Avoid Creating Dysfunctional PMO Monopolies
Every PMO must have a clear and unique purpose, i.e., what is it that your PMO is best placed to offer?
The thing is, by focusing on our PMOs unique purpose, we are unintentionally positioning our PMOs to operate as an internal monopoly.
This is fine. Unlike in the open marketplace, we don’t want massive duplication within our organisations.
However, as a monopoly, we must be responsible with how we choose to operate. By this, I mean, we must centre ourselves on the following spectrum.
The Dictatorial Monopoly
We all know these units. The teams in these units seemingly start each day with a collective chant:
‘It’s our way or the highway’.
Dictatorial Monopolies just don’t care about, or have resigned themselves to, the negative value equation they offer.
Bolstered by their monopolistic status, I’m always amused by the sheer unfounded confidence these teams can have. When chatting to a future client that I suspected was running a dictatorial monopoly, I had one of their staff blatantly express to me:
“Our project managers are useless, as are our Executives. They never follow our processes.”
There are several indications that you might be running a Dictatorial Monopoly.
To explore these, let’s do a quick 8 question quiz to see how dictatorial your PMO is. Each ‘Yes’ answer is 1 point.
Q1: Is there a mismatch between your PMO’s expectations of its client base, and what is reasonably required for project success?
Q2: Is your PMO obsessed with the small, inconsequential details?
Q3: Is your PMO adamant that detailed repetitive forms and long processes are absolutely crucial?
Q4: Does your PMO have an Ivory Tower mentality (either Academic Self-Gratification or Us vs Them)?
Q5: Does your PMO require things to be done ‘because that’s just how we do things’?
Q6: Do people dislike dealing with your PMO?
Q7: Does your PMO have an automated email inbox response along the lines of “we will get back to you sometime in the next 3 months”.
Q8: Does your PMO produce a net negative value equation across everything it administers.
So, how did you score?
A score higher than 2 is a strong indicator that your PMO has fallen into this trap.
However, a Dictatorial Monopoly is just one extreme of the monopoly spectrum. The other is a Benevolent (Slave) Monopoly.
The Benevolent (Slave) Monopoly
These insidious units are harder to spot but are equally causing our organisations great harm. Like the Dictatorial Monopoly, the Benevolent Monopoly produces a negative value equation, however unlike the Dictatorially inclined, Benevolents don’t make the direct client wear the pain. They absorb it into their own team(s) and push any overflow into the rest of the organisation via their other client groups.
Here’s a very real example.
If I gave you an additional $560,000 a year, what would you do with it?
…Probably not this.
A portfolio manager was producing an organisation-wide project summary report on a quarterly basis. Unfortunately for this manager, the report was often bumped off her Executives’ busy agenda. It was a tick and flick activity for the Executives who each viewed the report as low value, low pain.
What wasn’t seen by these Executives was the pain in getting to that point. When you tallied the 40+ project managers’ time and the multiple quality assurance steps this client’s team undertook on the report – the organisation was wearing in excess of $140,000 each quarter to produce this routinely ignored report.
It was also a dreaded activity for all involved and distracted focus away from the delivery of the already in-flight projects.
Comically, this manager was considering doubling down on the pain and producing the report monthly!
The Benevolent Monopoly has an issue with, or rather an aversion to, saying ‘No’. This has a knock-on problem – this type of monopoly says ‘Yes’ too much.
A PMO suffering from the Benevolent Monopoly trap endures the same problems that anyone who tries make everyone else happy does:
- Overworked staff (often on inconsequential, and reactive things), which leads to
- An over-commitment that is passed onto their client base through delays, poor quality output and unreasonable turnaround expectations.
Ultimately, the Benevolent Monopoly sabotages the Value Equation of each of its offerings, not from a lack of care, but rather too much misplaced care.
Countering Dysfunctional Monopolies: The 3 Questions That Every PMO Must Answer
Your PMO must think like a vendor, and like a vendor, your PMO must be continually looking for ways to:
- How do we increase the quality of our service?
- How do we decrease the pain its clients feel in accessing the service?
- How do we reduce PMO effort to offer the service?
These three steps are the crux of ensuring a responsible monopoly – in particular the last 2 points.
A Dictatorial Monopoly loses track of, or stops considering, the pain its clients feel in accessing the service.
A Benevolent (Slave) Monopoly fails to manage the PMO effort to offer the service.
Both monopolies ultimately reduce the quality of your PMO services.
So how do you stay responsible? Your PMO needs to review its position on each of these 3 points at least quarterly, if not more often.
Keep these goals front of mind and embed them into your PMO Values.
 Hint – if your entire client base is ‘useless’, then it might be worth considering whether the problem is within your own team…
 Yes, this example is all too real.
 Among other strategies, placing a ‘cost to produce’ metric on the report notably reduced the executive bump rate.
This is a excerpt from Creating High Value PMOs: Your Essential Guide.