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Senior Executives are from Somewhere; PMO Directors are from Somewhere Else!

Senior Executives are from Somewhere; PMO Directors are from Somewhere Else!

By J. LeRoy Ward,  PMP, PgMP, PfMP, CSM, GWCPM, SCPM, Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL 

The recently released 2017 Pulse of the Profession®, Success Rates Rise: Transforming the high cost of low performance, from the Project Management Institute (PMI)® brings us promising news:

Project success rates are rising.

As the report states: “For the first time in five years, more projects are meeting original goals and business intent and being completed within budget.” It goes on to say that the amount of “wasted” dollars per billion spent on projects has declined twenty percent from a year ago. This is certainly good news for all those organizations who have made the significant investment in improving overall project management maturity, and should serve as an inspiration for others that progress can be made with serious commitment to excellence.

But buried in the appendix, where PMI® breaks out the responses by various categories of respondents, there’s another story that’s of great interest—and that is the different perceptions held by Senior Executives and PMO Directors on their organization’s success in performing certain critical activities.

Following is the survey question and the responses from the two groups. (Note: I’ve combined the Excellent and Good scores for the Senior Executives and PMO Directors for their responses to each question.)

How would you rate your organization’s success in performing the following activities over the last three years?Senior Execs
PMO Directors
Formulating strategy appropriate for changing market conditions90%56%
Prioritizing and funding the appropriate initiatives/projects83%54%
Feeding lessons from successful strategy implementation back into strategy formulation77%51%
Successfully executing initiatives/projects in order to deliver strategic results82%34%
Feeding lessons from failed strategy implementation back into strategy formulation66%31%

Clearly, the view from the top (that is, from the Senior Executive’s “perch”) is that the organization is a lot more successful at these activities than viewed from the PMO Director’s level. While there are significant differences of opinion in each area, I’d like to focus on the issue of Successfully executing initiatives/projects in order to deliver strategic results (82% vs 34%).

It’s as if these groups don’t even work in the same organization! Or, maybe even on the same planet.

Certainly, there are objective measures, when used, that can definitely confirm whether a project has been successfully executed and value has been delivered. To be sure, organizations are going far beyond the triple constraint of time, cost, and scope to measure success, but surely we should be able to tell whether a project has been successful or not. But there’s a 48-point difference in opinion on that score. I don’t know about you but that’s a “head scratcher” to me.

But, the differences in perception in the other answers are also a bit hard to decipher.

The key question is why? Why do we have such a marked difference in perception between Senior Executives and PMO Directors?

Are PMO Directors congenitally negative? Are Senior Executives hopelessly optimistic?

Do PMO Directors, who are close to where the “rubber meets the road,” see things that Executives just don’t, don’t want to, or just can’t see?

Do Senior Executives, by virtue of the fact they are accountable for darn near everything in the organization, give such high scores because it’s a direct reflection on their management capability?

To be sure, there is no single answer that can explain the stark differences between these two groups, and I bet each person who reads this blog will have their own, very valid, ideas about why this is the case.

What I do know, is that such disparate views indicate the yawning gap, the huge disconnect, between Senior Executives and PMO Directors. And the only way I know of to close this gap is relentless communication between the two. At the very least, PMO Directors and their Senior Executive counterparts should—in fact, must—agree on project success criteria.

After all, PMI’s Pulse says project success rates are climbing, but how can they climb in any organization where there is such a disagreement over what success really means?

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J. LeRoy Ward
is a highly respected consultant and adviser to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs.

Pulse of the Profession, Project Management Institute, and PMI are marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

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