The Power of a Strategic PMO

By HPA Consultant Ben Sommerness

The late Peter Drucker, one of the most influential thinkers on management famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Without context, this could read as a business’ culture having carte blanche over strategy. In fact, what he meant was execution-minded cultures can better deliver on intended strategic outcomes. He was right.

The unfortunate reality for many businesses is that even the greatest strategic plans are frequently not executed or operationalized with lasting or meaningful results. This can be due to a litany of organizational, leadership, and cultural deficits. Under the best of circumstances, realizing strategic intent is a challenge, but when a business is contending with any or all of the following deficits, it’s nearly impossible:

  • Alignment: Your teams lack passion for and alignment with a strategic plan or transformational initiatives. There isn’t sufficient “buy-in.”
  • Performance: There are few if any implementation capabilities (e.g. program management) and/or there is no bandwidth.
  • Collaboration: Little coordination exists across business units, functions, or geographies.
  • Accountability: No clear ownership or accountability exists ­– but there’s lots of finger-pointing.
  • Oversight: Executives don’t have ongoing visibility into strategic execution.
  • Structural: There’s a lack of organizational capabilities and/or dedicated resources to implement strategic initiatives with lasting results.

Enter, the Strategic PMO

In our experience, a standing, dedicated Strategic PMO can greatly influence these deficits, and more assuredly lead to meaningful strategic success. Strategy functions usually consist of strategists (surprise!), market analysts, business development specialists, and the like. However, rarely do we see a strategy function with a Strategic PMO. Traditionally, in most cases centralized program management only happens for large transformations (e.g. post-merger integrations and implementations). But, in our experience, setting up a standing SPMO is a critical step in making sure strategies come to life. Establishing a stable of program managers in the center can be a valuable resource to support business units, functions, and regional teams with implementation of key strategic initiatives. The SPMO can be a force-multiplier for internal customers, helping with a broad range of initiatives like geographic expansion and growth initiatives, major global product launches, an operations footprint strategy, and organization redesign to name a few heavy-hitting programs.

5 Keys to SPMO Success

An SPMO may not be effective for all cultures (e.g. execution-minded cultures where de-centralized program management is already well established). But for most large organizations, having a team of expert implementers in the form of an SPMO can help overcome common barriers your organization will likely face (like the ones outlined above) as you seek to realize your strategic goals.

If your company is thinking about standing up an SPMO, here are some guardrails that can help your Program Managers be successful and have the most impact:

  1. Be a partner: Having a central person as part of a decentralized initiative team can pose a threat to some staff. Therefore, ensure your PMs build trust, listen more than they speak, bring positive energy to the team, and only police when and if necessary.
  2. Adopt strong communication and implementation tools: PMs are the “quarterback” of initiative implementations. They should establish strong communication mechanisms (daily pulse checks, weekly core team meetings, monthly steering committee meetings,  etc.), and create a standard set of implementation tools (progress dashboards, activity trackers, risk identification, and mitigation reports)
  3. Hire competent, capable, and respected Program Managers: Look for tangible skills like experience, training, and certification, but do not underestimate critical softer skills such as collaboration style, clear communication, and inspiring leadership.
  4. Stay close to execution: This will enable you to more quickly identify critical issues and make them visible to leadership.
  5. Deliver results: Okay, this one is a given.

So many strategic plans sit on shelves collecting dust because companies do not invest in the implementation capabilities needed. Building an SPMO as part of your leadership team can help your company build a powerful, aligned, and committed culture that can make a meal of your strategy.

Have projects that could benefit from a SPMO, but don’t have the internal team alignment, collaboration, or capacity to execute against them? HighPoint Associates teams have deep transformational, program management, and operational experience, and can work with your internal team to overcome barriers to realizing your strategic goals. Contact us to discuss how we may be able to support you.

Article Author

BEN SOMMERNESS has over two decades of experience driving growth strategy and performance initiatives within the healthcare, industrials, and manufacturing sectors. He is a former Principal in The Boston Consulting Group’s Strategy Practice, where he served for 8 years delivering strategic insights for numerous corporate, private equity, and service industry clients. Following BCG, Ben served in various executive roles, spending 7 years as VP of Global Strategy & Transformation at Smiths Medical, and subsequently serving as EVP and Chief Growth & Strategy Officer at nVent Electric. Ben holds an MBA from The Wharton School and a BS from the United States Military Academy.