Is the Strategic PMO the Answer?

As a PMO leader, you are probably being inundated with PMO advice telling you what type of PMO you should have and what it should and shouldn’t do. You are warned that if you don’t start by first choosing the type of PMO, you won’t be very successful. After all, all your decisions about services are dependent upon knowing your type, right?

Nope. Don’t fall for the hype.

Some guidance suggests you must have the right type of PMO to be successful and even goes so far as to tell you that you must first pick the type of PMO before doing anything else. If you’ve ever been told that step one when building a PMO is to figure out the “type” of PMO, then you’ve been misled. That’s not even close to the first step AND I don’t think you should be focused on “type” at all.

As I’ve mentioned in other articles here and here, the goal of the PMO should not be as much about the type of PMO but that it addresses the need the business has identified.

Some of that type guidance even suggests that you should have a Strategic PMO and any PMO worth existing should have a seat at the strategy table driving the organization’s strategy.

I’m a big fan of this type of PMO, BUT I do not believe this is always the right answer.

If you follow my work, you will often hear me talk about helping you and your PMO earn a seat at the table for driving organizational strategy delivery or even business transformation. Leveraging the power of a PMO to drive organizational transformation or to help the organization deliver the strategy can be a huge difference maker BUT it doesn’t mean this is the only way a PMO can provide value…especially if that’s not what your business leaders need you to do.

A PMO is not a one size fits all solution.

There’s a difference between having a strategic mindset and needing your PMO to be a Strategic PMO for it to have value to the organization.

I believe that every PMO leader needs to ensure that they step up and out of the focus on outputs they create for the organization and make sure they are driving outcomes. That means that they must see beyond the project deliverables and ensure that those projects are achieving the intended organizational outcomes.

Do you have to be at the strategy table? Not necessarily. But you need to understand how that strategy is being developed and why it’s important to the future of the organization so that you can help guide the projects you do support along the right path toward making an IMPACT. The closer people are connected to the “why” of every project, the more likely they are to help move that project toward those outcomes not just how busy they can be creating outputs.

When we box ourselves in by thinking the only way a PMO can be of value is to be strategic in nature and service is missing the point.

The PMO is there to solve the business problems identified by the business leaders. In some cases, that means being a Strategic PMO. In others, that means being very tactical and pragmatic in how you serve the organization. Either way, the goal is serving the organization when and how they need to be served.

That’s the part that often gets missed.

The first thing that every PMO leader should do if they want to be successful and high-IMPACT is to learn what the business leaders need. Where can the PMO provide value? Where can the PMO be of service? And you must answer these questions by asking them, not telling your leaders the answers.
Often, PMO leaders will think they know best because they’ve done it before, they see the pain points clearly, etc. I hear this a lot with veteran PMO leaders when they start a new role in a new organization. Some of them will assume that what worked at the last organization will make the most sense in the new one without having done the proper organizational assessment first. Heck, I even made that mistake earlier in my career.

It doesn’t matter if you DO know it all. If you don’t address the pain or opportunity the business is asking for, they won’t hear you out on the other problems you know need fixing.

That means we must start with addressing what they have asked for before we do anything else.

What you may discover through this process of assessing the organization for IMPACT opportunities by asking questions versus answering, is that the medicine you thought they needed to take won’t fix the challenges you saw in your initial analysis. And even if you ARE right about the solutions you want to give them, you won’t get the chance to ever implement it until you’ve addressed what they have asked for, so start there.

If you’ve ever experienced the decision makers being slow to respond or approve your requests or if you are having trouble getting their time and attention for the PMO then it’s likely you are trying to give them the medicine you want them to take instead of addressing the pain point they have right now. Get their attention, support, and build credibility by addressing the right now pain so you get the chance to address the underlying causes later. Trust only comes when you solve the challenges they need solved or the improvements they need to see first. That’s what will get their attention.

As you build credibility by being able to show that you can think strategically and connect the work you are doing via the PMO to the overall needs of the organization whether they are tactical or strategic, you are far more likely to earn that seat at the table…and from that seat, the entire view will change.

Author note: A special thanks to Mark Price Perry for the engaging conversation about the value of the PMO and how important it is to make clear that not all PMOs need to be strategic to make an IMPACT. I’m grateful for your partnership on this journey to up level PMOs globally.

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2020-01-19T18:18:33-05:00May 6th, 2019|PMO Practices|


  1. Alex Halem May 7, 2019 at 12:57 PM - Reply

    You are speaking my language! I couldn’t agree more with this assessment. The value comes when you help the business solve their problems. Really listening is the way in.

    • Laura Barnard May 22, 2019 at 2:45 PM - Reply

      Excellent!! So glad to hear, Alex. 🙂

  2. George Langbein May 7, 2019 at 2:44 PM - Reply

    Laura-As always, you are spot on. Most PMO’s I’ve known fail because they do not address their core mission or their core mission is not understood by the business stakeholders. Your listening and asking questions first approach will help better define the PMO mission. Once the mission is well defined and understood by all, there is a higher chance of success for the PMO. Thanks for a great article. Regards, George

    • Laura Barnard May 22, 2019 at 2:45 PM - Reply

      Thanks, George!! Yes, it’s so important that they PMO leaders start with the business and ALIGN what they are doing to the business problems that need to get solved. When they do that, there’s no issue of the business not understanding the value of the PMO because the PMO purpose and mandate are crystal clear.

  3. Dotan May 8, 2019 at 1:30 PM - Reply

    Interesting article. Laura. Thank you!

    I think that a strategic mindset and way-of-work is a key skill in any PMO org/role. This is the REAL added-value.
    All the rest are supporting role. Being active part in a Strategic discussions and decisions making processes about feasibility/implications/risks etc. is exatly the PMO position to take leadershi and adress them, to nevigate the organization to the right & realistic place for the organization.

    Thanks, again!

    • Laura Barnard May 22, 2019 at 2:44 PM - Reply

      Yes!! This is great. While I do not believe the PMO always needs to be a Strategic PMO, the PMO leader must have a strategic mindset so that they can help bring the teams along with the change with an eye toward the IMPACT and outcomes the organization is trying to realize.

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