Management Consultants and PMO Failures

Project Management Office | By Abid Mustafa | Read time minutes

Businessman looking puzzled in front of a blackboard

Having worked in the (Middle East-North Africa) MENA region for a number of years, it is quite disheartening to encounter PMOs that suffer from acute identity crisis and are locked in endless battles with other departments to prove their worth.

What is interesting to discover is that the usual culprit behind PMO failures i.e. the lack of executive support, is not the primary cause. The common denominator behind the failings of such PMOs can be attributed to the role played by management consultants in setting up PMOs. There are three distinct areas where management consultants have played an instrumental role in creating PMOs, with major structural defects and no matter how hard one tries to fix it, the defects remain as an indelible stain.

1. Sowing the Seeds of Executive Confusion

There is a perpetual confusion in the minds of the executive team about the roles, responsibilities and competencies of the PMO. This is borne by the fact that in most cases, the management consultants hired to launch a company or a new business line, focussed exclusively on establishing a PMO that exhibited the characteristics of a reporting function and nothing more. In this arrangement, the status from different projects and programmes are aggregated, rationalised and then presented to the executive team for decision making. Usually, the chief executive officer presides over the launch meeting, acts as the overall arbitrator and takes decisions on how to move the launch forward. Hence, the executive team performs well as long as the company is in launch mode, but any departure from this model and the frailty of the PMO is swiftly exposed.

Many executives find themselves unable to step into the shoes of the project sponsor (previously performed by the CEO as the sponsor of launching the business) and take important decisions about projects under their stewardship. Furthermore, very few executives possess sound ideas about how a centralised PMO should function in a post launch environment. Therefore, it is only logical to find executive support lacking as the PMO transitions into its post launch life.

2. It Was Never About the Project Methodology

During the launch phase, the consulting company pays very little attention to devising a project/programme methodology, standardising project documents and templates, and mentoring PMO staff about performing roles other than reporting. Even the reporting suffers from the absence of a structured approach and sometimes there is too much dependency on 'PowerPoint presentations'. Hence, post launch, the PMO armed only with colourful slides is ill-equipped to support or deliver projects and programmes. Rampant project failure usually follows and all attempts to rectify the dire situation are hopelessly unsuccessful. This is because the solutions employed to address the structural weaknesses are derived from the PMOs launch experience. For instance, many executives assume that just because the PMO delivered during the launch phase, a similar approach (without tinkering too much) will yield positive results.

3. Over Reliance on Launch Centric Roles and Responsibilities

Another surprising discovery is that the roles and responsibilities, processes and governance structures executed by the PMO are based on its launch life. It is not uncommon to find 'Launch PMO', 'Launch Manager', 'Launch Director', 'Launch Gate', 'Launch Project Life Cycle', 'Launch Check Lists', etc. as part of PMOs lexicon. In some cases, only the prefix 'Launch' is removed from job descriptions and processes, but the essence remains unchanged. Subsequently, the PMO and its staff are unable to adapt to the pace of corporate life and find themselves on the periphery of project delivery. To remedy the situation, two typical solutions are applied. Firstly, 'certified project managers' are recruited and expected to deliver projects on time. However, in the absence of a sound project management methodology many are found floundering.

Secondly, expensive consultants with extensive experience in working with PMOs in launch mode are brought onboard to rescue the struggling PMO. In some cases, consultants are hired from the same management consultancy that established the launch PMO and fail miserably when given the responsibility to turn around the fortunes of the ailing PMO. All of this, exacerbates the problem, and marginalises the PMOs role in corporate life.

To be fair to management consultants, they are typically hired for their domain expertise and not for their PMO competencies. The PMO is a value-add that is thrown in as part of the consulting service and at no extra cost. This practice is wide spread across the MENA region, so much so that executives are often left wondering as to why there is an abundance of project failure despite the successful launch (the launch of the company or business line is viewed as a 'successful project') of the company or the new business line. To avoid a repeat of such stories, executives would do well to scrutinise the PMO capabilities of their management consultancy, in addition to their domain expertise. Alternatively, they may hire a PMO specialist company that works alongside consultants in the launch phase and in the post launch phase ensures that a proper PMO, equipped with the right methodology and resources is established.

Executives would be wise to opt for a PMO company that specialises on a BOT (Build, Operate Transfer) model as opposed to a DBT (Design, Build, Transfer) model. As the BOT model is geared more towards ensuring that the concept solution works in practice and the project culture is imbued and transferred within the organisation.

Abid Mustafa is a seasoned professional with 18 years' experience in the IT and Telecommunications industry, specialising in enhancing corporate performance through the establishment and operation of executive PMOs and delivering tangible benefits through the management of complex transformation programmes and projects. Currently he is working as a director of corporate programmes for a leading telecoms operator in the MENA region.


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