PMO maturity assessment: is it worth the investment?

In today’s world of large portfolios and diverse programs of work, staying on track with project delivery is one of the biggest challenges that organisations face.

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The pressure to deliver larger and more complex programs, with greater efficiency and compressed timeframes is relentless.

Take health, education, or utility providers for example. At any one time, most have multiple mandates to deliver upon. There’s budget set aside for operating theatre upgrades, classroom improvements or network maintenance, but there’s also major capital investment happening in the development of new schools, hospital campuses or transmission infrastructure.

There’s work going on to introduce sustainability upgrades, reduce emissions and operational costs, but there are also teams working to implement new systems that improve service delivery for students, patients, and customers.

It's a lot of work, usually delivered across many locations. And that’s why most organisations have some form of project management office (PMO) in place to coordinate and integrate work across all levels of delivery − portfolio, programs and projects.

School building with scaffolding erectred around facade for building works to take place. Blue sky in background.

Supporting delivery via a Project Management Office (PMO)

As delivery becomes larger and more complex, PMOs are becoming more common. They play a vital role in making sure a variety of organisational objectives are met. But only if they are operating well…and as organisational mandates multiply and more programs and projects get added to the list, today’s PMOs are being tested.

Many are failing. Projects become delayed, the risk register starts changing colour, and from the site office to the boardroom, frustrations start to show.

As project managers, we see this all the time. We often get called in to help manage the fallout. We do that gladly. But our preference is always to help organisations address the underlying causes of PMO issues before they turn into catastrophic project failures.

More projects, more problems…

PMO problems are often hard to see – especially when you’re living inside them. They’re usually subtle (if not imperceptible), and from the outset they often don’t seem that serious. But PMO issues have a habit of multiplying and compounding each other. They can quickly become systemic. And degree by degree, they can start taking programs and projects off track.

So, what’s the solution?

Close up on project manager's hand as she sticks post-it note to whiteboard while reviewing project progress against procedure. Note is among many bright yellow and pink notes arranged under progress headings.

Enter project management maturity assessment

A bit like forensic accounting or a health check for PMOs, maturity assessment is all about taking a breath and getting an independent project professional to come in and look at the interrelated elements of your PMO. How well it works, and where it can be improved.

RPS regularly completes maturity assessments for government agencies or organisations with large asset portfolios. It’s a relatively quick, but systematic process of looking at your PMO ‘artifacts’ – the documents, processes, systems, reporting templates and other tools you use to manage and deliver – but also talking to people at all levels of your organisation about their role, work and challenges, in depth.

Common delivery issues

So, what does maturity assessment reveal? What trends do we typically see?

Well of course it depends on the organisation. However, a lack of clarity around the function of the PMO is a consistent theme.

Organisations will have varying expectations and requirements from their PMO. There is no standard definition of what a PMO is or should do, so it’s important to establish what you want and expect from your PMO at the outset.

A key consideration is whether your organisation requires a ‘supportive’, ‘controlling’ or ‘directive’ PMO. This decision will be based on organisational factors such as the degree of control required across programs, the strength of planning and delivery teams, and the nature of the risks an organisation will face if projects are not delivered in a consistent manner.  

Another common issue lies with function, roles and responsibilities. Where these are ill-defined or unclear, two things happen. Multiple people end up doing the same task, which breeds confusion and wastes time, and/or critical tasks don’t get done at all because everyone assumes someone else is looking after it.

Both scenarios quickly begin to erode your key success metrics, and confidence. Cost, time and quality all start backsliding.

There are other problems of course – bottlenecks in project decision-making, inconsistent reporting, issues with budgeting and procurement. The list goes on.

Close up on project manager's hand with pen as he reviews project plan. Other items on desk include reading glasses, white coffee cup, and post-it notes

A problem understood is a problem halved

It’s important to know that all of these issues are fixable. You just need to know that the problems are there.

After a maturity assessment, we provide organisations with a roadmap for addressing any issues identified, and options for accessing the resources and tools they need to fix them – whether that’s upgrading processes, introducing consistent reporting templates, clearly articulating roles and responsibilities, or rolling out technologies to support information access and sharing.

But. Is it worth it I hear you ask? Talk to any organisation who has invested in PMO maturity assessment, and I hazard they’d say yes.

Maturity assessment = money well spent

A typical maturity assessment process takes 6-8 weeks. You pay for the time of a small team of experts who come in to investigate, discover and make practical recommendations about how you can enhance capability and improve efficiency.

From there, you can opt-in to people, resources and tools to help implement those improvements, in line with your objectives and budget.

PMO perfection is rarely the goal (or even the recommendation). Many organisations don’t need to tackle every aspect of their operations or make huge investments in technology. Sometimes simple improvements to process, documentation or cross-program communication can make all the difference.

The key is having a PMO that is fit-for-purpose and aligned to the unique nature of the portfolios, programs and projects you are delivering.

Outcomes the best measure of PMO success

Most people think of project managers as output driven. After all, it’s our job to ensure the hospital gets built or the airport runway is extended.

But a good project manager always has their eyes focused a little higher – on the outcomes and benefits that underlie all of the investment made in bricks and mortar.

Health departments build hospitals so community members get the care they need at the worst moments of their life. Education providers invest in school upgrades so our kids have the best educational opportunities we can provide. Utilities companies construct new infrastructure to ensure we have clean water and reliable energy for our homes and businesses.

Through maturity assessment, we can remove the barriers that prevent us from delivering these benefits, and ensure that output is always aligned to outcome. And as an added bonus, we can ease some of the delivery frustration that exists for ministers, project directors, stakeholders and end-users along the way, too.

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