The Need for an Innovative PMO

Business transformation is the lifeblood of every enterprise today. Without a constant flow of innovation, no company can expect to prosper – or perhaps, even survive. How should an organization manage business transformation? Who should be responsible for it? How will the team responsible know what projects to work on? These are questions that businesses ponder during our times of rapid change. Many Fortune 500 companies have learned the hard way that standing still is no answer to a business world in flux.

Traditionally, the department managing the flow of projects, including innovation initiatives, is the Project or Portfolio Management Office (the PMO). According to the Project Management Institute, 71% of companies have a PMO, a steady rise over the past ten years. Other recent surveys suggest that 90% of large enterprises, 88% of midsize companies, and 61% of small companies now have a PMO, too.

The PMO’s role is based on controlling the delivery of projects to tight planning and budgetary cycles, as well as ensuring enough resources are in place and enough time is allowed for execution. Additionally, the PMO goes about getting the right forms filled in or gathering the correct numbers required for reporting. PMO culture, where project managers are usually trained to be steadfast and compliant, rule setters, and followers, and often report to a midlevel executives, can feel like it is one of contradiction with the more fluid innovation focused environment of today. To date, PMO culture has been one that does not seem to encourage thinking outside the box or taking on the risk of failure. Above all, it does not embrace the uncertainties of digital disruption or the global economy.

Perhaps the answer to this dichotomy lies in creating a hybrid. One that allows for the flow of innovation to align with the structure of the traditional PMO. In essence, we’d have a team that could provide value in the most efficient way by applying the same steps of innovation to designing project portfolios. There is an opportunity to create an Innovation Project Management Office (IPMO).

With relatively little investment and operational disruption, the IPMO would ensure that experimentation flourishes, the right business ideas move forward, lessons are learned, change is measured on a long-term basis, and innovation and transformation become properly aligned to corporate business strategy.

Watch my on-demand webinar, How Innovation & Portfolio Management Office Underpins Corporate Success, to explore the topic more.


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Written by Tad Haas
Tad Haas, Executive Vice President, edison365. As a passionate technology evangelist, experienced change agent and business builder, Tad gets to work with some of the best companies in the world, every day.  Sharing how innovators are making a difference in manufacturing, engineering, financial services plus health and life sciences are some of the transformation stories he likes to tell.  A long tenure at Microsoft helped him see what it means to transform and deliver at scale. He often speaks on topics ranging from “Art of the Possible…”, “Uncovering Your Innovators” or broad topics like Employee Engagement.   As a 20+ year member of Project Management Institute (PMI) he always strives towards the full picture of Strategy > Ideation > Justification > Delivery and Outcomes. For fun he can be found on two wheels - motorcycle or bicycle and is constantly trying to improve his art and science around home roasting coffee.
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    Interesting post Tad! However, not sure about this:

    “To date, PMO culture has been one that does not seem to encourage thinking outside the box or taking on the risk of failure.”

    I can’t imagine Gene Kranz and many others like him agreeing 🙂 But maybe things have changed, and are very different nowadays – I’m retired now, but back in the day @ IBM, we were out of the box, and often failed. (I don’t know if you were around for the PC Jr. and the IBM ATM machine.)

  2. Thank you Jigs. Appreciate the dialog. And YES, I was around for the PC Jr. 😉 Regarding the statement about thinking outside the box… It was designed to be a little controversial. Yes, many excellent PMO’s definitely are innovative, if not at least eager to try new things. However, lots aren’t and it is often the “impression” of the others in the business org that the PMO is more about process and gates than promoters of active risk taking – think Chief Innovation Officer, etc. More and more we are seeing the Front End of Innovation (FEI) actively collaboration with Back End of Innovation (delivery, PMO, etc.) so great ideas can deliver on the value they promise. Love the Gene Kranz reference!

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