PMO Acceptance: The importance of buy-in at board level

When you’re running countless projects and programs for your organisation, standardisation of your processes is key if you want them to be successful time and time again. But if you aren’t able to set these standards or oversee their implementation, who will? It’s instances like these where having a PMO can be extremely handy.

The purpose of a PMO, otherwise known as a project management office, is to set and enforce efficient standards that align with your business strategy. Having a department or team to focus on this exclusively means your organisation’s projects or programs can benefit from a higher level of accuracy, cost savings, and increased visibility of project performance.

Word of these benefits has spread far and wide, so much so that an astounding 97% of organisations now believe that having a PMO is critical to their business performance and success. However, if you’re planning on introducing a PMO into your organisation, you should know that even though you might be fully on board with the idea, it’s likely that not everyone will be.

Resistance to PMO

An astonishing 90% of large, high performing organisations now have a PMO. But just because they have one doesn’t necessarily mean that it has been met with open arms. Implementing a PMO is a monumental change for members of an organisation to adjust to because it involves structural changes, that can result in transfers of power and modifications to processes that may have been in place for decades.

As humans, we can all be reluctant to change and the introduction of a team or department that wants us to make alterations to how we work can be a tough pill to swallow. This can be exacerbated if the objectives of a PMO aren’t communicated or understood by the board and stakeholders in particular. If senior board members are resistant to the PMO due to lack of knowledge or a feeling of unpreparedness, their negativity towards it will trickle down through the ranks until the whole organisation is against it.

A recent study by Capterra found that 33% of projects that abide by PMO standards fail because of a lack of participation and understanding from senior management and stakeholders. So even though the benefits might be great, if you don’t have board-level buy-in, it is incredibly difficult for the PMO to fully integrate itself in the organisation and make the positive impact its designed to. This is one of the main reasons why many organisations disband their PMO after only three years.

­­­Instead, if you’re thinking about introducing a PMO within your organization, it’s critical that you get your board bought into the idea as soon as possible and make sure they what the overarching objectives of the PMO will be. They will need evidence of how having this new department will help their employees work more productively and how much it could potentially save them money before you can expect them to sign up for it.

The three levels of PMO acceptance

So what can be done? Having worked with many PMO professionals, our team at Deltra have developed a keen understanding of what it takes to get board members to fully accept a PMO. While there are plenty of things that can help to create a positive attitude towards PMO, we think that there are three stages that every organisation, regardless of their industry, can use to get their senior level employees onboard.

Stage One: Communication

One of the main reasons why you might face a negative reaction to your PMO is because your board may not have a full understanding of its purpose, objectives and the challenges the project or program may face. This will increase their anxiety and they will begin to question why your organisation needs a PMO in the first place. This is an understandable reaction that can be avoided with some effective communication from the offset and throughout.

To do this, make sure you are visible and engaged with every member of the board. Before the start of your next project, clearly and directly outline the goals, responsibilities, and expectations of the PMO and give the board an opportunity to voice their concerns. While it’s important that you get all the information across, remember that listening is part in parcel of the communication stage too.

Articulate the vision you have for this project and how the PMO can help you to achieve this. Once the initial proposal has been signed off, continue communicating through regular reports, face to face meetings, presentations, and emails, which will update the board and stakeholders of the projects progress throughout.

Stage Two: Strategy

While communicating how the PMO will work is crucial, words alone won’t be enough to convince some of the more stubborn members of your board that PMO is something they need to get on board with. This is where the strategy stage comes in.

Presenting the board with a well thought out strategy can provide some much-needed evidence to the board of how the PMO will slot into the organisation and it’s varying departments. It will also further outline its objectives and give an estimated timeframe for the project, as well as defining how its performance will be measured.

To kick-start your strategy, sit down with your stakeholders to gain their input and feedback on which objectives are the most valuable and need to be prioritised. You can then discuss the structure of the PMO framework, what functions need to be performed and how their success can be measured. You can then use all of this information to create a complex strategy that you can present to the rest of the board.

Remember to highlight how the PMO strategy will reduce risks and help your organisation to avoid unnecessary costs in your presentation. The best way to do this is by considering typical issues that might arise and how the PMO can help to either prevent or avoid these altogether.

Stage Three: Training

Once you’ve made some headway with your strategy, it’s time for the hardest part of getting your board member bought into the idea of a PMO; the training. While this is something that you could arguably do in between the communication and strategy stage if you prefer, it’s also something that needs to be done throughout the lifecycle of your project.

The purpose of this stage is to boost the board members knowledge and understanding of what a PMO does, the standards it is enforcing and how these standards will benefit the organisation. It’s also a prime opportunity for them to stay up to date of PMO successes and changes that are being made as the PMO grows.

The key is to create a training program specifically for the board members to begin with, which can then be rolled out to lower level managers across the wider organisation later on.

Your training can be in the form of monthly workshops, meetings or presentations, whilst also backed up with informative blog articles or email newsletters. You also have the option of mentoring some of the board members who might learn more effectively from one-on-one interaction rather than a group setting.

Once the mystery the surrounds the PMO has lifted and the board realises that it’s not a threat, they will be far more open to giving it their backing.

Board level role for a PMO advocate

In addition, establishing and implementing these three levels, you could also encourage further buy-in by suggesting that a role is opened on your organisation’s board for a senior member of the PMO team. This might be a decision that is also met with some criticism and resistance, particularly to begin with. But if you want to get board-level buy in it can be made easier by having someone with PMO expertise who can sit at the same table as them to act as a teacher and advocate.

The PMO board member could use this platform to help the other board members and stakeholders gain a greater understanding of what it is that a PMO does and the benefits that come from successful implementation. They can help to relieve any doubts about the PMO, resolve issues and showcase the results from the latest projects to promote a more positive mindset towards their department.

Having someone they can relate to with the same level of authority as they can make it easier for the senior members of staff to accept the newest department in their organisation. It can also be advantageous to get the PMO board members to encourage the others, particularly those who have demonstrated the most resistance to get involved in resolutions to issues that arise in projects. This shows a level of respect and trust that could help them to become more open-minded about the PMO and the work it does.

However, introducing a new PMO board member into the mix is something that will need to be done gradually and not forced upon the board unexpectedly. Otherwise, you might undo the results you’ve already achieved when carrying out the three levels and end up back at square one. Pitch the idea over several meetings and offer reasons why it can be beneficial for this role to open up. This will give the other board members little reasons to question why you’ve made this suggestion.

Introducing a PMO into your organisation to enforce some continuity and consistency amongst your projects can bring a whole host of benefits to your organisation. But without majority board level buy-in, you could be setting your new department up to fail before it’s even had a chance to make a real difference.

The best way of encouraging buy-in is to develop trust throughout your organization’s senior-level members of staff which can then trickle down into the lower levels. Once they realise that a PMO isn’t there to criticise the current processes but rather to make them more effective and cheaper, they will be far less wary of it. So don’t let your PMO be an experiment that went wrong through lack of communication and understanding. Instead, take time in building up trust and getting everyone on the same page so you can make your PMO implementation the success it deserves to be.

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19th June

Industry Insight