Technology, maturity, and innovation--the new PMO



Our environment is changing faster than ever before due to many technological innovations. Our behaviors are changing even faster. We have a generation of staff using social media and collaboration tools to manage both their social and professional lives.

As technological shifts happen, and as our data consumption habits change, the way we conduct business needs to change as well.

How do these shifts and changes impact program management offices (PMOs) and the way we conduct business? As project management moves to virtual platforms, how do PMO processes evolve?

As a PMO, it is important to understand where you are along the maturity curve. It is also critical to understand your relationship with technology.

This presentation reviews the unique challenges of a mature PMO in the current environment. It suggests that in order to succeed in this fast-paced world, we need to be transforming our PMOs to strategic business units, which are focused on value-driven fast responses. As a mature PMO, the key to success lies with alignment and transformation.

A successful program manager is an adaptive leader who can innovate and lead through such transitions without being a victim to the myths of innovation.

Change and Technology

There are many words that define change: Transform, alter, different, replacement, shift, modification, switch, transfer, break, transition, and substitution are among them. In reviewing the definitions of change, two common themes are that change introduces complexity and change is inevitable. We assimilate change with cognitive processes. Professor Mary C. Potter from MIT defines these cognitive processes as: the nature of mental representation and processing, the architecture of memory, pattern recognition, attention, imagery and mental codes, concepts and prototypes, reasoning and problem solving. (Potter, 2004, ¶ 1) This allows us to simplify the complexity in order to understand as well as react and/or adapt to it. There are multiple sources of change, technology being one of them. Let's look around us:

  • Car companies shifting to hybrids
  • Social media forcing changes in how people and companies communicate/market themselves
  • Facebook has impacted parenting
  • Advent of cell phones and pervasive networks caused a new definition of “being at work”
  • Technological shifts have caused changes in human behavior.
  • Personal computer technology has changed our data consumption habits. Today, we expect to “Google” everything, our patience is very limited, our attention span even shorter, we want what we want now.

Since the majority of my career has been in information technology (IT) organizations within different industries, let me share a few of my observations: Significant changes have occurred in all aspects of IT:

  • Tools — Computers in the size of a wardrobe/cabinet became small enough to fit into your pocket. The access to computers and software went from select few (large companies) and became fully consumerized. Cloud computing, virtual platforms, and managed services removed the mystery associated with being the “IT.” Infrastructure became highly commoditized.
  • Resources — Computer sciences degrees were not really around 30 years ago. IT staff ended up in IT from some other field.
  • Process — IT as the gatekeeper, control owner, and ruler of the dungeon gave way to a business focused service center or an outsourced provider.
  • Projects — Projects became more complex, teams more virtual, and project management offices became program management offices, focusing on strategic initiatives.

PMO Maturity

There are many methods to defining the maturity of the PMO.

Margo Visitacion of Forrester Research, Inc., in her white paper titled “Are You Ready to Transform Your PMO?” discusses the maturity of PMOs by placing them into three categories: lower maturity, moderate maturity, and mature PMOs. According to Ms. Visitacion, mature PMOs have “integrated portfolio, program, project management, where more work is projectized. The methodology is flexible with an emphasis on frameworks.” (Visitacion, 2011, p. 5)

Michel Thiry refers to this group as “vision-led.” “& his is the most mature type of program where a strategy is defined, a number of objectives are identified and programs are shaped out of these strategic objectives.” (Thiry, 2010)

The common theme among both of these definitions is that a mature PMO is the one that has the pulse of the organization. A proposed maturity curve might appear as shown in Exhibit 1.

Proposed maturity curve

Exhibit 1– Proposed maturity curve

  • Impacted PMOs - defending their existence
  • Invisible PMOS - nondescript PMOs that are useful but not valuable
  • Good PMOS - aligned with organization strategy
  • Successful PMOS - transformed and innovative PMOs that bring a unique business value

It is imperative to know your current state in the maturity curve to define your future.

Mature/Successful PMO and Technology

Technology-driven changes are faster paced and quickly adapted in the user communities, which puts an added pressure on PMOs. A successful PMO is one that innovates and transforms itself to adapt to these changes.

Sawhney and Wolcott, in their 2004 Financial Times article, outlined seven myths of innovation:

  1. needing more new ideas,
  2. innovation as a department,
  3. letting people lose to innovate,
  4. innovation as a radical departure from the past,
  5. thinking mistakes are costly,
  6. avoiding the detours, and
  7. thinking that innovation is about creating new things.

Keeping these myths in mind, innovation for a PMO involves defining the service offerings proactively and focusing on the end game from an enterprise point of view.

Transformation comes from alignment with the business and becoming a strategic business partner.

In an IT organization, this translates to being an advocate for the projects that will support the drivers of the organization. The focus is no longer primarily on delivering the same services faster.

In an IT organization, the goal might be to become the preferred service provider for the enterprise.

This translates into looking at the bigger picture — not just the program or portfolio — but to industry and economic factors, in order to better understand the drivers of the organization. This would lead to defining the services to be provided, transformations required, as well as identifying the right staff/skillset/tools needed for the transformations.

Success comes from how fast you can recognize the drivers and how well you adjust and innovate.

A key success indicator is when the PMO is seen as a strategic and a competitive advantage for the organization.

Successful Program Manager

I can summarize the path to being a successful program manager as: “Transform your PMO, Transform yourself.”

A successful program manager will have to be an adaptive and innovative business leader who can:

  • Read, predict change
  • Strategically align with the company's vision and drivers
  • Continuously evaluate value proposition

A successful program manager becomes the partner you want by your side to succeed.

Potter, M. (2004). Cognitive Processes. Retrieved from

Sawhney, M., & Wolcott, R.C. (September 24, 2004). The Seven Myths of Innovation, Financial Times.

Thiry, M. (2010). Program Management. Surrey, UK: Gower Publishing Limited.

Visitacion, M. (April 8, 2011). Are You Ready to Transform Your PMO, Forrester Research, Inc., 5.

©2013 Deniz A. Johnson
Originally published as a part of 2013 PMI Global Proceedings – Istanbul, Turkey



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