Project Management Institute

In search of alignment

four EPMO leaders discuss how they build c-suite buy-in to deliver big results



The data is clear: Enterprise project management offices (EPMOs) drive project success. Yet they're not necessarily understood or respected in the C-suite. The key to ensuring executive support, EPMO leaders say, is to clearly define how the office adds business value and position it as an extension of strategy.

Organizations that align their EPMO to strategy see 27 percent more projects completed successfully and 42 percent fewer projects with scope creep, according to PMI's 2016 Pulse of the Profession® report. But only 44 percent of EPMOs are highly aligned, Pulse data shows.

To illuminate how to earn and maintain buy-in from the top, PM Network turned to four current or former EPMO leaders around the world. Robert Bulger, PMP, PgMP, PfMP, is chief project officer at PMI Global Executive Council member NANA Pacific in Ocean View, Hawaii, USA; Ian Laliberte, PMP, is vice president of delivery shared services and PMO at Council member TD Bank in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Dirk Nadler, PMP, is head of resource and project portfolio management at Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics GmbH (another Council member), Marburg, Germany; and Pinkie Nolan, PMP, is vice president of EPMO at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, Newport Beach, California, USA.


“Selling the EPMO to the C-suite is hard. Elevating your EPMO leader to chief project officer allows the portfolio to have visibility at the highest level.”

—Robert Bulger, PMP, PgMP, PfMP, NANA Pacific, Ocean View, Hawaii, USA

Ms. Nolan: Developing a strong relationship with the strategic planners of the organization helps you stay informed about the written strategic plan as well as upcoming trends and changes. This information can help influence decisions about how to structure portfolios, assign resources and identify metrics to demonstrate the EPMO's contribution to strategic goal achievement. I like to think of the EPMO as a natural extension of strategic planners—they develop the strategy, and the EPMO helps make sure it gets executed.

Mr. Bulger: Linking available capital to gate reviews, efficient frontier-style budgeting and portfolio benefits realization makes the EPMO incredibly well aligned to corporate strategy. The benefits realization scorecard quickly shows senior management and boards of directors why the spend of capital or available cash is so crucial—and how it aligns with the strategy, vision and mission of the organization.

Mr. Laliberte: You need to ensure EPMOs are located in the right hierarchy level and in the functional area where the highest level of spend type takes place. You want to be close to where most of the profit and loss actually takes place. That helps increase alignment by bringing transparency on both the expenses and the benefit performance against the revenue and profit levers. The more you do that, the more you get the opportunity to help and support where the organization is and should go.


“You have to go away from the mindset that it's all about processes and governance and structure, and define what business value you can add for the executive stakeholders.”

—Dirk Nadler, PMP, Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics GmbH, Marburg, Germany

How can EPMO leaders get crucial buy-in from the C-suite?

Mr. Nadler: You have to understand what the drivers are behind installing the EPMO. You have to go away from the mindset that it's all about processes and governance and structure, and define what business value you can add for the executive stakeholders.

Mr. Laliberte: You need to speak the C-suite language and lead and run your EPMO like a business. When you think about the massive investment you hold for strategic initiatives, track and talk about the time-to-business case to show how much time it takes to get the decision to proceed. Track and talk about time-to-market to show how fast (or slow) it takes you to start realizing the expected benefits. Talk about the delivery and financial performance of the entire portfolio, respective risks and opportunities to ensure the optimal allocation of resources and dollars.

Mr. Bulger: Selling the EPMO to the C-suite is hard. Elevating your EPMO leader to chief project officer allows the portfolio of the organization to have visibility at the highest level. It balances the senior leadership team with a position that acts as a hyphen between many of the organizational silos at the table such as finance, human resources, operations, legal, etc. The mutual respect of peers helps greatly to obtain the buy-in needed to move the portfolio along.

What's the best way to quickly maintain or rebuild buy-in when there's C-suite turnover?

Mr. Laliberte: Two ways. First, have an executive onboarding program. If there's a new executive sponsor tied to a large and complex initiative, we go through an onboarding program to ensure they understand what will be expected of them in the various phases of the life cycle, as well as the time obligation that is required of them. Second, have a strong portfolio management governance cadence in place as a standard practice in all businesses. That way, if they're moving from one area of the organization to another, they know what to expect and look for, as the experience will be the same.

Mr. Nadler: There is no shortcut. With every change in senior executives, assume you have to go back to square one. You have to make sure you understand where the new CEO is coming from and what problems he or she wants to solve, and where they see potential or need for change.

Ms. Nolan: If the new C-suite member has had previous positive experiences with EPMOs and you can share the successes that your EPMO has brought to this organization, then it may not be that difficult to maintain the buy-in you've already achieved. However, if the new C-suite member is not familiar with or not a fan of EPMOs, a potential strategy is to explain how your EPMO has evolved and why it meets a critical need of the organization. Share defensible, demonstrated success stories and seek the visible backing of other C-suite members supportive of the EPMO's mission and role.


“Share defensible, demonstrated success stories and seek the visible backing of other C-suite members supportive of the EPMO's mission.”

—Pinkie Nolan, PMP, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, Newport Beach, California, USA

What are the best ways for EPMOs to deliver value?

Ms. Nolan: It varies by organization, but the common approach is to maintain a customer-focused mindset by listening, observing and identifying the project-related opportunities that are specific to the organization. The EPMO leverages its project- and portfolio-management expertise to formulate solutions to address those challenges. Be willing to adapt to the unique and changing needs of the organization. Being adaptable while also bringing discipline and rigor to an organization is a unique feat, and therefore highly valuable.

Mr. Nadler: Focus on how you can really add business value to the company as an EPMO. Don't get too preoccupied on the execution itself. Don't get me wrong, that's important, but if that's the purpose of the PMO, it won't survive the pace of change in your organization.

Mr. Bulger: EPMOs best provide value in three critical areas. The first is in the constant alignment of the portfolio and available capital to the strategy of the organization. The second is portfolio benefits realization—ensuring that all projects and programs deliver the advertised benefits. The third is the constant communication of the portfolio's health, status and alignment to stakeholders. PM


“You need to speak the C-suite language and lead and run your EPMO like a business.”

—Ian Laliberte, PMP, TD Bank, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Ready, Set, Align!

Launching an enterprise project management office (EPMO) can be a daunting task. But making sure it is fully aligned to organizational strategy from the start will increase its impact. Ian Laliberte, PMP, vice president of delivery shared services and PMO, TD Bank, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, offers four tips to ensure an EPMO is on the same strategic page as the C-suite.

1 Learn the lay of the land. Knowing your rules of engagement before you start shows you understand the organizational structure. Have items on the table that you know are a must for success—and adhere to them. For example, “Know where the EPMO sits in the organization and ensure it reflects where most of the spend type will take place, to whom it will report, and who the immediate top players are around you,” Mr. Laliberte says.

2 Set the plan. Getting a roadmap to launch shouldn't take more than about 100 days. Use that time to listen and understand what executives and senior leaders expect of the EPMO—as well as the risks and opportunities within the organization.

3 Measure twice. Be ruthless about your time and calendar. You must build “think” time and validate your early findings and analysis with your trusted network. This is how you will gain perspective with your thinking and help validate early on if you are on the right track.

4 Customize. Tailor the EPMO to the organization's needs as much as possible. For instance, design a three-tiered approach to find the right size and speed. “There's no such thing as one-size-fits-all,” Mr. Laliberte says.

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