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Sustainability and the PMO

Gary Yorke
October 5, 2011

The overlap between sustainability management and PMO functions shows that the two are not mutually exclusive, and merging the two could even prevent offices from being disbanded.

Sustainability seems to be everywhere at the moment. Climate change, carbon tax and emissions trading are mentioned daily in the media. As a result, the issue has the full attention of the executives.

Until recently, sustainability was seen as being at the fluffy end of business activities, considered to be on par with statements on corporate social responsibility pushed out by spin doctors in corporate communications.

This cynical view is no longer as widely held now the business environment has changed, with implemented or impending legislative requirements pushing the issue up the corporate agenda.

Some pioneering companies now have over five years of data to analyse, and many find sustainability initiatives have increased profitability or reduced the cost of borrowing. These findings make investing in sustainability more compelling, whatever your opinion on the subject.

But what do PMOs have to do with sustainability? Of course, some say PMOs have sustainability close to their hearts already. Unfortunately it is the sustainability of the PMO that is often of greatest concern, given that many PMOs are disbanded within three years.

It is important to note that sustainability is an outcome rather than an activity, and it is sustainability management that drives sustainability.

I have had experience developing strategies and resolving issues relating to sustainability management and it is clear that there are a number of similarities between these activities and the skills and competencies of a PMO. These overlaps suggest ways PMOs can improve the effectiveness of sustainability management and help demonstrate the value of PMOs:

  • Governance: Sustainability management must have oversight and be auditable to comply with legislation.
  • Common or defined processes: The capture, storage and reporting of activities and emissions must be based on defined processes or they will not be governable.
  • Portfolio management and project prioritisation: Sustainability management tends to revolve around identifying and prioritising initiatives to reduce costs or emissions, increase efficiency; you will hear a lot about energy saving initiatives and process improvement activities, which are really just projects by another name. This is the PMO’s home territory, so no questions about the synergies here.
  • Benefits realisation tracking: Many PMOs already track benefits realisation, given these are usually only measurable after projects have closed.
  • Resource allocation and coordination between projects: Sustainability management covers the whole organisation, often requiring the input from cross-functional teams. These operate outside the normal line-management structure and neatly align to the PMO function.

There is one factor where sustainability management wins over PMOs: executive buy-in. Executives have embraced sustainability as a means to improve competitiveness or for compliance reasons.

Discussions suggest lack of buy-in is the single most important reason for PMO failure and disbandment. We all work hard to get buy-in but it is often elusive. Sustainability management delivers it on a plate and we would be foolish to ignore the opportunity this presents.

So, could sustainability help lift the PMO into the decision-making and strategic group? Free from a functional silo, the PMO could then provide real value rather than being relegated to back office data processing, reporting and assurance functions.

Gary Yorke
Gary Yorke is a senior consultant at MetaPM and chair of the PMO special interest group for the Victoria Chapter of the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM).
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