Empathic Problem-Solvers

In the Digital Age, EPMOs Must Move beyond the Realm of Project Governance



In the digital age, EPMOs must move beyond the realm of project governance.

By Abid Mustafa

As the digital revolution continues to sweep through organizations, there is a real danger that enterprise project management offices (EPMOs) will be left behind. EPMOs traditionally have excelled at project governance, focusing on providing the right ecosystem to help projects succeed. This often involves promoting and facilitating the use of project approaches, templates, tools, reporting procedures and so forth.

The trouble is that most departments today do not require assistance with such project artifacts. Rather, they need help executing projects as digital disruption intensifies the pace of delivery and raises the competitive stakes. It is this backdrop that is quickly changing how organizations perceive EPMOs. Their net utility to an organization is under renewed scrutiny.

For EPMOs to deliver value in today’s digital world, they must transition from being primarily custodians of governance to become practitioners of execution par excellence. EPMOs should aim to assist other departments in shaping both project delivery and outcomes by getting involved in the execution of projects. This might require swift evolution and embracing new techniques such as design thinking.


Design thinking has become a pervasive problem-solving approach in the business environment to generate customer-centric solutions. Given its staying power, it makes sense for EPMOs to become acquainted with design thinking and apply it to projects across the organization. This should not be very difficult, because EPMOs are already accustomed to the basic stages of design thinking: empathy, definition, ideation, prototyping and testing. In particular, EPMOs’ ability to empathize can help them become valuable execution facilitators.

Let me explain: Project governance requires EMPOs to aggregate information and make it presentable to the C-suite. This process necessitates a detailed understanding of the political context and interpersonal skills. Hence it can be said that EPMOs empathically sense and feel the organization’s pulse throughout project life cycles.

If EPMOs can unlock their wellspring of empathy, they could assist teams with defining problems at the start of every project. Additionally, EPMOs could exploit their excellent relationship management skills to help in the other stages of design thinking. In this way, making the transition to become primarily execution practitioners is not as difficult as it first seems. Obviously, an EPMO could add other disruptive management tools (such as lean thinking) to its arsenal. But it’s important to grasp that EPMOs’ traditional governance expertise can act as a bridge to a more valuable role in the digital world. PM

img Abid Mustafa has worked with project management offices for 11 years. His book In the Age of Turbulence: How to Make Executive PMOs Successful is available in paperback and on Kindle.



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