Top PMO Challenges And How To Resolve Them

project management students

Project management offices (PMOs) struggle regularly with challenges that hamper consistent performance – not the least of which is an underappreciation for the crucial role that they play.

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According to recent statistics, for example:

  • Only 58% of organizations fully understand the value of project management
  • 42% are resistant to change and the idea of adopting new project management methodologies
  • 41% say their biggest challenge is demonstrating the value-add a PMO represents

It’s also worth noting, however, that 80% of high-performance organizations have a project management office.

And as holders of critical standards and best practices, today’s PMOs are fortunate in their access to tools and strategies dedicated to achieving greater clarity, efficiency, and productivity in a collaborative, remote work environment.

In this article, we explore some of the biggest challenges project managers and PMOs face – and some recommended solutions for dealing with them.

Resource management: Still one of the toughest project management challenges

According to a survey conducted during this year’s PMXPO event, resource management remains the biggest challenge PMOs of all sizes battle. As you schedule and allocate your way through each project cycle, in fact, you may regularly look for ways to maximize efficiency with minimal resources.

Some of the biggest PMO challenges around resource management include:

  • Adequately planning or measuring return-on-investment
  • Anticipating project delivery gaps or conflicts before they happen
  • Avoiding resource overallocation stemming from a lack of visibility into team workloads

Dealing with difficulties like these only gets harder the more dispersed workers and other resources become. To manage resources effectively regardless of industry or project scope, you need a thorough understanding of objectives and a transparent view into capacity.

Resource management solutions

Because minimizing resource waste and delay often revolves around timely ordering of materials, accurate budget planning, and coordination, scheduling, and management of staff, you may achieve better results by:

  • Developing and implementing a standardized resource allocation reporting system
  • Improving resource predictions during the planning stage by focusing more intently on
    • clarifying project scope
    • exploring potential risks
    • preparing for unforeseen costs or project constraints
  • Taking advantage of underutilized resources by calling on personnel with multiple skill sets, for example, to handle overflow tasks

One of the most effective ways to take control of project lifecycles and objectives is with the real-time overview that software provides.

Not only is a platform like MindManager, for example, a tremendous help in visually managing project resources, it lets you quickly see and act on potential workflow bottlenecks and roadblocks. Software utilization doesn’t just speed up project execution, it also improves collaboration – a major bonus when teams work remotely.

Surprisingly, software adoption remains relatively low in places like the UK, where just over half (56%) of SMEs rely on project management software. For companies that do take advantage, time tracking (24%) and task management (13%) are the two most wanted features, according to Capterra.

3 more top PMO challenges

In addition to less-than-ideal resource management, statistics point to several other chief causes of project failure among PMOs, including:

  • Inaccurate requirements gathering (35%)
  • Changes in project objectives (37%)
  • Poor communication (29%)

Let’s briefly explore each of these project management challenges in turn.

1. Inaccurate requirements gathering

Understanding stakeholder needs and what you’re meant to deliver is essential to project success. Sadly, too many projects break ground with just the briefest of requirement outlines attached – increasing the risk they’ll unravel as a result of those needs not being thoroughly understood.

Common oversights in requirements gathering include:

  • Making assumptions based on previous projects
  • Not separating and prioritizing stakeholder needs in terms of must-haves vs should- or could-haves
  • Failing to create a clear-cut set of agreed-upon project requirements

There’s a distinct lack of in-person face time punctuating today’s remote work environment. That means we’re more likely than ever to miss important communication cues that might otherwise help us flesh out emphasis and context in shared projects, while confirming mutual understanding.

Clarifying stakeholder requirements is essential

To overcome some of the PMO challenges associated with inaccurate requirements gathering, it’s important to involve key users from the start, and to consider:

  • Preparing and asking leading questions for better clarity into project-specific requirements
  • Translating those requirements into SMART terms by ensuring they’re specific, measurable, agreed on, realistic, and timeline-driven
  • Creating and sharing a detailed Statement of Requirements before the start of any new project

Customers, sponsors, and stakeholders need to agree and sign off on the fact that only what’s outlined in your Statement is what’s going to be delivered. Depending on project scope, you may even want to create a prototype to help clarify, confirm or refine their requirements.

2. Changes in project objectives

Project managers and PMOs invest a great deal of time planning around project goals to ensure outcomes are as successful as circumstances allow. Sometimes, however, it can seem shareholders and internal teams spend just as much time making changes to the scope of work, the rollout process, or the project objectives themselves.

Change is an inevitable part of project management. And while many revisions are beneficial in the long run, they can prove problematic in the short term without an agile approach to project planning and execution.

Unfortunately, the abrupt shift to remote working in response to COVID has only ramped up the challenge of managing agile teams, according to McKinsey, especially with regard to:

  • Instantaneous communications
  • Simplified problem-solving
  • Fast-paced decision-making

Working remotely is also more likely to reduce efficiency and cohesion – two elements that are crucial to successful project management.

Managing change effectively

The good news is you don’t have to use dedicated Agile tools to remain flexible in the face of change. You just need a well-structured change management process and a strategy for dealing effectively with alterations as they occur.

A basic change management process might look something like this:

  • You receive a formal project change request from your sponsor
  • You evaluate what’s required in terms of materials, hours, permits, and other resources
  • You evaluate the impact on budget, scheduling, deliverables, and quality assurance
  • You present your findings, then wait to have your recommendations approved before implementation

To carry out such a process efficiently, however, you should consider arming your organization with a change request template, checklist, and process map to walk shareholders and team members through the steps involved.

You should also be prepared to communicate to your team how their individual roles may need to change and play out in light of any modifications – and to make yourself readily available to deal with their questions or struggles.

3. Poor communication

One of the biggest project management challenges for any PMO is how to keep sponsors and teams aligned and in-the-loop, so results can be delivered on time.

Poor communication can lead to poor project outcomes on both sides, including:

  • Lack of or limited buy-in and commitment
  • Misunderstandings around expectations or goals
  • Teams moving in different directions
  • Conflicts and missed deadlines
  • Reduced productivity, leading to time and cost overruns

It’s not uncommon for project managers to under-communicate (to save time or avoid conflict, for example) or over-communicate (to compensate for a lack of physical or geographical proximity), resulting in diminished efficiency, engagement, or both.

What you need is a way to address and form a bridge between team issues and stakeholder requirements – especially when hurdles develop or changes become necessary.

Improving project communications

Here are a few recommended solutions for improving project communications, especially in a remote work environment.

Check in with stakeholders appropriately. Make sure the way you’re communicating meets the needs of the people you’re reporting to. You might, for example, email a brief questionnaire early on in the process to find out:

  • What’s working about the way you communicate
  • What’s not effective
  • What you can do to improve your communications overall

The size and duration of your project will help determine how frequently and extensively you check in with sponsors.

Enable project team members to communicate on your behalf. Is there someone on your team better qualified than you to discuss the finer points of a product or process?

Don’t be afraid to delegate certain aspects of your stakeholder communications to project members with the expertise – or the geographical location – to better serve sponsors or customers. It may be easier and more efficient, for example, for someone close by to engage remote stakeholders and respond to their questions or concerns.

Take advantage of collaborative project platforms. Whether you use a communication platform like Microsoft Teams – or a visual mapping platform like MindManager – a collaborative approach is guaranteed to streamline communications with everyone involved in your project.

MindManager software, for example, not only helps you go from inception to execution by giving you a top-down view of where your time and effort would best be allocated, it lets the people working with you share project information quickly and reliably.

It’s also worth remembering that proper planning – especially visual planning – can go a long way toward overcoming many of the project management challenges PMOs face when overseeing work teams remotely.

PM Today Contributor
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