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“Is your PMO successful?” by Marisa Silva

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What is success in project management?

To measure success is to embark in a difficult endeavor, with proliferous debates in the project management discipline about what a) what constitutes success and, b) when can someone argue that their project was successful.

The project management field have for long been dominated by a functionalist and mechanic mindset, where the project manager only concern is to “get the job done”, that is, deliver on-time, on-budget and to specifications. “Is this enough?”, one may ask. Several studies have now demonstrated that no, it is not, and real examples are also available to confirm it. Heathrow terminal 5 project, for instance, is a good example of where delivery according to the iron triangle didn’t necessarily meant success. Despite being completed within constraints, its opening to the public was an embarrassing, chaotic story, with several complaints of passengers losing their luggage. As they say, the operation was successful, but the patient died.

The opposite can also be said about the iconic Sydney Opera House. Listed in the annals of project management as a project with one of the greatest overruns in history, most won’t dare to call the project a failure, however, since its legacy and long-term impact are well visible in Australia’s tourism and economy.

This poses the question: what is success after all?

To answer this question, some authors propose a critical distinction: the success of the project vs the success of project management. With the first relating to the realization of the outcomes and benefits of the project, and the latter referring to a delivery on-time, cost, and agreed scope. In fact, successful project management can lead to successful projects but the relationships may not be as straightforward as professional associations and bodies of knowledge seem to suggest. To this end, other core concepts come into play, such as benefits, the project impact and legacy over time or, as importantly, customer satisfaction since, ultimately, it will be the project’s client who determines if the project was successful or not.

Thus, the project manager has an important role to accomplish, which is to manage the client’s expectations by enquiring what is his/her view of success. Once the success criteria are identified and agreed (SMART objectives is always a good approach!), it will become the project managers’ mission to enable their attainment.

Despite of the criteria in use, it’s worth emphasizing that what you leave behind as a project manager is your legacy and defines your professional identity. I’m a strong believer of the power of projects as opportunities to change the world for the better. This being said, what projects you decide to participate in, how you manage them, or your own understanding of success and accountability, bear an impact too. Let’s not forget: our projects are our legacy. Let’s make it a good one.


What about PMOs?

While the topic of project success has shown an important development in recent years, PMO’s (vulgarly known as Project Management Office) success remains an obscure subject.

Not all PMOs are created equal, that’s for sure. They serve different purposes, have different functions and services, and there are different types of PMOs, from support offices to centres of excellence or enterprise portfolio offices. Not to mention the eternal discussion about what does the P in PMO means!

Unfortunately, some PMOs are born from fads, without a sense of direction, or simply because a new restructuration demanded it. Make no mistake: PMOs need to be created with a purpose and be purpose-driven. What is the organization trying to achieve? What is the point of your PMO? Of course, your PMO wants to be a trusted partner and deliver value to the business! However, what does that mean in practice?

The value lifecycle – depicted below – needs, therefore, to be well-understood by the PMO if it is to demonstrate and sustain its success over time.

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PMOs play a pivotal role in supporting the delivery of strategic change and, as important, in establishing a culture of project management in organizations. However, their value often goes unnoticed. In fact, PMOs are enablers of project delivery, but the relationship between PMO performance and project performance is not linear or easily traceable. Thus, how can a PMO demonstrate its value – rendering to its success – when it is not the one delivering projects?

We were debating this question in the last APM PMO SIG Committee meeting and, after a fruitful discussion, agreed that the success of a PMO manifests itself in three key areas:

  1. Its contribution to the project: how well is the PMO enabling the outcomes of a certain project to be achieved, via activities such as health checks, stage gate reviews, or simply assisting in a project’s recovery?
  2. Its contribution to the organization: to what extent is the PMO benefiting the company, such as by supporting portfolio selection, distributing lessons learned, or promoting the use of a consistent project management method?
  3. Its contribution to the community: how effectively is the PMO assisting the project management community, by equipping project teams with new skills and competencies and building project and change capabilities?


There are several Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) out there that you can use to measure your PMO’s value but you will soon realize that, ultimately, they all lead to one or all of the three areas aforementioned. The success of the PMO is indissociably linked to the success of the projects it serves, the organization in which it operates, and the community that the PMO brings together and of which it is part of. The success of the PMO is, therefore, not simply measured by the number of hours of training provided per year but by how that training was reflected in better project management, not simply by what percentage of project managers are using a Risk Register but by how better risk management practices are assisting them in minimizing threats to their projects. Value may be, as they say, in the eyes of the beholder but results, they can be seen in behaviors, financials, even in Gantt charts (assuming you baseline your schedules, of course)! Results matter and, without results, there is no actual success. Hence, for the PMO, results are at the heart of its purpose. The PMO’s success is the success of its clients.

So…is your PMO successful?


Este artículo ha sido escrito por: 

  • Marisa Silva, the Lucky PM, is an experienced certified PMO and PPM consultant, trainer, and speaker, with a track record of building capabilities in complex organizations undergoing transformational change. A passionate advocate of the value of PMOs and project management, she is Committee Member of the APM PMO SIG and PMO Manager and Deputy Programs Director at Project Managers Without Borders. Marisa is the author of “Bedtime Stories for Project Managers” and the founder of in2PMO, a specialist PMO and business transformation consultancy firm dedicated to help organizations deliver impactful and sustainable business value from their PMOs, projects and programs.