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There is a lot of water-cooler talk around whether a PMO is tactical or strategic. Following that is the questions on what a PMO should be. So, what is it…tactical or strategic?
First, let us consider the words themselves. When you look up the definition for tactical Merriam-Webster will give you two definitions. First that it is relative to combat tactics; and Of or relative to smaller actions that serve a purpose that is larger (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). I am not sure about you but I never want to consider my PMO is in a battle. When you look up strategic Merriam-Webster states that it is either relative to a strategy; necessary/important to the initiation, execution or completion of a plan that is strategic; or designed to strike an enemy at the source (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). For me, I would rather see my PMO as strategic, with possible tactical components. Although both references a conflict of some sort, with strategic any conflict is listed last.
I have seen both types of PMOs, tactical and strategic, and the biggest different is how the PMO is viewed. Often a PMO that is implemented using a tactical approach is viewed as a military unit coming in and placing orders; a dictatorship so to speak. People run and hide from these types of organizations and do whatever they can to avoid having to involve the PMO. However, when a PMO is implemented in a strategic mindset, they are seen more as collaborators who work across all divisions; more of an innovator role.
So, what does this mean when it comes to a PMO? In today’s ever-changing world, in my opinion, a PMO is required to be strategic in nature. It should have a plan to stay ahead of the changing rules, and to ensure that the organization continues to move forward with best practices, and better delivery methods. It should have continued training to ensure that your resources do not fall behind the curve. It should have leadership that has an entrepreneur spirit whose has a primary goal of motivation and innovation. Above all, it should be inclusionary in nature.
So, how can you tell whether your PMO is viewed as tactical or strategic? Simple, just answer the following questions:
- Do resources and stakeholders try to find a way around involving the PMO?
- Are you still using the same frameworks/methodologies that you were using 3-5 years ago?
- Do you have continual training in place for all resources?
- Are the PMO leaders looking towards the future or maintaining status quo?
- Does your PMO help share the knowledge of practices to all stakeholders through the form of knowledge sharing sessions?
- Do the PMO leaders continually seek feedback from all resources and stakeholders?
- Do your PMO resources believe in the direction the PMO is moving?
These are just a few of the questions that you should periodically ask yourself when it comes to the operation of your PMO.
If you find that your PMO is being avoided and is not moving forward, there are steps that you can take to become more strategic. Complete a maturity assessment to see where your organization is not only as a whole, but departmentally as well. If you have a few departments operating at a high maturity, and the rest is lower, this can cause complications when these areas need to interact on a project. Come up with a plan to get everyone to one maturity level first; then start building the plan to move everyone forward. An example of this is when organizations start to implement agile and they bring up a software development team but forget about all the supporting teams they would have to engage with.
Next, consider where you want to be in a year; it will not do much good to look at a 5-year plan because then you can slip into becoming more tactical than strategic plus, as quickly as things are changing, your 5-year plan may change every year anyway. If you do come up with 3 to 5-year strategic plans, make sure you do a check every six months to a year to ensure that is still the direction you want to go.
If your PMO is not seeking feedback, and continuing to collaborate with all levels of stakeholders, then you may have a problem with that leadership. Do not get me wrong, I’m not saying to let people go, but you may need to invest in some leadership training for them. One of the biggest mistakes that I have seen is many people believe that because someone has been a project manager, that they can run a PMO. I have seen this fail more than once; since often that project manager is only familiar with what they have done, instead of what could be done.
Recently, most of my articles ask you to consider the possibilities…I would ask that now. If your PMO is running more tactical, consider the possibilities it could achieve if it were running in a strategic mode. Agreed, there are always going to be components that require action, but often the word tactical carries with it a feeling of war. So, whenever actions are required, make sure they are viewed as collaborative, and not tactical. You want people to come to the PMO, not work to avoid it.
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Author, Speaker, Project / Program / PMO Thought Leader
Over 20 years project management experience with a passion for helping organizations grow their PMO, their project managers, and their teams. My passion has taken me to the pursuit of a Doctor of Education, as I enjoy seeing the proverbial light bulb come on. I am a believer in continuous growth and improvement, and believe that an organizations culture and environment is what drives the growth of PMOs and all areas, and not the other way around.