The One KPI for PMOs

PMOs apparently are notorious for failing - at rates of approximately 50% based upon my informal surveys of many writings across the industry. There is one metric, however, that can truly flag impending failure before it happens - and reverse impending failure if the PMO truly has something to offer.

Many PMOs are started with visions of grandeur! It is exciting to think of an organization that sits atop all of the projects, that has access to executives throughout the organization, and seemingly has a lot of power.

But amid the excitement, to some degree in many PMOs, is an ivory tower mentality. It becomes "us" and "them". "We" who know, and "they" who need help. "We" have the processes that, if they will only comply, will lead to immutable and consistent success...and flow of good information back to "us" at the PMO.

That's a divisive and unhealthy mindset!

Here are some things a PMO can do:

  • Provide dedicated PM resources
  • Ensure that project delivery teams align with organization strategic objectives
  • Ensure a consistent level of reporting on progress and status

Actually, this list can go on and on, as there are many things that a PMO can do. An individual project can be quite complex...and programs even more so. But a whole portfolio of them is even more so complex...

But there still is one metric, I maintain...

Many PMOs do a lot of things right, really try hard, and mean well...even have very well qualified people. But sometimes they cannot even do something so basic as stopping a failing project...simply because there are too many other entanglements that they cannot control...and so known bad projects go on for months and even years.

Many professionals write about the PMO being reactive or passive...or too administrative-focused...or too highly dependent on what they are told (and should not necessarily trust)...or seem to just collect, synthesize, and present information...or deal with out of date or inaccurate, misleading project status information...

But is all of this missing the forest for the trees? There still is one metric...

Still other project professionals also outline key attributes of best in class PMOs...but what does "best in class" mean?

Here is my "whittled down" list of some of the best traits:

  • Has well-defined and achievable objectives
  • Viewed as supporting the business and IT strategy
  • Utilizes established methodologies and framework for project management
  • Able to measure and prove the realization of benefits (business value)
  • Has outward focus on business needs, not inward focus on processes

Now don't get me wrong, there are many more factors to succeeding, but I am getting closer to that one I think it simplifies things.

What's the key metric?

Business value, as is the most common element among the items in the list above.

PMOs need to establish up front the business value they intend to bring to the table, and then execute to realize that business value and demonstrate it to stakeholders as quickly as possible. And this can and should be achieved on a smaller scale before moving on to a comprehensive organization-wide PMO.

But it's not quite that simple...but still is simple. Business value needs to be broken down...perhaps into Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and these will be unique for each project. the key is to drive toward what would make a project a success - by itself and as part of the portfolio - and derive a KPI from that. Then, relentlessly drive everything on the project around that KPI.