The Curse of the PMO

If you work at an organization that has a project management office (PMO), you’re probably quite familiar with the red tape and road-blocking that ensues from such a department.

The irony is that PMOs typically spring up in large organizations that have recognized their dysfunctions in the digital space and are trying to remedy them by bringing order from chaos. This most often happens in organizations with a matrix-management structure, where management happens across functions and business groups. For example, you might work within a functional team (like engineering) and have a boss that heads the team, but you also report to a supervisor directly in charge of a particular project.

The damage ensues because there are too many connections to manage (see our post on keeping teams small). Connections are synonymous with roadblocks, delays, missed connections, heartache, slow delivery, excessive meetings, and massive budgets. The bureaucratization of the process ruins the spirit of the work.

King of influencer marketing Casey Neistat is the poster child of the anti-PMO attitude. Once a scrappy YouTuber, he’s become a legend in the renegade advertising world, funded by big brands like Nike, Samsung, and Mercedes to create his own versions of ads that don’t adhere to any kind of stodgy old rules.

Ironically, being anti “the man” led to Neistat’s induction into the world of big media and advertising. In his talk at the 2014 Core77 Conference, which you can watch on YouTube, Neistat talks about a movie he was making for HBO at the height of his success. He had been pouring his heart and soul into it for two years, but one day, he had a come-to-Jesus moment with himself. It had been two years of headaches and roadblocks and feedback and legal snafus, and he was miserable.

He quit, and let his whole team go. Neistat had a vision for what he wanted to create, but the bureaucracy inherent in the organization was keeping him from achieving it.

PMOs typically don’t solve the problems they were created to solve. At the very least, they tend to stifle the spirit of swift creativity and innovation that digital products rely upon to be competitive.

At one point, Neistat was working on a movie for HBO, and after two years of headaches and

Traditional PMO-style project management simply doesn’t work on digital products.

Read our book Got Ideas? How to Turn Your Ideas into Products People Want to Use for more insight into why bureaucracy is bad for digital products.