Five Questions Transformational Leaders and PMOs Should Address When Driving Digital

Let's consider the modern Project Management Office or PMO and what transformational leaders need from this function when driving digital transformation programs.

The Role of the PMO Before Transformation

In many organizations, the PMO is synonymous with bureaucracy and administration since many focus on tracking projects, managing budgets, defining project management standards, and overseeing risk mitigation. These responsibilities are often misaligned with executives that centralized PMOs expecting that they would drive execution. Centralizing a "one throat to choke" responsible for project execution is often ill suited for today's projects that are more agile, involve resources across multiple departments, and often require support from vendors and partners.

Plan, Collaborate, Deliver
Regarding project administrative, today, many needs can be streamlined as much of the tracking, reporting and risk mitigation functions are more delivered in today's agile tools. For example, burndown charts and other status reports are readily accessible to leaders, managers, and team participants when teams are committed to updating these tools with some regularity.

Now for larger organizations, there should be a leading group that creates the governance and standards for managing agile initiatives, but this doesn't necessarily have to be done by a centralized PMO. It can be a center of excellence comprised of members from multiple teams that not only defines these standards but also addresses the practices and culture of the teams to become more data driven and follow best practices.

What Transformational Leaders Need from a PMO

So this begs the question of whether the PMO is an obsolete organizational function. I'm not here to answer that question because every organization is different and some will benefit from centralizing this function.

But whether you have a PMO or elect to delegate their responsibilities across multiple leaders, there are some key new responsibilities for the PMO in organizations that are driving digital transformation. Here are my five key questions a PMO and transformation leaders need to master when driving digital transformation

  1. What's minimally required to plan a new initiative? - Many organizations are adopting agile to manage their transformation initiatives, but that doesn't mean that a new initiative can begin without some upfront planning. Plan too much and you can miss the market but plan too little and you can flood teams and resources with too many initiatives that are ill defined. Can the PMO help define and mentor business leaders on achieving "just enough" planning? What role should the PMO take on to promote agile thinking, ensure the user experience is well defined, or to drive MVPs

  2. What mentorship or training is needed to balance the portfolio? - Is the portfolio of initiatives oversubscribed with certain types of projects? Many enterprises have portfolios stocked with compliance, regulatory, or operationally driven initiatives while younger companies may overcommit to initiatives that they believe are revenue generating. Can the PMO successfully steer the ship by mentoring leaders that may have underserved needs?

  3. Where are there communication gaps and how can they be addressed efficiently? - No matter what tools are being used, there is a greater need in transformation programs to communicate to a growing list of stakeholders and participants. What's the best way to communicate to change agents, executives, other leaders, and laggards to ensure that the transformation program grows with minimal change resistance? What methods will be leveraged to handle detractors?

  4. Where are there organizational blocks that require new processes? - Transformation initiatives often requires organizations to run smarter and faster in many areas such as developing applications, producing analytics, modifying operational procedures, marketing to prospects, or selling new capabilities. Can the PMO forecast where a department will need a new or modified practice that aligns with the transformation goals? Just as important, can the PMO call out an organizational sacred cow and bring leaders to the table to think differently?

  5. Driving Digital
  6. What skills will be in demand and what are new options to fulfill them? It's easy to proclaim that you are going to do things differently - maybe Marketing will be more data driven, IT more agile, Sales more process driven, Ops more cloud driven - but a key question is whether the organization has the right mix of partners, talent, training, and practices to successfully transition. Can the PMO assess skills and recommend training programs, mentoring options and new partners that can ensure a successful transition?
Lots of questions with some answers but I do have some good news. My book, Driving Digital: The Leader's Guide to Business Transformation Through Technology has a whole chapter dedicated to modernizing the PMO and why this function is critical in large transformation programs.

Have more questions that need answering?


1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:38 PM

    Out of your five key questions that a PMO and transformation leaders need to master when driving digital transformation, IMHO #3 is the most important, as progress in programs may not necessarily be in one direction, due to ever changing organizational culture and environmental factors. Particularly for agile teams, in addition to daily Scrum, it is imperative to ensure that inputs/participation/buy-in is regularly sought from change agents, execs and leaders.


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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld,, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.