Business as UNusual: How PMOs Can Thrive When Everything Seems Out of Control

Shawn Dickerson

The recent pandemic and the resulting economic slowdown are affecting just about every business to some degree. People in tech or financial services are working from home, those in manufacturing and retail are operating at maximum capacity to keep up with surging demand as the public stocks up on essentials, and restaurant and tourism is all but shutdown as they shift to takeout only or no-contact delivery. These are just a few examples of the changes companies are needing to make – and fast – to adapt to the requirements of new health mandates and unpredictable business conditions.

Among this, we must acknowledge as project managers and PMO leaders that, while we’re optimistic things will get better, the short term still holds a lot of unknowns. As we navigate these unprecedented times together, here are a few things for PMO leaders to keep in mind:

1. Portfolio management is your best protection.
In times of plenty, IT leadership doesn’t worry so much, and they’re willing to approve many, if not most, projects. However, effective portfolio management becomes especially relevant when the PMO has to start saying no. In the event that available resources and investment dollars shrink, the PMO needs hard data around capacity, value and strategic alignment in order to prioritize a portfolio of projects and ultimately say no to some initiatives. Basing those decisions on instinct or assumption can lead to a political nightmare. In a sense, portfolio management becomes a shield for PMO leaders. They’re able to say, “Don’t get angry with me about the cancelation of this project. The data shows it will not deliver the same value as these other initiatives. And if we push forward anyway, here is what the impact will be.”
    2. Resource management is more important than ever.

    When workers are together in an office, that proximity gives the PMO a shortcut to resource planning. Walking around, cornering colleagues and stealing a few minutes in a meeting allows resource managers to make up for a lack of accurate data around resource allocation and capacity. But when those workers are exclusively remote and less accessible, guesswork begins to replace data and project timelines are extended, unless comprehensive resource management is in place. Visibility into resource capacity and allocation, even if workers are remote or displaced, allows stakeholders to make better-informed, more accurate decisions with a much higher rate of success.

    3. An economic downturn is exactly the kind of situation for which “what-if” scenario modeling was created.

    While projects are in flight and resources are in motion, it is critical to be able to answer the question “What happens if we do this?” at a moment’s notice. Understanding what is most important, at any given time, and what the impact of a proposed change is on the entire portfolio will give your PMO the advantage you need to get through the turbulence. Scenario modeling allows you to explore a myriad of possibilities rapidly and with precision.

    4. Change management becomes the new norm.

    Change is hard for any organization. We are all experiencing some degree of change both on personal and professional levels, either positive or negative (maybe even a bit of both), and how we get through it will be very telling. The PMO is very accustomed to change and remaining diligent even under unsteady conditions. Business partners will be looking to the PMO to help manage the changes and mitigate risks as changes are happening at rapid speeds. You may be experiencing an uptick in support calls or putting on hold a major project to direct attention to the matter at hand. Whatever the case may be, changes are happening and without a change-ready culture they will take a much larger toll on the business at whole. Effective communication, backed by reliable data, will help ease the change and make the transition a whole lot more manageable.

    These are unprecedented times, but in our line of work, one thing is clear: The role of PMO software has never been more important.