Project teams across the world face a common problem. Conflict between business revenue-driven c-level executives and the interests of the project management team can impact on team productivity and delivery.

As we’ll discover below, research has suggested that this can lead to a range of negative effects that are less prevalent in PMOs that work directly with their senior stakeholders.

Disconnect Between Departments

When PMO professionals operate separately or at a distance from c-level executives, projects are more likely to have resourcing issues, become misaligned from business objectives, or suffer from a lack of reporting, as research suggests that we’ll look at further down.

Some of the effects that can be seen in misaligned PMO offices can result from:

  • Unrealistic expectations: The PMO has a finite amount of resource, based on the team’s size and output, and the amount of time allocated to a project. Project leaders have tools to calculating this output (called “velocity” in Agile), which enables them to make reasonably accurate estimations of the work that can be completed within a given timeframe. However, when executives are not close to the processes and tools being used by the PMO, impossible promises can be made. Some projects may fail when a senior stakeholder promises the delivery of a project without having an understanding of what’s possible within said timeframe.
  • The “all or nothing” attitude: Agile and Scum project processes are becoming more widely-adopted around the world. With these principles, project teams are able to deliver user value more quickly through continuous, iterative delivery. However, compared to more traditional project management techniques like Waterfall, Agile and Scrum were slower to be adopted by organisations. As a result, many senior executives are used to following a drawn-out development process in which all value is recognised at the end of a project.
  • Changing priorities: PMO professionals know the risks involved in constantly changing priorities, particularly when working to Agile frameworks. While some amount of flux is expected, continually changing direction can damage the output and morale of a project team, especially when additional work is assigned without first removing other priorities from project scope. PMOs need to be flexible and receptive to change, but c-level executives need to understand the risks involved and avoid overburdening teams, which can hamper performance and employee motivation.

So, let’s return to that research we discussed. Around 93% of organisations report using project management practices, such as variations of Agile and Waterfall. However, only 58% of organisations actually recognise and understand the value of the project management office (PMO) and how its efforts impact on business performance.

While there’s plenty of literature around on what a project management office (PMO) needs, in terms of executive-level buy-in and support from senior management, seldom do we emphasise the benefits that an executive will see from paying attention to their PMOs.

So, let’s explore the benefits of a PMO function that is well-aligned with senior stakeholders.

The Benefits of Alignment Between PMOs and Executives

When PMOs and c-level executives work closely together, it has positive effects on PMO output, reporting, and more. Nowhere is this more evident than in companies that have adopted the EPMO, or Enterprise Project Management Office.

The EPMO (Enterprise Project Management Office)

An enterprise project management office is an effective way to get buy-in from senior stakeholders at the c-suite level. This is a PMO that operates at the strategic level and can bring about a number of benefits.

Senior executives are part of the team rather than being external stakeholders, and thus they are more involved in the day-to-day interactions of the project team(s). The intention of the EPMO is to ensure portfolio as well as project management, in addition to project management process standardisation, and governance.

The results speak for themselves. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), companies utilising an EPMO may see a 33% reduction in project failures.

Why Can an EPMO Lower the Risk of Project Failure?

Project failure can result from a number of factors, though many failures can arise simply out of poor communication between stakeholders and the PMO team. If there is a disconnect between project management employees and senior executives, a project ultimately struggle with a lack of strategic direction, a shortage of resources, deadlines that have been set without the necessary information or estimates, and more.

The PMI’s research highlights how transitioning to an EPMO could improve:

  • Strategic alignment (by 23%)
  • Project portfolio reporting (by 20%)
  • Confirmation of strategic direction and priorities (by around 10%)
  • Project alignment with business objectives (by 10%)

Essentially, having a project management function that comprises senior stakeholders can address a number of problems. These include vague PMO direction; low-performance, high-cost output; underutilized resources within the PMO team, and a general lack of alignment between project outputs and business strategy.

How Executives Can Drive Project Success

If this research resonates with you, as an executive with PMOs under your remit, then you might be wondering how you can start making changes to drive project success. There are some immediate steps that you can take:

  • Choose the right projects: To deliver the greatest user value and thus bring in new leads, you need to be listening to your project teams. They are closest to the end users of your products or services, and the PMO function will have the greatest understanding of what your clients or consumers do or don’t want. This should be one of the largest driving factors in determining which projects you choose to undertake.
  • Understand the Iron Triangle: One of the golden rules in many project management frameworks is that when a project or PMO’s responsibilities change, something will have to give. The Iron Triangle highlights three key areas of a project: time, cost, and scope. If you shorten your delivery timeframe, then you’ll need to either descope some of the planned work, or increase project resources (cost). If you lose team members, then you’ll have to extend the project window or descope work. Executives who ignore this triangle are more likely to see projects fail or fall behind, in addition to damaging team morale.
  • Follow an established project management framework: Whichever framework you choose, it’s important to ensure that it’s implemented properly. This means choosing the right staff, ensuring that you have the necessary roles filled, and, for example, making sure that you make time for the necessary team ceremonies when following a framework such as Agile. Many companies call themselves “Agile” simply for having a daily team stand-up in the mornings; this is not the case. To realise the tried-and-tested benefits of a particular project management process, you’ll need to follow the proper guidance.
  • Engage middle management and performance markers: By utilising your middle management staff, who support the PMO function, you’ll foster a project-based culture and atmosphere. Your employees will grow within their roles and champion the new processes that you’ve put in place. Over time, this can attract the best talent, and you’ll benefit from employees who have experience in using project management best practice to ensure that business value is delivered against time, cost, and scope expectations.

While undergoing transformative change can be time-consuming, it’s worth your time in the long run. However, one of the changes that you can make immediately is to start communicating with your middle management executives and PMO staff immediately. Don’t pass down decisions from the top without taking into account:

  • The resources available to undertake the work;
  • Your PMO’s existing workload and the impact of a change of direction;
  • The value or business objective that will be realised from such a change.

Given time, your PMO function will become more productive and streamlined, and you’ll have projects being delivered that align properly with strategic business objectives.

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