The PMO in Hard Times

The Canadian dollar is sitting at its lowest in a decade; the oil industry is at a standstill. Businesses are closing their doors or downsizing by the dozens every day. These are the realities. This is the tough economic climate we're all facing. These are the fatalistic reports we’re hearing on the news every day.

It makes sense that financial times cause a shift in priorities. In fact, a priority shift becomes mandatory. However, the trick is ensuring that these priority shifts are valuable, and not merely a kneejerk reaction to manage daily costs. This is where your project managers and your Project Management Office (PMO) comes in.

It’s understandable that the first reaction of a company falling on hard economic times is to put projects on hold, or cancel them altogether. This can, and often does, occur simultaneously with a reduction of costs through reducing the project management component. It can make sense at the time, but doing so can do more damage in the long run, than provide the desperate financial relief companies are looking for.

Why? Because the Project Manager is the one that is holding the project together; they see the big picture, they control the project costs and they’re the ones who know, better than anyone else, exactly what is going on within the project. Reducing the management cost is akin to removing the expert (or experts, depending on the size and breadth of your project) on the internal workings, cost, and required resources of a project. Less of a good choice now, right?

We’ve talked about the management of resources and continued analysis projects rely on and touched on how that falls down the priority list in favour of immediate cost-cutting, when it should be at the top. So let’s dive into more detail about how that reflects on your PMO and how your PMO can actually help, rather than hinder, project costing.

The role of the PMO is to have an overall vision of the portfolio landscape which includes the dependencies one project has on another, the overall risk portfolio and how the portfolio could affect the enterprise. Remember we said it would be like taking a subject matter expert off of a project you have no idea how to handle? This is why. These tight economic times are exactly when you want your PMO represented at C-level meetings in order to communicate with stakeholders about project strategy. This specifically comes into play with the projects that are initiated to address regulatory requirements or projects that are largely tactical. These are not always communicated across the company because they don’t seem as large or relevant as projects that are easier to get excited about, and easier to share across the enterprise.

This, in short, is how to bring the PMO into the strategy discussion. Involving the PMO in this process has been proven to help organizations to identify opportunities that can increase cash-flow or reduce costs depending on which goal your company is aiming for. The PMO has a great breadth of operational knowledge because of the need to control the projects under their purview. These are the people you want at your C-level discussions, collaborating, building and problem solving in ways project managers know best.

Today, the economic hard times we’re experiencing and the continual fight for business improvement that is affordable, makes teams like the PMO even more important, even more relevant. These are the teams charged with creating new ideas, finding ways to cut costs without cutting quality. These are the people trained to collaborate, to work with resources and stakeholders to achieve a solution that is not only economically worth it, but also extremely important to growth and nurturing companies, using their own existing resources and cultures. So, instead of the kneejerk reaction of cutting projects, maybe it’s time to ask those who know best: your PMO.

Scott Savage is a long-time project manager and current PMO guru with Logixsource. You can contact him at, or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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