The PMO in Times of Change and Transformation

A Project Management Office (PMO) can be found in many organizations today, helping to implement projects in a professional manner. It is important for me to emphasize that a PMO does not take over the management of projects but supports their professional conduct. This can be done by providing standards, methods, and tools to the project managers, advising, coaching, or training project personnel, professionalizing project management through continuous improvement, portfolio planning and control, and much more.

A recent study by GPM Deutsche Gesellschaft für Projektmanagement e.V. shows that more than three-quarters of business projects are implemented internally within organizations. This includes, for example, IT projects, projects with the aim of organizational development, or marketing and sales. The study also shows that 50% of the more than 700 companies surveyed in 2022 stated that they did not have a PMO (compared to 35% ten years earlier).

What has happened? Have projects become so routine that company management believes they can do without a PMO? I believe it is much more the case that the line organization has learned to handle projects professionally and needs less and less support from a PMO. Nevertheless, the GPM study also shows that companies with a PMO are significantly more successful (in terms of costs, deadlines, and quality of project results) than companies without a PMO. The question that arises for me, however, is whether PMOs still provide sufficient added value to cope with the growing project landscape in companies. After all, if the number of internal projects is already so high and primarily concerned with change and transformation, then a PMO must also have support services ready for this aspect. And in practice, unfortunately, I still find far too many companies that are relatively weak in this area!

Internal projects are “change the business” and have much to do with changes that must first be understood, implemented, and sustainably anchored by the workforce. By “change,” I am referring to smaller, more tactical changes, while “transformation” refers to more strategic, comprehensive changes encompassing large areas or even the entire company. In functionally specialized companies, many employees not only find it difficult to plan and manage projects holistically but also lack expertise in planning and managing change and transformation. This is where a PMO can provide direct support. This can be achieved by building additional resources, skills, methods, and tools in the PMO. This involves strategic, tactical, and operational skills necessary to support change and transformation. The most important ones are briefly outlined below. However, it should also be noted that the PMO only plays a supporting role and that responsibility for change and transformation remains with the respective project or program manager.

Before the start of a project, a PMO can work with the project manager to analyze the level of “change readiness” in the affected areas and prepare appropriate measures for the project plan. This also raises the question of whether the change vision and story have already been clarified, i.e., the WHY and WHAT of the change or the need for change in the affected areas. The PMO can support the sponsor or project manager with the appropriate resources, skills, methods, and tools. It is certainly also necessary to develop a change team and a corresponding roadmap. The PMO can support relevant stakeholders with consulting, coaching, or training.

It is important to create a professional stakeholder management system with a communication plan that considers stakeholders’ needs throughout the project life cycle regarding information on change and transformation. Here, it is often important to address the reasons for the changes in detail right at the start of a change project and to plan targeted communication and participation opportunities in order to take those affected along on the journey. This is where the PMO can provide support with skills, methods, and tools, take on the moderation of workshops, and help orchestrate measures for project marketing, information, and communication. A community of practice for exchanging experiences in change and transformation, as well as collecting, processing, and distributing lessons learned, are classic PMO tasks, now expanded to include aspects of change and transformation.

Do the support tasks for change and transformation have to be provided by a PMO? Not necessarily. An HR department often performs this task. A Change Management Office (CMO) or a Transformation Management Office (TMO) might also be set up for individual change projects. However, this is only temporary, so once the measure has ended, the company’s management runs the risk of losing the know-how and experience, which speaks in favor of anchoring the tasks in a permanent PMO. After all, this is where most of the threads come together when it comes to the professional implementation of projects, so this support task fits in perfectly. However, the PMO must systematically prepare for these tasks and build up the corresponding resources, skills, methods, and tools. The PMO management should emphasize the strategic design of this role because by strengthening change readiness in individual projects and programs, the PMO also contributes to the change readiness of the entire company, connects the company’s overall strategy with the project world, and can thus contribute significantly. This is independent of whether it is a decentralized PMO in a business unit or a centralized Enterprise PMO (E-PMO).

Perhaps this additional benefit contribution of a PMO will strengthen its role in the company and prevent the PMO from falling victim to the management’s red pencil during the next wave of cost-cutting. Happy change!