Transformation is now taking place across the entire value chain of a company, from new customer experiences in the front office to designing and developing global operating models in the back office.

Businesses today are breaking barriers, rapidly digitizing and evolving to take advantage of new opportunities to engage with customers.

While digital is driving most of the transformation agenda, most C-suite executives acknowledge their companies are not adequately prepared for this disruption. According to a 2015 global survey by MIT Sloan Management Review, 90% of managers and executives anticipated a great or moderate extent of digital disruption in their industries, but only 44% were satisfied with the preparations made by their organizations1. With transformation now high on the agenda for all CXOs, there is no shortage of initiatives that kick off in an organization each year. It is therefore critical to align each initiative to an organization’s strategies and goals.

The question is how many of these initiatives are truly enterprise wide. Strategic program management is a term that has been around since 2006. However it is only recently where project management has truly become strategic. The journey can be summarized as moving from project execution, project planning, project management office, and alignment to strategy and agility, the last two being where program management is getting management attention and focused on as a differentiator.

For example, consider an insurance company launching a new product in a digital world. There are a number of teams that will need to work together in a collective and cohesive manner to bring together all the new approaches. These include design thinking to ensure the best customer experience, data analytics and market segmentation to ensure that the product offering is targeted to the right buyers and operations and claims service design to ensure that the moment of truth for the customer is delivered to the desired standards. Executives today want a team that can deliver results over and over again.

As investments in digital initiatives are usually sizeable, they need a group that can drive initiatives in an agile manner in the best interest of the company. In a survey of organizations that have a PMO, half reported having a strategic project management office that aligns projects to their strategy. Among these organizations with strategic project management offices, statistics showed 38% more projects meeting original goals and business intent and 33% fewer projects deemed failures. This paper looks at the need and role of the strategic project management office in driving transformation.

Why does the traditional model not work?

Traditional project management offices typically get involved in a project during the implementation phase, which is limited to one or two specific departments or business functions.

However, the impact of enterprise-wide projects is far reaching. The traditional PMO’s limitations currently struggle to support this disruption due to the required level of communication, stakeholder management, cross-functional interactions and the need to be agile in decision making.

What’s the new approach?

More organizations have transformed or are transforming their traditional PMO into a strategic enterprise-wide approach. A strategic project management office (SPMO) works closely with the decision making leadership. It contrasts from the traditional PMO, as an SPMO is responsible for strategically aligning the business vision and objectives to projects initiated at the department level. An SPMO has the ability to make prompt strategic course corrections in a complex environment.  

The SPMO engages senior executives in making complex choices and implementing strategic initiatives across the enterprise. It is also involved in portfolio planning with greater transparency and consistency in its approach. Furthermore, SPMOs establish best practices and standards from an organization-wide view.

The figure below depicts the various organizational roles in the successful implementation of strategic projects and highlights the senior leadership engagement from the SPMO.

The role of an SPMO

Driving market-leading results requires a strategic selection of projects that align with overall business goals. SPMO representatives can put practices in place that support accelerated growth and improve bottom line results through deliberate project selection and delivery.

The figure below represents the role of an SPMO in driving strategic change and how they are pivotal to an on-going review of alignment to objectives.

How the SPMO can help drive digital transformation projects?

Digital transformation projects require input from the entire business; it is vital they get support from senior leaders for success. Digital transformation is about adapting the business culture and the way it operates to work with new technology, rather than making the technology stack fit.

This diagram compares the role and involvement of a traditional PMO with an SPMO in implementing robotics process automation. Clearly, the level of engagement and value across the two project organizations is different both at the conceptualization and implementation phases.

Setting up an SPMO framework

PMOs aren’t one-size-fits-all concepts. They must be determined based on company size, strategic goals, departmental needs and many other factors for identifying the kind of PMO right for the organization. Organizations should select and prioritize projects based on defined criteria which align with their strategic goals like the size of a project, impact across organization and criticality to customer. SPMOs will be responsible to provide meaningful, decision-driving insights with clear realization of impacts through measurable KPIs or other metrics.

Planning for success

Successful project management requires a renewed focus on governance and aligning initiatives to strategic corporate objectives. Implementing a SPMO in a rapidly changing business world is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Each business will require a customized set of tools, processes, methodologies and the right leadership structure to ensure a high probability of success. In a current business environment characterized by persistent disruptions, escalating complexities and frequent strategic changes, introducing an SPMO will help enable the right level of engagement with senior stakeholders.

Key areas where EXL can assist:

EXL Consulting has extensive experience and credibility in supporting organizations through the life cycle of setting up a strategic project management office and driving strategic change


In the digital workplace, project management requires a renewed focus on governance and aligning initiatives to strategic corporate objectives. When considering vendors to assist with a digital transformation project, consider their experience and credibility in setting up a strategic project management office and driving strategic change.

End Note

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