Project Practitioners > Why PMOs Fail

Why PMOs Fail

By Patti Gilchrist

Recently, I was discussing with a colleague the reason why a recent PMO implementation failed in his organization. He told me that they hired the completely wrong person for the position, someone who focused more on process and governance than adding value to project delivery. The result was that the PMO failed to have credibility, becoming nothing more than a bureaucracy and essentially a roadblock. As he was describing the unfortunate situation, I couldn’t being reminded of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld, who was obsessed with his customers' ordering procedure and “demands that all customers in his restaurant meticulously follow his strict queuing, ordering, and payment policies. Failure to adhere to his demands brings the stern admonition ("No soup for you!") whereupon the customer is refunded and denied his or her order.” (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).

This person sounded a lot like a Process Nazi, more interested in control vs. empowering teams to be successful. Interestingly enough, this is a recurring theme and common reason that PMOs fail.

So how can you tell if your PMO is operating like a Process Nazi?

  • If requests for process exceptions (i.e., can we use a different methodology/template/tool, etc.) are rejected with a stern response reminiscent of the Soup Nazi’s line, “You are pushing your luck little man,” then it is likely you are dealing with a Process Nazi.
  • Is there no soup for you? Do project teams consistently fail to deliver? Are projects continuously being delayed by overly rigid process and unnecessary administration?
  • Are customers satisfied? The Soup Nazi is “renowned throughout Manhattan for his soups” (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). His soup was so good that people were willing to put up with his strict temperament and rigid policy. However, keep in mind, there won’t be a huge crowd waiting in line for more needless administration or pointless procedures and paperwork.

So if your organization is considering implementing a PMO, the following are just a few tips to avoid having your PMO become Process Nazis:

  1. Focus on “the soup”, i.e., the end result. Rather than placing emphasis on rigid process and procedures, concentrate on adding value to empower teams to achieve successful delivery.
  2. Provide the recipe, but allow reasonable substitution of ingredients. That is, don’t become over rigid. Instead, offer procedures which promote repeatability and effectiveness, while permitting flexibility to leverage tools, processes, procedures and methodologies best suited to the flavor of the project. 
  3. Remember the adage: “too many cooks spoil the broth." It is also true that too many rules and excessive and unwarranted rigor impede the project, potentially create roadblocks, reduce agility to deliver, and decrease speed to market.
  4. Provide the fuel for success. The PMO should educate and empower teams with necessary information and tools and provide the momentum to allow teams to deliver projects successfully.


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