18 Aug 2020

How Project Management Offices Can Solve Complex Problems

PMO, Project Management Office
How Project Management Offices Can Solve Complex Problems

The Project Management Office (PMO) plays a vital role in the resolution of difficult problems.

If you have worked in a Project Management Office for some time, you’re likely to have come across a problem that is extremely difficult to solve, due to a range of reasons, which may include incomplete, contradictory and changing requirements.

PMOs are seen as supporting the delivery of programs and projects. They are also increasingly supporting strategic delivery, providing frameworks, tools, and techniques to:

  • Define problems
  • Quantify the benefits of solving the problem
  • Manage the process to identify and deliver an appropriate solution
  • Track progress and adjust approaches during delivery
  • Measure the benefits realised

So, when it comes to solving difficult problems, a PMO can provide guidance on what methods, tools and techniques to use. It can also provide support on how to use them best. This understanding of how to approach problems and build solutions makes PMOs invaluable.


Where there is uncertainty, you can take the Agile approach, which will allow you to iteratively and incrementally move towards more certainty. You may kick off research and development projects or market research activities for example. The principle of ‘fail fast’ can be applied to cull initiatives that do not look likely to deliver and with any lessons learned you can apply these to other initiatives. Alternatively if you have more defined aspects of a project, these can be managed using traditional project management methodologies such as a Waterfall method.

You may find that the best solution to the problem is that the project is delivered by a third party, which could be the case with projects such as building new facilitates or developing software. Most PMOs have a number of processes, tools and techniques to support the procurement process from request for tender through contract negotiation, to contract management and transition.

Once an approach has been identified, some activities can be tackled immediately and others, will have to be delayed, especially where they are dependent on other deliverables or scarce resources. The planning of this aligns with portfolio prioritisation and demand management.

It is also important to recognise that solving one element of the problem, may make another element worse in the short term, however making that call could be necessary to move to where you want to get to. This aligns well with the role of the program manager, who focuses on delivering a vision through multiple projects to deliver change.



Projects typically can have a wide range of stakeholders with potentially divergent views, so tools and techniques for stakeholder management will be critical to progress the project.

If resolving the problem at hand takes decades or longer, you will likely find that key stakeholders will come and go, or their viewpoints may change over time. So PMOs can help by providing knowledge management support and being a repository of knowledge, as well as keeping track of decisions made, what was done when, the standards and policies applied, and changes over time.


Finally, many problems involve communities or impact the most vulnerable in society, so a duty of care will need to flow. Through all activities, risk management should be a major focus because while you may see an opportunity for improvement, this could increase the risks for others.