The PMO is Dead. Long Live the PPMO!

letters, typewriter

One of the most enjoyable parts of my work and my life is delivering presentations or giving talks to outside groups. During one particular Q&A session I was asked a question along these lines – “If you had unlimited power in an organization, what would be the very first thing you would do to ensure agility?”

My answer, “Oh that is easy. The very first thing I would do is get rid of the Project Management Office.” At which I unfortunately took a pause. The collective gasp from the crowd filled that void and the ensuing murmur drowned out my next statement. You see, I was addressing a PMI group, and my statement proved to be provocative to say the least.

Unfortunately, what the now somewhat irate crowd didn’t hear (or pay attention to) was the statement, “And I would replace the PMO with a PPMO – a Product and Project Management Office.” Contrary to their thoughts that I wished to abolish the PMO, I was actually giving them more – another “P” as it were – a whopping 25 percent increase in letters!

I have railed against project focus other times because it is not a good model when it comes to creating software products.  A project has a definite beginning and end whereas software products do not. Of course, software products are sometimes “sunset ” but such plans are often not realized as quickly as proposed.  For example, I was once put in charge of “sun-setting” a software product with a timetable of three years. Now, seven years later I am no longer with that company, the company is no longer in that business and yet that old legacy software chugs along, making money for its new owner.

The funny thing about Project Management Offices in software development is that the majority of their work is really on software products. Of course, there are always some projects thrown in, like update the servers to a new operating system, but mostly we work on products whose future enhancements and support live far longer and cost far more than the original bright shiny objects our projects spun off.

The problem is that when we incorrectly treat our products like projects we tend to produce a huge amount of technical debt. Those bright shiny objects come with a huge hidden cost that project mentality allows to remain hidden. When we acknowledge that we are creating products we tend to take care of the long term health of the product, we make better decisions.

So let’s all say goodbye to the old PMO. It had a good run but its time has come. In its place let’s great with open arms the new and improved PPMO!

– Larry Apke

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