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Why PMOs Fail – The Project Solvers of America, Inc.

Singh et al. (2009) cited a survey of 750 companies where 75% of the organizations shut down a PMO within three years of its inception. Aubry, Hobbs, Muller, and Blomquist (2010) reported that the average life expectancy for a PMO is two years.

Several years ago, I spent two to three years working with a small manufacturing client to put a project management office (PMO) in place. The project management maturity level of this organization was what Wysocki (2011, pp. 536-537) would consider level one. Project managers did not exist, the company was structured functionally, each project was run the way the functional manager decided it should be run, and there was very little in the way of project management practices in place.

After two years of working with the client, there was a PMO director and three full-time project managers that were collectively managing approximately 25% of the company’s project portfolio. Using Wysocki’s maturity metric, I would place the organization at a level two, and even making gains towards level three. In the typology of Muller, Gluckler, and Aubry (2013), the PMO would be considered controlling. The responsibility for the creation and deployment of project standards was in the PMO’s purview, as was monitoring and high-level project oversight.

The organization appreciated the attention and focus that having a full-time project manager brought and were even beginning to adjust their practices so that when a new project was ready to begin, they would work with the PMO Director at creating a project charter document as the first step. Project management training was taken seriously and attended by dozens of team members and functional managers.

The PMO Director was participating (as was I) in the annual strategic planning sessions and had a detailed plan on how to scale the PMO towards the rest of the organization. The outlook was promising. Was this PMO at the level of any of those PMOs described by Crawford (2011)? Certainly not, though, there was a recognition that many of the same criteria that Crawford emphasized as key success factors were needed.

Certainly not, though, there was a recognition that many of the same criteria that Crawford emphasized as key success factors were needed.

For example, training was described by Crawford (2011) as being a priority in the PMOs in his case study. The importance of project management competency was seen in a study by Singh, Keil, and Kasi (2009) that examined the challenges of PMO implementation. The researchers found that one of the top factors in a PMO failing is having inexperienced project managers and/or PMO leadership. Wysocki (2011, p. 550) posited that not only should project managers receive training, but that senior management should as well. Crawford (2011) pointed out that IBM put particular emphasis on training, requiring project managers to be certified and providing for its delivery in multiple modalities. Doe Run provided project sponsor training so that sponsors would understand the role and its relationship to project success. AEG also prioritized project management training, requiring the Project Management Professional (PMP) credential as a condition of promotion.

My client’s PMO saw the need to have trained and experienced project managers as well. All three of the project managers hired held their PMP credential and came with years of experience.

How would your organization improve its PMO practices?

My client’s PMO had all the right building blocks in place for a controlling PMO. They were tracking and reporting projects’ progress through a high-level dashboard. They had a plan to scale. They had the beginnings of a portfolio planning process and a linkage to the corporation’s strategic plan. Yet, two years in, it was dissolved.

This is not unusual, unfortunately. Singh et al. (2009) cited a survey of 750 companies where 75% of the organizations shut down a PMO within three years of its inception. Aubry, Hobbs, Muller, and Blomquist (2010) reported that the average life expectancy for a PMO is two years. In thinking back on what we could have done differently and in absorbing the readings from this week, the dissolution was less likely to have been a function of planning and execution of the PMO and more likely to have been a failure to manage change.

The top challenge in implementing a PMO identified in the Singh et al. (2009) study was a rigid corporate culture and failure to manage organizational resistance to change. Other challenges identified included poor definition and communication of PMO goals and a lack of full senior management support. Aubry et al. (2010) looked at a variety of factors that drove PMO changes and found organizational commitment to be one with the largest impact. However, commitment (or senior management support) are really only symptoms to an underlying issue and that being discomfort with change. Aubry et al. (2010) concluded this as well, asserting that the focus in implementing a PMO is on its characteristics and functions while the impact on people is neglected. They recommended that more resources need to be devoted to change management.

Crawford (2011) provided an example of how the CEO of IBM decided to make project management a key competency for the company and created the Project Management Center of Excellence (PMCOE). He chartered them with the task of being a change agent, and through a combination of skill development, knowledge sharing, and holding executives accountable for their project’s success, the PMCOE achieved their objective.

For those organizations that do not have the CEO as their change initiative champion, it is more complicated. However, Roberto and Levesque (2005) suggest creating a culture of candor, gathering input from all key stakeholders before making decisions, and being transparent with communications. They posit that if people believe that their input is being considered, they will be more likely to consider it a fair and legitimate process and will then be more likely to accept the needed change.

One such success story, the IBM PMO initiative, had the advantage of beginning with the CEO, who saw the value in project management. For many organizations, like my client’s, this value is still unproven at the upper echelons, and the road is much harder. That is where the people side of change initiatives need to be scrutinized and managed closely.

Note: This article was adapted from work submitted as part of Capella University coursework.


Aubry, M., Hobbs, B., Muller, R., Blomquist, T. (2010, September 1). Identifying forces driving PMO changes. Project management journal (8756-9728), 41 (4), p. 30.

Crawford, J. K. (2011). Lessons from the best: practices of the world’s top PMOs. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2011—North America, Dallas, TX. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Müller, R., Glückler, J., & Aubry, M. (2013). A relational typology of project management offices. Project Management Journal, 44(1), 59–76.

Roberto, M. A., & Levesque, L. C. (2005). The art of making change initiatives stick. MIT Sloan Management Review, 46(4), 53.

Singh, R., Keil, M., & Kasi, V. (2009). Identifying and overcoming the challenges of implementing a project management office. European Journal of Information Systems: Including a Special Section on Meeting the Renewed Demand for IT Workers (MRD), 18(5), 409-427.

Wysocki, R. K. (2014). Effective project management: traditional, agile, extreme (7th ed.). Indianapolis, IN: Wiley.

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