James Robertson

Management Consultant

  • PMO & Portfolio Management
  • Design Thinking

– 26 Jun, 2020

Is Your PMO Missing A Human Touch?

Best practice Project Management Office (PMO) design is not just about governance and reporting structure; an emphasis on people is essential for success.

One key cause of PMO failing is the people factor not being paid enough attention, or indeed, overlooked completely. For example, where PMO reporting mechanisms may have been crowbarred into programmes, stakeholders can become frustrated with both the relevance of reporting outputs and the repetitive requests for data, with enthusiasm for the PMO as a value-add function quickly diminishing. Indeed, repeated experience of PMO as a purely administrative function for establishing governance and reporting structure has resulted in a wider scepticism for the efficacy of PMO in general.

The good news is there are methodologies and related toolkits that can be used to facilitate the very best PMO design and ensure sufficient focus is given to the people side of things. By applying Design Thinking, a PMO can better cater to the needs of stakeholders, offering a human-centred and collaborative approach to a PMO solution. Design Thinking integrates not just the requirements for business success and the possibilities of technology but also people’s needs.

Although the whole Design Thinking methodology can be used to design an effective PMO, the Empathy Map tool in particular focuses on divergent thinking to generate deep, detailed stakeholder insights. The tool allows PMO designers to gain an empathetic understanding of their PMO stakeholders, their environment, behaviour, problems, and aspirations. Output from an Empathy Map can be used to generate core design principles to guide the creation of the PMO.

Making PMO reporting outputs relevant to stakeholders and ensuring buy-in can also be a challenge for PMOs; Target Operating Model (TOM) offers a blueprint for how a PMO can organise itself within the wider organisation and Programme structure more efficiently. For example, a Process Owner Grid from the TOM toolkit can be used to better understand what input is required to meet the stakeholders’ desired outcomes and where the ownership will sit. Using the Process Owner Grid in a workshop environment can help PMO designers map out core operating processes and responsibilities, while identifying any difficult links that can be raised to stakeholders’ attention.

Other tools from the TOM toolkit can equally be used to support PMO design. For example, the Operating Model Canvas considers the organisation, processes, information, suppliers, and management systems holistically. Engaging stakeholders in an empathetic and meaningful way around tools such as this will lead to a PMO that is designed and integrated rather than shoehorned into an organisation.

Both Design Thinking and TOM techniques can be used in an instrumental way to address the common people-focussed challenge that can prevent a PMO from fulfilling its value-add potential. The risk for those that do not adequately manage this challenge is a lack of buy-in from the wider Programme community to the goals of the PMO, which in turn can impact both the programme delivery pace and the outcome quality.

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James Robertson

Management Consultant

A strategic change management consultant focused on helping companies design and implement new target operating models. James is passionate about delivering customer-centric solutions to help clients navigate and succeed in complex digital transformation programmes. He draws his experience from delivering projects in financial services, manufacturing and FMCG industries.

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