Published here December 2014.


Musings Index

PMOs Challenge: Achieving Project Process Compliance

One of the earliest organizational challenges that a new Project Management Office (PMO) will face is achieving a common set of processes accepted and instituted by the project managers of the existing range of projects. To this end, Danielle Smallwood of, in one of her regular weekly Email blasts, advocates that "PMOs Should Assess Projects to Validate Use of Common Processes".[1] Danielle writes:

"Many Project Management Offices (PMOs) spend quite a bit of time deploying common project management practices in their organization and building project management skills in their staff. But is it working? The PMO can validate whether their work is sticking through project assessments. Project assessments serve two functions.

  1. Checking compliance. They help ensure that project managers are using the new project management processes.
  2. Coaching. Assessments can also be an opportunity for coaching. During the audit, you can help the project manager understand how the processes are applicable to their project.

It is one thing for the PMO to provide training and have all the appropriate processes and templates defined. It is another thing for the new processes to actually be adopted and utilized by the project teams.

If you want to change the culture and make sure that the new processes are sticking, you must make sure that the project teams are utilizing them correctly. The purpose of the assessment is to determine how well the project manager and project team are utilizing the project management processes. During the assessment, a member of the PMO asks a series of questions to ensure compliance with the required processes and procedures." (Emphasis added)

Frankly, we do not agree with this advice. That's because unilateral, top down directives will not be well received by a group who probably see the new PMO as the intrusion of another layer of corporate bureaucracy between them and upper management. But Danielle goes on to say:

"The results of the project audit should be documented and sent back to the project manager, as well as the manager of the project manager. In addition, the results are summarized and sent to the PMO sponsor, Steering Committee and other management stakeholders. If a project team is not using the standard processes, the senior managers and the PMO sponsor ultimately need to ask why. This is part of a governance process."

Governance or not, to us this looks like the kiss of death for the PMO. We've tried it and found that top down authoritarianism simply does not work. A group of determined project managers, concerned for the success of their own projects, will simply not tolerate any extra workload and, together, can easily oust a fledgling PMO incumbent. Of course there are several underlying issues here: What are the "new project management processes" that are being contemplated? Are they all really necessary? Do they all apply to all projects within the PMO's program area? Do they help or hinder the project manager's efforts? And so on.

Of course some degree of standardization is necessary in the rendering to the PMO of project performance data. That is necessary for the PMO to be able to carry out its responsibilities to upper management. But that is about the only area that should be enforced, and that alone will be difficult enough because each project manager will likely have his or her own favorite reporting template.

So, what to do?

The answer is to engage each project manager in an exchange of information, that is, about the processes being contemplate, their relevance to the project manager's project at hand and the extent to which each process might improve his or her project's chances of success. There could be a number of counter veiling arguments. The project is already too advanced for the process to be of value, or the configuration of the project does not lend itself to the insertion of the process. Or even that the process is "too heavy handed" for the size of project in question.

In this case, just try and agree that the process will be considered for the next project, while at the same time thoroughly examine the process in question to see if it can be "lightened", yet still serve its purpose. In fact, it doesn't hurt to ask each project manager for any suggestions that they might have for improving the whole exercise. This way they are much more likely to feel positively engaged.

Remember that the PMO responsibility is acting in a service capacity, both up the line and down the line. So the question: "How can we (the PMO) help to reduce your workload?" is an even more powerful motivator for soliciting cooperation. After all, the common goal must be the successful completion of projects delivering successful products.

1. A TenStep "weekly tips" by Danielle Smallwood, 8/20/14
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