Product launch and the project management office (PMO)

A topic covered in the Product Launch Essentials seminar is cross-functional launch teams. In particular we address how to organize the teams and how to drive results. Most of you know how big a problem it is to get launch team members to participate and to be accountable for their deliverables. We provide tools to help launch owners in this effort.

Is your PMO working for you or against you?

In the seminar we advocate the role of Launch Owner, the person tasked with the responsibility for achieving your product launch goals. Some organizations utilize a project management office (PMO) to facilitate product launch activities and I wanted to explore that with you in more detail. For some of you the PMO is working just fine, but for many of you it can be a frustrating process that doesn’t seem to be in sync with what you’re trying to accomplish with your product launch.

So why is there a PMO in the first place?

Before talking about the role of the PMO in product launch, let me ask a question. Why would you have a PMO to start with? What problem does the PMO solve?

The most likely reason your organization would consider introducing a PMO is because of a lack of launch readiness to market, sell and support your product, and this was occurring with a frequency at a level that management finds unacceptable.

The primary reason for poor launch readiness are many. Let me suggest two, just for discussion purposes. First, the person generally recognized as being responsible for launch lacks important project management skills. She may be stellar in other areas but not very good with coordinating schedules and getting things done. I know this is harsh but it can be true. Just because you’re good at identifying unsolved market problems or shepherding product design and development through engineering doesn’t automatically mean you’re good at driving the launch readiness of your organization across many functional boundaries.

Second, it’s because the person responsible for launch (perhaps you) doesn’t have enough time and needs the extra resource to get things done. They’re responsible for cross functional readiness but time demands in other areas prevent them for dedicating the time needed for a successful launch. Granted this reason is the most plausible.

What’s the role of the PMO in product launch?

The role of an effective PMO is to help us get stuff done. They herd cats and they identify bottlenecks. They are enormously valuable when functioning in this capacity. But, they shouldn’t be accountable for achieving launch goals. They’re responsible for getting things done and that’s the role we value.

They free up time for us to focus on more strategic issues and help us achieve the best possible product launch outcome.

Clarifying roles and responsibilities

In organizations where there a PMO exists it’s important to establish clear lines of authority and responsibility between the Launch Owner and the Project Manager. I advocate the Launch Owner as the individual accountable for achieving the launch goals. In this role he acts as the commander-in-chief of the launch. The Project Manager role acts as the chief-of-staff to the Launch Owner, driving completion of deliverables and activities, advising the Launch Owner of issues, proposing alternative actions and providing project status.

Where things go wrong

Problems arise when too much control is transferred from the Launch Owner to the Project Manager – or maybe there isn’t a Launch Owner at all. The Launch Owner must have a big picture view of the go-to-market strategy and often makes ad-hoc trade-offs to ensure the best possible launch outcome. The Project Manager on the other hand may not have a big picture perspective, focusing (rightly) on getting things done according to a schedule of deliverables (product launch checklist). As attendees of my Product Launch Essentials seminar learn, a completed checklist doesn’t guarantee launch success, especially if it’s not anchored in a launch strategy.

Are you expecting too much from your PMO?

Have you established clear lines of responsibility between the PMO and the Launch Owner?

Is the Project Manager becoming the de facto Launch Owner?

David Daniels

David Daniels


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