The news had trickled down slowly. The announcement of a new Head of Central PMO wasn’t the sort of thing that really got people excited.  Chances are most people forgot the details before the sentence was ended, “And the new Head of….” Zzzzzz!  But eventually – after being forgotten by the senior managers, heads of divisions, security desk and the cleaners – somehow the news reached the Satellite PMO teams. We didn’t really care though. We hated Central PMO.  I’ll go into more depth another time, but to put it simply the Satellite PMOs just loathed receiving new, often illogical, mandatory requirements to enforce with our change teams. We get the pushback, CPMO gets to feel smug about how their latest scheme has saved the day. 

Now they had a new boss.  Not that the announcement of a new Head of CPMO was in itself a bad thing – we didn’t even know who the old Head was; we just knew what would come next. 

First there would be a while for him to “bed in” (even though he’d been appointed internally). Give him a chance to find his feet in the business he’d worked at for over 5 years. Give him an opportunity to meet his key stakeholders – the ones he’d shared a desk with for the last 12 months. 

Next he would call for the a review of the portfolio and understand what was driving all the red statuses on the dashboards. After getting his head chewed off by the hyper-defensive portfolio and programme managers whilst getting zero support from the Director, he’d start to wonder if the pay rise and extra hours (so… many… hours… constant… emails… all… hours… every… day) was worth it. 

Then he’d decide its time to shake up the change framework. To be fair, at eight months old it was a little past its prime and in need of a refresh. So the word would go out that we are changing the approach to make projects deliver either faster (sacrificing control) or increasing control (sacrificing speed). And PMOs will do radically different things from before (packs and minutes) and will start to deliver real value (New templates leading to better packs! Better minutes!).  It’s normally around this point somebody will ask if we’re going to look at incorporating Agile this time. They’ll be told yes or maybe, but it they’ll be disappointed. Keep fighting the good fight though – your revolution is upon us!

Everyone that’s paid attention to the problems in the portfolio will know a new approach may improve things, but a few simple changes of behaviours instead would definitely improve things. They’ll wonder why we are making such radical changes when simple adjustments will work. Quite rightly, it will look like a waste of time and a big distraction. Nobody asked for this, there was no drive for this, so why do it?

Well, here’s why. There is no glory in the PMO. We don’t deliver projects. We don’t directly impact on our customers lives. We move information and, in good places, analyse information to form useful intelligence.  If a Head of PMO is not prepared to really stand up to their peers and challenge them, the only influence they have left is within their own team.  In the absence of performance measures in the PMO (seems like hard work) which we could demonstrate performance improvements against (even harder work), why not get a clean slate and build a new operating model instead. That’ll look great in that Accomplishments section on the CV, right? 

But here’s the catch, they’ve basically decided to fix the leaks in the roof by replacing the whole roof during a rainstorm. The work is going to keep coming because projects are inflight, so the new processes/standards/templates have to be created and introduced as small changes over an extended period whilst the work is done in addition to current tasks. It’s very difficult to maintain momentum with this approach, there’s always a temptation to say enough change has been delivered. A sensible person may well find this acceptable but there’s no glory in just patching up the existing approach.  Our ambitious Head may therefore take the other approach, which is to deliver the change really fast with limited stakeholder engagement, limited quality reviews and poor outcomes.  And, remind me, who will be facing off to the angry change community during this? *sigh*

The consequence is the business gets a brand new roof with entirely different leaks. Some time will be spent with CPMO in denial, claiming any problems are due to the project managers approach or satellite PMOs training inadequacies. Eventually it will get noticed higher up and with a little (bad) luck, we’ll get an announcement of a new Head of CPMO soon. 

Rinse and repeat. 

Written by Stuart Taylor

Born and raised in Walsall, West Midlands; currently living in Buckinghamshire; career in project management; runs a lot but isn't getting any slimmer...

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