Chief Project Officer – Should This be a Real Thing?
By Brad Egeland
PMO Directors. Are they game changers? Great leaders? Powerful enough to get the job done? Are they taken seriously by senior management? What about this… what about a central figure leading the project management infrastructure in an organization. It’s certainly not a new concept. Making that central figure a C-level officer in the company…now that’s a new concept. At least I’ve not seen it happen or even be proposed anywhere.
A search for C-level position definition and examples reveals the following from SearchCIO.com:
“C-level, also called the C-suite, is an adjective used to describe high-ranking executive titles within an organization. C, in this context, stands for chief. Officers who hold C-level positions are typically considered the most powerful and influential members of an organization; consequently, they make higher-stakes decisions, their workload is more demanding, and they have relatively high salaries.”
The site goes on to list common C-level positions in different organizations…
- CCO (chief compliance officer)
- CEO (chief executive officer)
- CIO (chief information officer)
- CTO (chief technology officer)
- CFO (chief financial officer)
- CKO (chief knowledge officer)
- CSO or CISO (chief security officer or chief information security officer)
- CDO (chief data officer)
- CVO (chief visionary officer)
- CDO (chief data officer, chief digital officer)
- CPIO (chief process and innovation officer)
- CMO (chief marketing officer)
What’s missing from this list? Yes, the proposed Chief Project Officer (CPO). A few organizations are starting to recognize this role, though I’ve yet to see much movement in the direction of really filling such a position.
My first thought was how great this ties in with my insistence that the organization’s senior management must support the PMO if it is going to survive. What better way to show this support than to have an actual officer of the company directly responsible for leading that part of the company infrastructure? Remember how huge we all predicted the Chief Information Officer (CIO) role would become back in the 80’s and 90’s vs. the previous high water IT mark of IT Director? That prediction as – for the most part – played out, though not in quite as grand a fashion as originally predicted, in my opinion.
As for a Chief Project Officer, here’s how this key role should fit in…
Project management office (PMO) led by PMO Director. This may or may not be economically feasible for the organization, but if it is then I believe it should happen. The PMO director would have daily responsibility for the ongoing activities of the PMO and the project managers within it. PMs would still need daily oversight by, interaction with, and career direction from a central leadership figure like a PMO director. And they certainly need periodic input from and the presence of a PM leadership figure in their projects for the confidence of the customer on a difficult or particularly trying and issue-filled project. That can be this newly created C-level project management infrastructure leadership role called the CPO, but if your organization can support both the PMO director and the CPO, then I suggest the PMO director as the first line of action.
The CPO difference. The proposed CPO role would be the mouthpiece for the PM organization within the organization. Should this position be certified? I would say, yes… definitely. In fact they should probably be over-certified with PMO development leadership and other specialized PM certifications. The funding push, the resource oversight, the project team assignments, the policies, procedures, and marketing for this team would all be lead by, championed by and overseen by this key C-level role. All initiatives within an organization and for external customers of an organization could potentially be categorized as a project. With a CPO position leading this unit of the business, it could be monetized as a profit center more easily. Many organizations try to do this yet fail. Why? Because their PMO is not visible enough nor are they forcing everything that SHOULD be a project through this unit as a project. With the visibility of the CPO position, this would happen, resulting in far less chance of failure for the PMO and the projects led by it’s project managers.
Admittedly, adoption of such a role would likely be slow. Too many organizations currently either fail to see the need to even have a PMO or to appoint a PMO director in a leadership role over it. And it is not imperative – especially in smaller organizations – that both the CPO and PMO director exist. It can be handled by the same individual. But the visibility and significance of having the CPO position defined in an organization lends instant credibility to the PMO and that will be a good thing for all companies that truly value the efforts and functionality of the project management office within the organization.