concept of PMO 3.0.

PMOs no longer the exclusive preserve of large organizations. And now their evolution is not confined only to where we find them. Pressures like new digital technology and Agile thinking are driving this need for change.

So, what is PMO 3.0? And how do you start the process of setting one up in your organization? That’s what this article is about.

We will:

  1. Answer the basic question, What is a PMO?
  2. Examine the evolution of PMOs
  3. Look at the meaning of PMO 3.0 in more depth
  4. Understand the PMO 3.0 Lifecycle
  5. Look at the first 3 steps of the lifecycle
  6. Review the need for a PPM Tool
  7. Consider the Knowledge Sharing role of a PMO
  8. Sum-up with some thoughts about PMO 3.0 and PMTQ

What is a PMO?

Before we get started though, what if you aren’t sure what we mean by the term ‘PMO’. Here’s a short video in which Mike Clayton explains.

PMO Evolution

To understand where we are in the PMO space right now, it’s important to first understand where we’ve come from…

The Evolution of PMOs to PMO 3.0

PMO 1.0 

The PMO of the Past

The first PMOs were created to ensure that projects delivered on time and within budget. They used templates and review processes to track progress and report to senior management.

These types of PMO were often regarded as ‘the project police’. Mostly, they operated in command and control environments and their primary focus was administration.  Sadly, some PMOs even resorted to forms of public shaming if project managers didn’t complete tasks on time. 

As a result, many came to see PMO as unhelpful. It felt like a single-faceted, template and reports generation centre. More than that, PMO 1.0 disturbed weekly routines with requests for updates, and got in the way of delivery. 

But, if the PMO made sure that projects met their delivery milestones, executives were happy – right?

PMO 2.0 

‘Expanding Value & Reach’

Next, the early 21stcentury introduced the concept of the PMO as a Management Integration Centre. PMO 2.0 provided a centre of excellence. Its job was to develop expertise and capabilities to run technology services like a business. 

These PMOs encompassed a wide variety of management and control functions. They worked across allorganizationalwork and resources. And they offered a place to consolidate businessmanagement processes.

As a result, organizations benefitted and gained value from PMO functions that:

PMO 3.0

‘Thinking Differently’

How work gets done is changing. Now, more adaptive governance styles are key on the journey towards greater enterprise or business agility. PMO 3.0 must balance and enable decision making, as well as prioritize value and delivery outcomes  

In the age of Digital Transformation, PMO 3.0 must engage fully with organizational transformation efforts. This means:

  • Evolving their mindsets
  • Exhibiting leadership and innovation skills
  • Developing action plans to maintain value to the organization

All this, whilst maintaining the core attributes associated with the benefits achieved under version 2.0. In his article, Introduction to the PMO, Peter Taylor defined PMO for us. He outlined the various Operating Modes and touched upon the Blended Approach to working with projects:

  • Supporting 
  • Controlling 
  • Directing
Blended PMO
Blended PMO

Just a Label

At the moment PMO 3.0 is really just a label for a concept that lots of different people in PMO are wrestling with right now (myself included) about where the next generation of PMOs are headed – and there is no clear consensus on that direction as yet.

Some of the other perspectives on PMO 3.0 include:

My Interpretation of PMO 3.0

As a practitioner, the Blended Approach is the one I’d align most with PMO 2.0 above. These are the core attributes of a PMO function that delivers value for an organization.

Let’s pick up from Lesson 5 in Peter’s subsequent article More Project Management Office Essentials. His Lesson 5 is to ‘Move With The Business’. He quotes the PM-Partners: PMO Trends 2012 report:

The PMO must evolve over time with a continuous plan to mature the practices that are of the greatest value to executives.’

PM-Partners: PMO Trends 2012 report

The business environment has changed once again. And the PMO needs to evolve alongside it or become irrelevant.  Whether we now call this a Digital PMO, an Agile PMO – or not a PMO at all – practitioners must take this cultural shift seriously. We call it PMO 3.0.

Setting up PMO 3.0

What does this mean for those of us building PMO 3.0 today?

There are four Key Factors to consider before getting started. They will be familiar to most of you, but no less important for that.

The Foundation: People

People are critical to the success of PMO 3.0 – those within and around your PMO.

Take the time to:

  • actively listen and observe
  • flex your approach 
  • understand what people need and expect from their PMO
  • interact with the people you find yourself alongside
  • communicate openly 
  • build trust

Work in partnership with your project teams to get the value you both need from the relationship.

The Building Blocks: Processes

Processes can make or break PMO 3.0. Look for the right balance between too many and not enough. They must be:

  • clearly communicated
  • fit for purpose
  • a balance between simple and complex

Take a look at the article, ‘Just Enough Process Management’ from the BPM Institute. It explores how easy it is to become obsessed with the measuring, monitoring and controlling of processes. It highlights the balance between implementing just enough or too much process management.

The Enablers: Tools

Which toolsin your PMO toolkit will you deploy? This means low tech techniques and templates, as well as any technology. 

Can your PMO 3.0 offer training, coaching and facilitation? Will it provide data analysis alongside the more traditional offerings? 

Axelos publishes the best practice guide, Portfolio, Programme and Project Offices (P3O) (US|UK). Appendix D of the P3O Best Practice references the P3O Online Repository. This contains examples of tools and techniques that can be used as a starting point. These include:

  • Portfolio Prioritisation model
  • Force ranking 
  • Management Dashboard
  • Leadership and Stakeholder Engagement
  • Sample Agendas, including Project start-up, Risk, Planning, and Lessons Learned workshops

The Enablers: Data

Data is an important aspect of tools and an enabler in its own right. But enterprise-wide data is a huge topic, and one that warrants its own article. But data underpins many of the services that PMO 3.0 now needs to offer. 

PMO 3.0 Services

I choose the word ‘services’ carefully. The concept of PMO 3.0 as a service provider is not a new one. It is addressed in this article from PMO Learning, which also introduces the PMO Services Lifecycle Framework. This was part of my IPMO-Expert Certification (IPMO-E) certification with the Association of International Project Management Officers (AIPMO). I will be adopting a simplified version of it as the basis for this article.

This subtle shift to service provision means that PMO 3.0 practitioners now need a multi-faceted skill set. They need to understand their operating environment and create the right skill mix to best serve that environment.  PMO 3.0 represents an evolution from a functional to a service perspective.

Tweet This: PMO 3.0 represents an evolution from a functional to a service perspective.

PMO Vision, Mission, Strategy, and Goals 

The core ideas that will underpin the precise structure and capabilities you choose for your PMO 3.0 will derive from:

  • Vision. The vision needs to align with and support the organization’s own vision. It will define the characteristics of the PMO in its environment. In a PMO 3.0 context this is just as much about blending:
    • mindset,
    • leadership, and
    • innovation.
  • as it is about being
    • Directive,
    • Supportive, or 
    • Controlling.
  • Mission. The Mission is the PMO’s purpose: its ‘why’; its reason for existing
  • Strategy. The Strategy is about how the PMO will achieve its vision 
  • Goals. Goals are about measuring the performance of the PMO strategy

PMO 3.0 Lifecycle

The PMO Lifecycle aims to ensure that the PMO you build is the one that your organization needs;and not just a vanity project. The five steps in the PMO lifecycle are:

  1. Identify, Evaluate, and Strategize
  2. Design and Justification
  3. Pilot and Implementation
  4. Run
  5. Transform or Retire
The Stages of the PMO 3.0 Lifecycle

PMO 3.0 and ITIL

The PMO Services Lifecycle Framework is geared towards helping you to decide which of the many services your PMO needs to provide. A useful reference point here is the Axelos ITIL Best Practice. ITIL advocates that:

‘[IT] services are aligned to the needs of the business and support its core processes.’

ITIL is the most widely used framework for IT Service management (ITSM). If you are not familiar with these terms, take a look at this short video.

The ITIL v3 best practices are currently detailed within five core publications by Axelos. OnlinePMCourses has a full review of ITIL in our feature article, ITIL for Project Managers – Should you? It includes an interview with one of the founding contributors, Ivor McFarlane.

Compare and contrast ITIL’s five ITSM phases with the PMO Services Lifecycle Framework:

  • One: Service Strategy
  • Two: Service Design
  • Three: Service Transition
  • Four: Service Operation
  • Five: Continual Service Improvement 

Setting-up Your PMO 3.0

We’ll look at the first three steps of the PMO Lifecycle:

  1. Identify, Evaluate, and Strategize
  2. Design and Justification
  3. Pilot and Implementation

Then, we’ll consider the all-important people-focus that you need to have. We’ll end this section with some thoughts about the role of PMO leaders in PMO 3.0.

Identify, Evaluate, and Strategize

Techniques that you can use to help identify, evaluate, and strategize include:

PMO 3.0 Design and Justification

The Axelos P3O best practice guide (US|UK) is an excellent resource. And my go-to reference when designing services for an organization is Appendix F.

I also like Bill Dow’s book ‘The PMO Lifecycle: Building, Running and Shutting Down’ (US|UK). It advises treating the PMO build like one big project. You should do what you would expect all good project managers to – start with a plan. 

That plan will help you to manage expectations and keep focused on the journey ahead.

Pilot and Implementation

When it comes to implementation, I have ten tips for you:

  1. The delivery methodologies your organization adopts will often inform the services that your PMO needs to offer. But remember, pure Agile or Waterfall often isn’t the reality and we often find ourselves in. You are more likely to need to adapt to a hybrid environment.
  2. You don’t have to offer a full set of services. Some will offer greater value to your organization than others.
  3. You don’t have to start offering all the services you choose, all at once. Determine which subset to start with, and grow out your PMO from there. Take an incremental approach.
  4. Also, you don’t have to have a perfect service offering before starting. Rather, iterate and build-in feedback loops for Continual Improvement. Yes, I recommend an Agile approach to developing your PMO 3.0.
  5. Retire services that are no longer adding value, to make room for new ones that will.
  6. Don’t just put together some process maps and standard operating procedures. People need to know what you are doing and how you operate. Create a Communications Plan; it’s not only about what you document, but how you share it.
  7. Run regular Open Forums and snappy Lunch & Learn sessions to inform people. Consider offering training, coaching, and facilitation so they can get the best from the services you are providing.
  8. Make PMO a safe space to ask for help. And be accessible, even if you’re not all in the same physical place.
  9. If you commit to Service Level Agreements (SLAs), respect them.
  10. Cake never hurts!

Start with a PMO of One

The reality is that you may be a ‘PMO of One’ for at least the first few months. Start small, until the business fully appreciates the value of your services and the demand for more increases.  I explore the idea of ‘value’ regarding the services you offer, in my article Adding Value.

One thing is crucial: don’t overstretch yourself. Instead, you should concentrate on providing quality not quantity. 

The Role of PMO Leaders in PMO 3.0

Traditionally PMO leaders had a background in project management. So, their core skills were around good organization. 

PMO practitioners now do much more than just enabling delivery of projects. Once their core competence was being skilled in the mechanics of successful project management. Now, they operate at many levels, from boardroom to development teams and everywhere in between. So, this is something which the ‘Capabilities Underpinning the PMO Lifecycle Framework’ attempts to capture. This can be very useful when preparing a Training Needs Analysis.

Personal Development

I get a lot of value from my professional memberships. And I participate in several knowledge-sharing communities. There are now several certifications specifically for PMO practitioners. But, beyond these certifications, there are many other resources out there. A couple of top tips:

There is a large OnlinePMCourses list of people to follow on Twitter, which includes a section on PMO. And I am @GrowthKnowledge

People Focus

A key element of PMO success comes down to people. And this includes building and maintaining relationships across your organization. This is particularly important when PMOs are supporting the implementation of organizationalchange. Effecting the change whilst being affected bythe change at the same time requires skill and capability in change management.

Do I need a PPM tool?

I’m often asked this question. And the reality is simple. Building a successful business case for implementing a Project or Program Management (PPM) solution comes much further along on the journey. Usually I would establish a PMO with the tools already available in that organization.  

This is where I leverage the functionality of tools like:

  • Microsoft’s 365 
  • Google’s G Suite

A full-scale enterprise PPM solution isn’t necessary to create:

  • Communication
  • Project team hubs 
  • Sharing of improvement plans 
  • Reporting

Freemium Tools

There are a variety of ‘freemium’ project management solutions available. They all integrate well with Microsoft or Google. Likewise, you’ll find workflow and process automation tools and enable you to enhance each service offering as and when you are ready.

A PPM tool won’t do things for you or fix poor processes either – they are just enablers to work smarter, not harder.  Gartner’s Hype Cycle model is a great illustration of the disappointment that many organizations experience when they realize that PPM tools aren’t magic bullets.

Early PPM Tools

When PPM tools first emerged, they were designed for enterprise level deployments, like CRM and ERP. It was more about leveraging technology to combine and standardize inputs from disparate sources into one place. 

They were about getting organized, structured data IN. They were not necessarily about what would be most useful coming OUT.

Modern PPM Dashboards

The reports and dashboards that PPM tools typically offer ‘out of the box’ provide a view of what HAS happened on projects. This caninform further analysis. But note that the tool alone will not transform the data into insight.

Part of creating insight does involve technology. PPM solutions provide a way to enhance and improve the efficiency of effective processes or activities. But they are not a replacement for the other services that PMOs still need to provide. It’s up to the PMO to:

  • Perform the analysis, to provide that insight
  • Facilitate better decision-making about what will happen and 
  • Ultimately, drive action

If you do have a PPM tool, are you spending more time feeding the beast than providing real value? If so, then it’s probably time for a re-think:

  • Is the process repeatable or defined?  Revisit this first to help identify why the information isn’t flowing as you would like.
  • Does RAGstatus mean the same to everyone?  Is it clear when Change Control applies?  Have you communicated the expectations clearly, and not just emailed them out?
  • Are there other systems across the organization that you could link to your PPM tool, to push and pull data without having to re-key or re-create?
  • If you can’t link them together, can you semi-automate (import in, or export out) to reduce the manual effort?

Knowledge Sharing

Finally, a word about knowledge sharing – or lessons learned if you prefer – and the role that the PMO needs to play.

The International Journal of Project Management published a helpful paper in 2013. It was ‘Project Management Office: a knowledge-broker in project-based organizations’. This refers to the PMO as:

‘a potential knowledge boundary spanner between projects and project-based organizations, and project manager’s knowledge-sharing behaviors.’

They knowledge-boundary spanner as:

people within an organization who have, or adopt, the role of linking the organization’s internal networks with external sources of information.’

PMO 3.0 as Knowledge Connector

Can PMOs connect people within an organization in a way that promotes better knowledge-sharing?  The findings from this research are very relevant today, as PMO services evolve to better serve their customers.

The original research analyzed 7 different organizations across Sweden and Australia. The first part focused on what PMOs do to facilitate knowledge-sharing. It then compares this with the expectations of project managers. The result is six overlapping PMO functions:

  • A repository for lessons learned
  • Active knowledge sharing
  • Training, workshops, and seminars
  • Formal and informal social interactions
  • Control and quality assurance
  • Project standards and procedures

Differences between PMO and Project Expectations

It became clear during the research that a mismatch was occurring. Project managers placed more value on knowledge shared via:

  • Face-to-face interactions
  • Personal experiences 
  • Training which directly benefitted their projects

Whereas PMOs were more focused on providing:

  • Artefacts
  • Reports
  • Lessons learned databases
  • Retrospective outlooks

Project managers preferred to learn by doing it themselves. Whereas knowledge-sharing activities by PMOs were frequently more geared towards thebroader and longer-term perspective of the project-based organization.

What project managers want more social interaction with their PMO colleagues. Coaching, facilitation, and building relationships all ranked highly. And they wanted their PMO to be available to help them find the information they need and explaining how to apply it. They want their PMOs to be:

  • Leading by example
  • Exhibiting appropriate behaviors and expertise when delivering change
  • Demonstrating:
    • the value of the systems and processes in place and
    • how these contribute towards successful project delivery

In short, Project Managers want a more active rather than passive PMO service.

PMO 3.0 can do more

In his book ‘Learning Lessons from Projects: How it works, how it goes wrong, and how you can do it better’ (US|UK), author Ken Burrell agrees that PMOs can do more. He offers some pragmatic pointers for simple things they can do to improve learning from projects. He also provides valuable resources:

  • Prototype lessons learned databases that PMOs can build, plus instructions on how to do it
  • A companion web page to host some of the resources discussed in the book
  • A simple video interview format as an alternative to the traditional Lessons Learned report. He also has a series of videos using that format to demonstrate what they look like

I was prompted to reflect upon my own experiences as a PMO practitioner. Feedback has indicated that what really adds value are activities beyond the frameworks and methodologies in textbooks or certifications.

Summing Up: PMO 3.0 and PMTQ

In their Pulse of the Profession 2019 survey report, PMI explores the concept of the Project Management Technology Quotient (PMTQ). You can read a critical assessment of the PMTQ idea from OnlinePMCourses.

In their report, PMI concludes that constant digital disruption needs organizations with innovation-driven cultures. Digital sustainability demands transformations that will create new products, services, and cultures. And these transformations will need to be empowered by real flexibility and constant learning among teams. 

It’s definitely time for PMO practitioners to start thinking differently. We need to embrace the opportunities that PMO 3.0 presents, to remain relevant. Because it’s our job to help the organization achieve the innovative, agile, critical-thinking culture it needs, to be successful in the age of Digital Transformation.

What are Your Thoughts about PMO 3.0? 

Add your comments below and we’ll respond to every contribution.

About the Author Nicole Reilly

Nicole Reilly is a certified IPMO-Expert and works as an independent consultant. She is regarded as a pragmatic and trusted advisor, and enables Programme or Project Portfolio Management functions to facilitate better decision-making across the organization.With over 25 years’ experience across industry sectors in both operations and change, Nicole brings together the problem-solving power of strategic and analytical thinking to introduce or improve PMO (P3O) functions, with data-enabled frameworks and insights that drive change initiative prioritisation, delivery sequencing, resource/risk/financial management approaches, and benefits realisation.Her specialisms include PPM solutions (tools), and data analytics and insight.With professional memberships active with PMI, Agile Business Consortium, BCS & IIBA, Nicole is a regular attendee at PMO Flashmob and Project Data Analytics community events in London.

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