Do you remember, not too many years ago, that a hot topic in the industry was the high failure rate of major projects? Blown budgets and timelines, missed requirements and functionality, and failure to deliver the expected results had become the norm.

We think the industry, in general, has responded quite well to this challenge. First came an enhanced discipline around project management methodology. That was followed for many with a formalized organizational approach to managing change, which typically carried the name Program Management Office (PMO). In many of our clients, we can see that this disciplined process and organizational approach has yielded the intended results. Projects in these organizations routinely get done and delivered successfully—as planned and expected.

As with many human endeavors, success can have unintended results. There may be early warning signs on the horizon that the focus on improving project success rates is creating some unintended consequences and, in fact, some of us are noticing emerging warning signs as organizations move into the early planning season for 2010.

The current global economic crisis has had major impacts on financial services organizations. For most, the path to success they had been pursuing has shifted. Where planning in prior years had a heavy emphasis on singling out the right projects that moved the organization toward its strategic goals, this year is different. Management teams are finding that they need to reset their strategic direction. What are the early warning signs that we are seeing from the unintended consequences of improved project execution?

  • The next generation of leadership talent in many organizations is the key resource in PMOs. They have been in it long enough that they are developing a language, perspective, and approach that is obviously project oriented. Previously, this same talent was often developing in general management positions and building broader perspectives.
  • When it comes to thinking broadly about the business, its markets, and its operations, planning teams have a lack of experience, vocabulary, and framework.
  • Planning teams have a deeply engrained mindset, vocabulary, and framework for talking about projects.

We are not suggesting that all PMOs should be dismantled. They are adding an important capability that needs to be maintained and strengthened further. If you think that you are seeing some of the early warning signs mentioned, you might want to consider doing the following:

  • Be sure that your talent development path includes your PMO as an important point but one that it is not an endpoint; and
  • Take a look at your planning process to see if it needs to be re-shaped and re-populated this year to better handle your business strategy.

Getting your strategy right for 2010 will be more important than ever. Success won’t be about what projects get approved and funded. And remember, strategy is not a project.