How project management offices can accelerate transformation programmes

20 June, 2021

Mohammad Alkhaldi

Partner, Transformation Management Unit & Head of the Centre of Excellence, PwC Middle East


In the first part of our transformation and project management series titled “Is your PMO on the road to success“, we set out why strategically aligned PMOs will play a critical role in driving complex, large-scale projects across the Middle East .

Across the Middle East, you can hear drills and piledrivers at work as construction projects resume or break ground after last year’s enforced COVID-19 pause. The scale of some of these ventures is breathtaking, with so-called mega and giga projects, such as the Qatar 2022 World Cup and the $500bn smart city NEOM in northwestern Saudi Arabia. It's all part of the next phase of the region’s fast-moving transformation. 

Such is the pace of change that at times, project management offices (PMOs) can feel disconnected from the ultimate strategic goals of individual projects. Furthermore, the accelerating speed of national and regional transformation programmes means that the outcome of a project often has to be retrofitted to a new strategy that has been formulated or revised during a project’s execution. 

Yet the challenge of large-scale transformation is also an opportunity for PMOs to transform their role, by building relationships, delivering insights and adding strategic value across the organisation. 

Starting your journey: Designing a well-managed PMO 

An influential PMO has a mandate to create structures and processes that are critical to helping projects succeed and achieving the organisation’s strategic ambitions.  An effective PMO will put in place a structure to ensure compliance with those methodologies and processes, in order to deliver project outcomes and benefits. 

At the same time, PMOs should be part of the overall organisational strategy, from high-level decisions about what programmes are put in place, down to departmental compliance and procurement. All these moving parts need to be considered as part of an ecosystem that supports the successful execution of strategy.

Organisations should involve PMOs in initial discussions about a new project. This will allow the PMO to showcase its ability to implement a consistent methodology across ongoing projects, and articulate and track how the project supports the organisation’s ultimate ambitions. The PMO’s involvement at the start of a project also allows it to support the management of benefits throughout the project lifecycle, by identifying and tracking what is most important to the organisation.  

Our research and interviews with senior project professionals and transformation leaders found that in the Middle East, young organisations with relatively new PMOs face particular challenges in taking these actions. This is because these PMOs are preoccupied with developing processes and methodologies, reducing time and resources to focus on strategy. 

Technology and off-the-shelf solutions can play an important role in freeing up PMO resources to focus on strategic alignment. For example, project management dashboards with built-in automation can provide both real-time monitoring of KPIs and richer data that can be processed to deliver strategic insights across the organisation. 

However, PMOs need to be wary of rushing the introduction of complex technological solutions. Based on the experience of our interviewees, the more complicated they are, the greater the risk of introducing bottlenecks into processes.

Getting the right measures in place to support decision-making

Mature PMOs deliver visibility and accountability for project execution by focusing on the measures and KPIs that matter the most to the organisation as a whole. Senior management wants data from ongoing projects that helps guide their decision making with timely risk alerts and insights about potential business opportunities. 

There is a clear desire among PMO leaders, highlighted by our research, to forge stronger links to the C-suite by tracking strategically relevant KPIs and touchpoints.  PMO leaders also want a clear mandate to check their project’s strategic alignment across the organisation’s portfolio and make adjustments where necessary. It is in the organisation’s interest to grant this mandate, because  empowered PMOs will provide senior management teams with real-time visibility of their portfolio, allowing them to make timely, well-informed decisions. 

Having the right people in the right place for your PMO to be effective

The PMO cannot achieve strategic alignment alone; all the different functions across an organisation need to be engaged. Getting this integration right is largely down to the influential role that project managers can play on the ground. 

High-performing project managers are no longer just focusing on scope and scheduling. Instead, they are what we call modern project managers, who join parts of an organisation together by creating a unified project management language and culture throughout the business. 

If your PMO is connected across functions, you will be deploying an army of insightful, relationship-building human resources, which will add considerable value to each business unit and to the organisation’s overall strategic goals.  

The right PMO route map for your organisation

There is no single correct pathway to follow when creating a modern, strategically influential PMO. It can be an Enterprise Project Management Office (ePMO), a transformation office or a hybrid model. The key point is that regardless of its structure, the PMO should be agile, swiftly feeding timely information up to decision makers in a two-way process where the organisation and the PMO continually adapt strategies as they react to internal and external changes. 

More and more organisations regionally and globally have already embarked on this journey. The risk for PMOs that remain stuck in a traditional reporting role is that it will soon be too late to catch up.

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