Before I continue, allow me to preface this article by saying that very good PMOs DO EXIST, however I believe they are far and few between.  So, what makes a PMO problematic, or bad, even? What are the key contributing factors to a PMO that does more harm than the good that was originally intended? I started to reflect, thinking about my observations over the last 16 years, I started to brainstorm the commonalities that caused a PMO to be problematic; doing more harm than good.

Here’s 5 of the most common:

1. Just do, not lead

You know this type of PMO; those who have a “my way or the highway” kind of mentality. Led by someone who provides little to no direction, who attends a lot of meetings and is very ‘busy’. Someone who provides no development opportunities for their teams and is unlikely to back them when the pressure is on. Yes, PMO leaders like this DO EXIST.

2. Talk, not listen

How many PMOs do you know of who ask for suggestions to improve, or feedback on how they are going? Not as many as some may think. An ineffective PMO will do all the talking and provide little to no opportunity for their customers; the project delivery community, executives, or even others within the PMO. Harmful PMOs will continue to ignore signs and feedback from those around them, until they alienate the people they are supposed to be supporting / governing. I’ve seen entire departments turn their back on a PMO for lack of collaboration.

3. Workaround, not fix

How many times have you experienced a PMO that has implemented additional processes, often as a band-aid to fix something, which resulted in a new form, meeting, or approval? A harmful PMO will focus on the here and now, devising processes that suit their own personal preference and their ability to do their own job more conveniently. The process is often only suitable for few, not the majority, with no consideration for how the problem should be resolved in the longer term or how these newly implemented processes impact other activities.

4. Closed, not open

For many different reasons, PMOs run with no transparency. There is often little to no visibility of what they may be working on at any point in time. This also means the PMO isn’t open about the value they provide, and typically results in being the first team to shrink in response to budget cuts and restructures. Without visibility of what you are doing and why you are doing it, teams won’t be able to see the value you provide and neglect any demands for governance. You’ll be left struggling to demonstrate your value when the target is on PMO.

5. Rigid, not adaptable

Lack of awareness that change is needed, or worse, refusing to change with the rest of the organisation because you believe the same thing you did 10 years ago is still the best way is by far the most harmful thing a PMO can do. For example, PMOs who ignore delivery team’s requirement for more Agile friendly governance. Refusing to adapt with the organisation is like setting your house on fire, knowing it’s on fire, and refusing to leave. Many problems stem from deep rooted behaviours, such as fear that change will mean they’re no longer relevant. They become detrimental to the organisation and the evolving delivery environment.

By no means an exhaustive list, but 5 of the most common one’s I’ve seen and/or experienced over the years. There is no such thing as a perfect PMO, every PMO and in fact every PMO leader should always be learning, growing and listening. With the rapid pace of delivery, PMO’s need to work harder than ever to keep up.

Think about the current environment of increased drive towards more Agile ways of working, well too many PMOs are getting left behind! A proactive PMO/Leader will always try to be one step ahead by working with those in delivery and management to help provide ‘the right’ level of support, guidance and governance.

What are some of the other signs of a harmful PMO?