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Why is benefits realisation eluding the PMO?

A recent survey among PMOs (Project Management Offices) identified that, in the main, project managers have similar primary concerns when it comes to delivering projects successfully. 

Top of their list of concerns was the ability to embed benefits realization; followed by the ability to benefit from lessons learned; being able to implement adequate change controls, plus effective resource and risk management. They reported frustrations in attempting to deliver these within the PMO and categorized them as the most difficult aspects of project management to implement. 

At the same time, PMOs acknowledged that these things were also fundamental to being able to deliver a successful and timely project, in particular with respect to benefits realization, risk management, change control and lessons learned. What’s concerning is that these same challenges precisely mirrored the level of implementation difficulty and yet they are also some of the aspects of project management that can potentially deliver the greatest benefits for the PMO and their organisations.  

A long standing hot topic for PMOs
Benefits realization in particular has been a hot topic within PMOs for some time.  SMART focused (specific, measurable, realistic and time bound) benefits realization involves the identification, planning, measurement and tracking of all benefits, from the start of project investment until the realization of successful delivery. 

What is interesting to observe in the survey, is that just 19% of PMOs are involved in benefits realization activities. It is one of the least likely to be performed by a PMO and yet one of the most important in terms of ensuring the highest returns on project investments and also, its ability to place the PMO in the spotlight – for positive reasons. Demonstrating the value to be had from investing in a well-equipped PMO is clearly advantageous for all parties.

Why is benefits realisation eluding PMOs?
There are multiple reasons why companies are facing difficulties embedding benefits realisation as a PM process.  Firstly, they may be trying to run their PMO manually, perhaps using multiple spreadsheets. In the Wellingtone sample, this factor is highly likely; additional insights into this group of PMs has also highlighted that under a quarter of them are using PPM software to support the PMO. Not using a PPM solution creates problems, because although spreadsheets can become very sophisticated, they don’t offer a dynamic view of all the activities and their interrelationships, as needed by a strategic PMO operation. They are also very time consuming to work with. 

In contrast, with a PPM system in place, all aspects of running the PMO can be brought into a single environment. Data can be fed into the system automatically from multiple sources and then accessed from different angles, providing a single source of ‘truth’ in an easy to read, dashboard format. 

During the course of a complex project, it is normal that some new activities will enter the mix as tactical additions. When projects are managed using spreadsheets, it is difficult to evaluate their importance whereas a PPM solution can provide a greater level of control over the execution, by ensuring that only the tasks that directly contribute to the end goal are included or added to the project scope. Resource and progress management across a portfolio of projects can become routine monitoring operations, with reports to evaluate actual vs estimated costs, schedules, scope changes, risks and safety issues generated as standard. Stakeholder communications are also improved, with exchanges between vendors and internal colleagues stored within the PPM system providing a full audit trail. When combined together, this helps to ensure effective benefits realisation can be achieved.

Technology isn’t the only answer
However, having a PPM solution in place is not a panacea for success. A second reason why PMOs are failing when it comes to benefits realisation is due to an existing culture of siloed working, or 'my team' vs the greater good in their organisations. Common in large organisations, this outlook can block the flow of project data and new users of PPM solutions do not always appreciate culture’s contribution to benefits realisation. When any new technology system is introduced, users can be resistant to the change for a combination of reasons – fear, perceived loss of control, perhaps a reluctance to alter their way of working. It can lead to delays in the availability of information, errors and poor reporting capabilities, due to information not being added to the system in a timely fashion and a reluctance among stakeholders to follow the required process. 

Silos can build up in organisations for a variety of reasons - reporting lines, bonus incentives, use of non-enterprise ready tools - but by adopting a culture of transparency, greater trust and cooperation between functional teams can build up over time. In turn, decisions start to be made more quickly based on the true metrics that start to become available as a result of the complete view of operations. Aware of the interplay with culture, PM software developers are now embedding AI and machine learning into PPM, helping to overcome both the resistance to change and a reluctance to perform repetitive tasks.  Users are being automatically prompted to input relevant data, perform project status and cost management updates.  Voice activated timesheet recording makes compliance as easy as possible. Workflow automation ensures users follow processes properly. 

If your organisation isn’t able to demonstrate the benefits and value from its PM activities, adopting a PPM solution could be the answer. It plays a big part in equipping the PMO with a functional tool to measure and deliver maximum value to their organisations. It also provides the discipline required to implement the core processes and provides the real-time information to help make effective decisions. But success also requires the right culture in place to understand their importance and ensure these systems are being used properly in the first place. Project Objects can help deliver success and embed benefit realisation as an integral part of the PMO.

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Jim Conroy

VP Global Sales & Marketing