…And that is OK.
Many project management practitioners always complained in the past of the lack of distinction between project work and operations work of an organization. A case in point is the hand over phase agony of turning the completed deliverables to its owners to become the responsibility of operations team, vs project team. This was a big problem and caused many project failures, and it still would be a problem if it is still handled the same way today. Luckily, we are seeing organizations avoiding this pitfall, and becoming more mature in their ability to organize project work into projects, and to recognize when other work has to be left for operations. However, this is not the end of the story.
Today, the line between operations and projects is becoming blurry again, but in other, more positive ways. For example, the PMO is becoming more interfaced with other operational departments of the organization, like finance, HR, procurement, etc. Also, the PMO, even though it is handling projects, it is being recognized more and more as the operational function that it is. While some PMO’s are temporary, serving a project or a program, most organizational PMOs are permanent, serving the organization on an ongoing basis. So, this makes it more an operational function.
With that recognition by the organization, the PMO is becoming more accepted among departmental managers as a function of the organization like other functions. Of course I am talking about organizations who were able to successfully implement their PMO and sustain it. Because those who are still struggling are another story altogether, and there are still quite a few out there.
Back to our sustained, value adding PMO. There is a trend today for PMOs to step outside the “projects management” into two important areas: The first is portfolio management. While it is theoretically one of the key functions of a PMO, in real practice, most PMOs do not handle most of the defined portfolio management functions. The second area is operations. Many PMOs will have to step up and handle procurement, financial, and HR issues, in cooperation with the respective responsible departments. The standard way that these departments handle these functions are more geared to operations, and in many cases are not sufficient from a projects portfolio perspective. This is why it will become essential for the PMO to step out of its traditional boundaries into operational areas.
For this to happen, more leeway should be given tot he PMO to get involved in operational issues, outside the PMO jurisdiction, and to be empowered to interface with other functions and seek solutions to common cross functional issues. Moreover, the PMO can play a leading role in such improvement initiatives as it has a unique cross functional perspective of the organization and its “value chain” if you will, that other functions might not have.
Also, the character and capabilities of the PMO head will play a big role in the realization of benefits from such PMO involvement. The PMO manager needs to be a veteran with the conviction and capabilities to make such interfaces a reality, rally the organization towards improvements, and sustain these improvements.
This is a tough quest for the PMO and might prove more challenging than it seems. The executives see the PMO as primarily tasked with handling the project portfolio (usually billable work) and keep that as focus, over any internal improvement initiative. So, the PMO manager must strike a balance and address change in perception and behavior required to sync operations and projects in the overall corporate scheme.