Two PMOs: A Tale of Two

Recently, I came across a statistic which stated that 50% of all Project Management Offices fail. This seemed very high to me. However, I realized that I was able to support this statistic based on my personal experience with two different PMO’s. One PMO was successful, and one was not. Two experiences is not enough to provide a solid scientific sampling. It has prompted me to tell you about two PMOs.
The very top supported the first PMO in which I was involved. The idea of a PMO was supported by our Executive Vice President. She saw that projects were struggling and that each project was being managed differently, which was leading to confusion. So she asked one of her directors to create a project management office, or PMO. He brought in an expert on project management and an expert on PMO organization. He brought in some of the best project managers from the department to the PMO. They conducted research together, attended seminars, and hired the best consultants. Everything turned out well.
The Vice President informed her directors about what was happening and asked them to support her. They were all excited to announce that they couldn’t WAIT for the results. They were all happy to learn that there would be a group of people to help them run their projects more efficiently. They said it in public. Behind closed doors, the PMO team was having a completely different experience with the same executives. It seemed that most executives were too busy to meet up with them to discuss their plans and processes. It appeared that these executives didn’t have the resources to meet with members of the PMO. When members of the PMO invited people for discussion sessions and training in project management methodology, nobody showed up. When asked about their participation, all executives denied that they refused to take part in the PMO. They blamed their schedules and resource limitations and claimed that the PMO was being unreasonable. The PMO continued to go back and forth with no real progress or solution. The PMO members began working around the executives out of desperation. They began to reach out to people who were managing projects or who were just starting to manage projects. They offered support. They offered support and mentoring.
The PMO was able to work directly with people who could benefit from what they had to say and it began to see some success. It was too late. The PMO was disbanded due to the bickering at the top and lack of progress. All members of the PMO learned a valuable lesson. We learned that a successful PMO relies on company culture. We saw our company culture. Our culture was that nobody said no in public. They never said they wouldn’t support or do something. They simply didn’t do it. Even if they decided not to do something it would not matter to anyone, not even the Executive Vice president.
We had some success through grassroots. By grassroots, I mean getting in touch with the people who will use what you create and helping them. This also means having them help you create your processes. This leads us to PMO number 2.
A few years later, a few of the people who had been involved in the first PMO found themselves working together in another division at the same company. This division had a small PMO, and they wanted it grow. Surprisingly, many of us who participated in the original PMO were asked to help. They knew that our previous attempt at PMO had failed. This was unexpected. Because we had the battle scars and lessons from the previous PMO, we were called upon. We knew the company, and we knew the people.