How to navigate the emerging PMO ecosystem: Removing the roadblocks

28 July, 2021

Mohammad Alkhaldi

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


Good governance is the key to building agile PMOs that can help Middle East organisations seize the opportunities created by the region’s transformation.

It is critical that project management offices (PMOs) in the Middle East are fit for purpose in an era of rapid change, as governments embark on the next, post-COVID-19 phase of their drive to build data-driven knowledge economies powered by its people . Across the region, a new PMO ecosystem is emerging, where highly skilled project managers act as trusted strategic advisors, helping their organisations work more efficiently and identify opportunities for growth. In effect, PMOs are being transformed to capture the full potential of the Middle East’s accelerating transformation.

This is not an ecosystem which companies can choose to avoid, if they wish to remain competitive with regional and global rivals whose PMOs have already been overhauled, the challenge ahead is work on removing structural and cultural obstacles to change, and move away from traditional ways of working.

One positive recent development is that the pandemic has already triggered a welcome mind-shift among many Middle East project managers. In general, they have adapted well to remote working and sudden changes in business demands and priorities. However, this newly acquired agility and willingness to embrace change will be wasted if organisations fail to address the roadblocks that hinder the development of strategic, value-creating PMOs.

Good governance – the key to a smooth, successful PMO transformation journey

In the Middle East, where some of the world’s most ambitious and complex mega- and giga-projects are taking place, effective governance is crucial to develop PMOs with the skills and management capabilities to deliver both visibility and consistency across multiple projects, and strategic insights that boost efficiency and competitiveness throughout the organisation. 

Based on our research, we do not believe there is a single, one-size-fits-all structure for a mature and agile PMO. They can be set up as an Enterprise Project Management Office (ePMO), a transformation office or a conventional PMO. But regardless of the structure, senior management must delegate responsibility to the PMO for delivering real time information, swift identification and mitigation of risks, and forward momentum on projects. Only devolved governance will give PMOs the self-confidence and power to reinvent themselves as strategic partners and trusted advisors for the rest of the business. 

From this starting point, PMOs need to take the following practical governance actions to transform how projects are managed and perceived, both within the PMO and in other units, all the way up to the boardroom:

  • Standardising project management approach to enable strategic alignment. Standardised processes and methodologies lead to greater accountability and clarity across the organisation. Consistency in approach and language also simplifies the information flow to senior managers and makes it easier for different departments and project teams to understand each other’s goals and priorities. Project managers must tailor standardisation to the specific needs of the organisation and individual stakeholders. Change is often met with resistance, so it’s here that effective communication is crucial in building relationships, demonstrating flexibility and influencing the naysayers. Technology is critical in standardising processes, increasing efficiencies and improving information flow. Yet the technology introduced must focus on simplicity, because a complex web of new processes will be liable to reduce adoption.

  • The right information at the right time. Senior decision makers’ urgently need real-time information to make the right decisions at the right time. Projects can easily fly under the radar and lose strategic alignment and value, leaving organisations scrambling to fix problems as they arise, while failing to keep sight of the big picture in a fast-moving, transformational regional landscape. Mature, agile PMOs give decision makers maximum visibility over key information. Poorly managed project delivery teams can easily become too narrowly focused on single initiatives and become disengaged from the rest of the business. By contrast, the best project managers keep broader strategic goals in mind which they communicate to their teams, especially when new, related projects change the organisation’s overall strategic objectives.

  • Building project management capability. By building project management capabilities across the whole organisation, PMOs will create a business-wide culture that improves overall strategic planning. The level of support and training offered to different departments will depend on various factors, such as the extent of the project management skills gap and the number and complexity of projects assigned to the unit. PMOs are naturally constrained in providing this service by their commitment to current projects. Other indirect approaches may therefore be required, such as appointing “project management champions” in individual departments to develop skills within their teams.

  • Subcontracting: the fast track to a mature, agile PMO. External specialists can accelerate the smooth transformation of a PMO. Typically, the subcontractor is hired to establish the right governance framework, while the PMO is left to focus on day-to-day project management. Once the framework is in place, the PMO can transition seamlessly to new ways of working. Subcontractors can then monitor the PMO’s increasing maturity and agility and help embed project management culture and practices across the organisation.

The prize for organisations which successfully subcontract is a faster route to a mature agile PMO. However, businesses should be sure they have really reached their destination before deciding they no longer need the services of a subcontractor.. Otherwise, they risk needing more outside help further down the road. 

For more information on how to elevate the key functions of your PMO, read the full report.

Full report

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