Project Management Institute

The Good Fight


By Abid Mustafa

We live in an age of austerity. For enterprise project management offices (EPMOs), this can mean downsizing. Or an executive might take direct responsibility for the EPMO function and integrate it into another function, like the strategy department. Either way, the EPMO’s effectiveness likely suffers.

How do you avoid this fate? EPMO directors should adopt a proactive stance to both oppose takeovers by predatory departments and achieve efficiencies by absorbing compatible functions across the organization. Obvious targets to amalgamate into an EPMO are distributed PMOs in operations, IT, finance or sales. In some cases, the outsourcing of all distributed PMO functions can dramatically reduce costs. Subsequently, the EPMO’s role would be to provide governance that ensures the vendor provides the level of services expected by various departments.

An ambitious EPMO director might pursue another gambit: turn the tables and pull in the organization’s strategy department. The rationale behind the EPMO controlling the strategy function is simple.

First, most large organizations are very good at creating strategic plans with the help of external consultants. But they tend to suffer from poor execution. Strategy departments in such organizations become preoccupied with helping the management team to execute facets of the corporate strategy, as opposed to limiting their involvement to strategic plans.

Second, the strategy department habitually relies on the EPMO to facilitate cross-functional meetings that support completion of the annual corporate planning process.

Third, portfolio management undertaken by the EPMO is closely aligned with executive performance management run by the strategy function. Successful portfolio management requires a constant validation of the corporate strategy: i.e., does the inclusion of initiatives in the designated project portfolio harm or assist corporate strategy? There is no reason corporate strategy cannot be executed by the EPMO on behalf of the management team. Additionally, aligning initiatives with the balanced scorecards of executives has a better chance of success if it’s done by the EPMO.

But perhaps the greatest advantage is that this arrangement bridges the gap between strategy and execution. To be sure, some activities carried out by the strategy department are incompatible with an EPMO. Visionary thinking, business development and maintenance of the business plan are areas that stand out. Other departments can take on such activities; for example, sales could manage business development.

The bottom line: When faced with the prospect of retrenchment, EPMO directors must seize the opportunity to bridge the gap between strategy and execution. Don’t be subsumed—strengthen the EPMO’s unique value. PM

img Abid Mustafa has worked with project management offices for eight 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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