What’s in a name?

When it comes to PMOs, a lot! Have you been paying attention to the PMO space recently? I have. More and more organizations are moving away from the title PMO for the organization that facilitates the planning and execution of business strategy. I’ve seen Business Transformation Office, Strategic Planning Office, Strategy Execution Office, Enterprise Strategy Execution team, and on and on…anything but PMO, please!

Why are they doing this?

Because many believe that PMOs have gotten a bad reputation.


Because many of them haven’t been delivering in a high-IMPACT way. Sorry, guys. I hate to break it to you. I really do. I’m a 20 year PMO veteran.

There are some out there that are amazing rock stars! I know because I’ve seen them, myself.

And then there are the rest of them…too much time, money and resources spent on building templates and process or running through the steps of a project without actually delivering maximal IMPACT for the organization’s investment. In the eyes of the business leadership, they take too long to get setup and start seeing value. The business gets bored/impatient/frustrated and moves on.

This is where doing things “right” conflicts with getting results. I talked about process getting in the way of progress in this post that I encourage you to read. I dive deeply into the specifics of that problem we create for ourselves when we put getting the tools and templates created before we start having an IMPACT.

But let’s go beyond that…

Let’s say we are delivering our projects on time and within budget, even meeting the business requirements. Great! Now why isn’t the business happy?

We need to turn our heads to an even bigger differentiator between those that will survive the next several years and those that won’t. Actually, I don’t think it’s going to even take that long. The data is there…the PMO isn’t about project management anymore. It’s about delivering the maximal IMPACT possible based on the investment. In other words, return on investment (ROI). It’s not just how we are doing the work or even that most of it is getting delivered. It’s also about focus. Focusing our energy on the right things.

Imagine this. You have a project portfolio dashboard and 80% of the projects on that dashboard are green or going as planned. We are rocking and rolling! Feeling good. But what if the 20% that aren’t moving forward are the ones that have the biggest impact on the organization’s bottom line or ability to meet strategic objectives? 80% of the IMPACT your PMO could be having on the company is tied up in 20% of the projects and they aren’t getting done. Not looking so hot now, huh?

We need to focus our energy on the most important projects to the organization. That 20% that can move the company forward should get first dibs on focus from the organization (money, time, effort, etc.)

And guess what?

It’s YOUR job as a PMO leader to help make that happen. You have to make sure that the right conversations are taking place to facilitate getting resources realigned, information where it needs to go and decisions made. It’s also your job to make sure that you handle the “don’t touch my project” conversations and behaviors that are prevalent whenever you have limited funds and resources – so always. The ones where project managers are fighting each other for resources when the priorities are clear.

You know what I’m talking about…they make it look like resources that they need look fully utilized even if they aren’t just so that they don’t lose them when they need them…and who could blame them? A good project manager will fight to the death to make sure their project gets all the resources they need to make sure their project gets done. Of course! Their job performance is judged on whether or not their projects are performing, right?

Maybe being a good project manager is not enough. Maybe we need more in our PMOs of the future.

What if, instead, we allowed project managers to be in a safe collaborative place?  A place where the PMO has their back. A place where the PMO could decide that PMs are judged on their ability to help the entire portfolio perform optimally, even if it means their own project gets shuffled lower on the priority list.

Crazy idea, I know.

You have a role in determining where PMOs go from here. We’ve seen that they aren’t getting much love from the business community. But we’ve also seen this rebirth in titles for these organizations so as to make it even clearer that this is about the business and delivering business value. But I would like to go even further. It’s not about what you call it. It’s about being as impactful as possible on the business. It’s about maximizing return on investment.

Or, as my friend Mike Hannan has suggested, maybe the next iteration of PMOs should be called RMEs: ROI Maximization Engines.

To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calling it a PMO. Heck, my company name is PMO Strategies. I believe in the PMO and have dedicated my career to helping PMO leaders around the world get access to all of the resources they need to get the job done.

Simply changing the name, but keeping the bad habits doesn’t do anything to solve the problem. The name is often changed out of sheer desperation by leaders wanting to hit the reset button and create greater alignment with strategy, delivery, and IMPACT.

Instead, how about we look at a little prevention? Let’s make sure we are delivering real IMPACT with the PMO and start with the end in mind when we create the PMO. What business problem are we solving? How will the PMO deliver outcomes, not just outputs?

If you get that right, what you call it doesn’t matter. What it delivers, better.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article.

Click here to receive these blog posts right to your inbox.

Fill out our one-minute survey if you have topics you would like read more about.

I welcome your feedback and insights. Please leave a comment below.

See you online!