PMO: The Department of Simplicity

By Jack S. Duggal, MBA, PMP | 10 October 2008

What comes to mind when you think about the word "PMO?" If you think of more work, documentation, processes and red-tape, you are not alone. In a 2008-2009 survey by the Projectize Group LLC of 235 respondents who have project management offices in their organization, 78% perceived their PMOs as bureaucratic.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language defines bureaucracy as “an administrative system in which the need or inclination to follow rigid or complex procedures impedes effective action.”

As Peter Drucker put it, “Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.” Ironically many PMOs reflect a similar perception. One of the most common complaints about PMOs is that they tend to make things more complicated than necessary. For example, many will require even simple projects to follow an excruciatingly detailed methodology or file a monthly report that takes longer than a month to produce!

Unclear, complicated processes are costly in terms of time, reduced compliance, rework and frustration.
This perception of bureaucracy is indeed a critical issue for PMOs.

The topic of this article was inspired by a suggestion by Alex Beaver, MS, PMP, from Columbus, Ohio, USA, who has worked in project management for 12 years. Submit a suggestion.

The vision for starting and sustaining PMOs should be that they are the Department of Simplicity within the organization. There has been a rallying cry to simplify organizations and government in recent years, and simplicity is emerging as a growing corporate trend. This presents the PMO with a leadership opportunity to focus on simplicity and dedicate itself to identifying and reducing unnecessary overhead and complexity.

Good process should make things take less time and make people more efficient. For example, the United States Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, which aims to minimize the paperwork burden and ensure the greatest possible public benefit and maximize the utility of information created, collected and maintained. The PMO should consider a similar manifesto to simplify processes and methods.

How do you create your own Department of Simplicity?

  • Inventory and review current processes and methods. Pick the top three processes and see how they could be streamlined, and find ways to eliminate redundancies and simplify them.
  • Think about how you can cut, slim, trim, combine and modularize existing methods and processes.
  • While implementing methodologies, begin with an absolutely minimum set of processes. See how you can create the least annoying and least intrusive processes. Substitute practices that match more closely with your organization. Carefully add practices that address specific organizational or project situations.
  • Ensure your PMO’s methodologies and tools are scalable – fewer steps for simple projects and more detailed steps for complex projects.
  • A “one-page-fit” should be the rule of thumb for most PMO reporting and documentation requirements.
  • Follow this principle: don’t add until you subtract. Reduce the weight of heavy methods by subtracting non-value-adding steps, before introducing value-adding processes.
  • The simplified processes should be explained and communicated clearly.

Simple does not mean easy; simplicity is only achieved with a deep understanding of the underlying complexity. As Albert Einstein said, “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.”

Simplicity is difficult to apply, but if the PMO adopts the simplicity principle in everything it does, it is sure to increase its potential for success and attract a more solid following.

To sustain and thrive, it is imperative for the PMO to constantly challenge itself: What would PMO stakeholders want eliminated or simplified?


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