PMO or TMO? 3 Key Differences

PMO or TMO? 3 Key Differences

Do You Need a PMO or a TMO?

Everyone knows what the various types of PMO generally do. Yet, following the current fad for “business transformations”, many change the name of their PMO into TMO, Transformation Management Office. This misleads everyone since a transformation is very different from mere projects or programs. Accompanying a transformation is indeed radically different from managing a project.

A TMO should obviously play some or all of the traditional PMO roles. After all, transformations present many of the characteristics of large and complex programs. However, because of their characteristics of complexity, transformations result in the emergence of “something” that cannot be inferred from the mere characteristics of the components initially concerned by the transformation. A PMO knows how to support a project delivering a new aircraft. A TMO learns to accompany the transformation of an organizational culture.

Therefore, there are specific roles that a real TMO must play that traditional PMOs do not have to fulfill. These specific roles find their origin in what transformations are as compared to project portfolios or programs.

What Is a Transformation?

The Cambridge dictionary tells us that a transformation is “a complete change in the appearance or character of something or someone”.

A transformation is also “the process of changing completely the character or appearance of something in order to improve it”. As a synonym, a metamorphosis is a change into a completely different form or type, a change in composition or structure.

In aerospace, switching technologies from mechanical to hydro-mechanical and then to fly-by-wire control systems are typical examples of transformations.

E-commerce is another example of a transformation that shakes entire consumer behaviors, markets and businesses. Platform companies have revolutionized the way sellers and customers interact.

Transformation Management Requires Studying and Solving New Problems

Transformations clearly belong to the domain of complex systems. Complex systems are made of a large number of components that dynamically interact together in modes impossible to understand and control.

First, these interactions result in behaviors at the macro-system level that individual behaviors at the micro-level cannot explain. Transformation management must therefore develop a set of capabilities built upon complexity sciences.

Secondly, when the system is a social organization, transformation management also requires to study and solve advanced human dynamics. and indirect strategies.

Thirdly, direct interventions (such as mandating individual behaviors) are unlikely to bring about the required change in a complex system. Transformation management needs to study and solve indirect strategies that prove to be more effective because they touch the deeper, more persistent drivers of behavior.

Transformations Result in the Emergence of Something Radically New

During a transformation process, new “things” emerge. Emergence is “the fact of something becoming known or starting to exist”, or “the process of appearing”. Several types of emergence exist.

Example 1 – when you mix and cook sugar, wheat, yeast and other components, you get a muffin that is radically different from its constituents.

Example 2 – a caterpillar hungrily stuffs itself with leaves, grows, and then pupates a chrysalis. When metamorphosis is complete, the pupal skin splits and a butterfly flies off.

The first example is an “emergent behavior” that characterizes properties of a system that are in some way (possibly in a particular way) not captured by the properties of the parts.

The second example is a temporal version in which a new kind of system “emerges” at some historical time without in some way being captured in the previously existing systems.

In each case, the initial system and its components become something entirely new. There is no way to run the process backwards, recover the initial state of the components, and start all over again.

Some transformations require a long and continuous process. Others are explosive.

Transformations Rely on Interactions Between Agents

Interactions between agents are more important than the components themselves.

Emergent properties are a product of the synergies between the agents (components of a system). These synergies give rise to a new macrolevel of organization. Therefore, these emergent properties cannot be observed locally in the subsystems. They you can only observe them at the macrolevel structure.

The key point here is that the behavior of complex systems results more from the interactions (inside and outside the system) between the components than from the behavior of the components themselves taken in isolation.

Do not conflate interactions with interdependencies. Most projects depend on other projects or initiatives to deliver some enabling capabilities that are essential to their successful implementation. This is the domain of interdependencies. An interaction is simply a back and forth action or communication between different agents with some kind of resulting effect.

Example: The properties of water are not apparent in the properties of gasses of oxygen or hydrogen. Neither does an isolated water molecule reveal most properties of water. However, a microscopic amount of water is sufficient to observe these properties.

Phase transitions occur along lines of equilibrium. An exchange of energy and various sets of volume, pressure and temperature transform the water into different states as you can see in the figure below.

Whereas the solid area is well distinct from the other two, the line separating the liquid area from the vapor area ends up at some critical point beyond which the liquid phase can no longer be distinguished from the vapor phase.

In the business world, production, demand and offer are similar to volume, temperature and pressure of the water.

Transformations Concern the Macrolevel and the Microlevel

Due to the development of the different levels of organization within a single overall system, emergence gives rise to a complex dynamic between the different levels; most notably between the macro and micro levels of the system.

All the restaurants in a city give a typical example of this phenomenon. There is a macrolevel looking at how the people in the city eat globally outside their homes. And there is a microlevel that considers the individual restaurants. Running a single restaurant does not say anything about how the network of restaurants in a city works. Nor why you could run this network with some kind of “plan” similar to the management of a single resturant.

As a consequence, you cannot describe the emergent macrolevel phenomena with the vocabulary applicable to the parts. The emergent features require new terms and new concepts to categorize them.

A TMO Should Develop 3 Typical Characteristics

TMOs do differ very clearly from the traditional PMO. Several characteristics distinguish a TMO from a mere PMO. Here are three key characteristics among all of them:

  1. A TMO focuses primarily on the interactions between the components of this system over time, space and depth.
    • This looks like one of the Agile Manifesto Values, doesn’t it? This requires that the TMO study and solve problems of network analysis, human dynamics and stakeholder management.
  2. A TMO addresses complex tasks and interactions at different scales
    • A family is not a village, a village is not a large city, and a large city is not a country. This is also true in a business organizations. A TMO should study and solve problems of multiscale (from microlevel to macrolevel) adaptive system development.
  3. Finally, a TMO facilitates the emergence of new “things”
    • So a TMO should study and solve problems of newness management, rather than sticking to known “things” (e.g. creating a winning proprietary technology instead of fighting existing competitors by cutting costs). Here again, we touche the domain of innovation, startups, agility. We touche also the domain of Barbell portfolio management, where we face numerous opportunities, being hyper-conservative when facing the risk of ruin, and hyper-aggressive when facing opportunities of gains.

And if I had to summarize what a TMO is, I would say that a TMO is a sort of farmer who “prepares the ground, plant seeds, then weeds, hoes, and waters the corn, waits until it is ripe, and then very rapidly harvests”.

Do you agree? Your contributions to this important question are welcomed here. Thank you.


You can also read some of my most successful articles here:

High-Impact PMO

Philippe Husser

Advancing Transformations in a Complex World

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Ill agarre with you in the se conecta, but How can i transform my Managers?

    Congratulations for this article

    1. Philippe Husser

      Juan, this is a great question. Transforming an organization concerns all people of this organization. This includes yourself as well as all managers. And it must include also the key external stakeholders.
      If I take the analogy of the muffin, the role of the leadership team is to create the vision of the muffin, to gather the necessary components, and to create the conditions necessary for these components to become together a muffin (mixing them, heating them etc.).
      However, in my experience,
      – real transformations are a mix of top-down and bottom-up activities. As a CEO it is important to detect the potential of the people to transform (like a caterpillar ready to become later a butterfly).
      – transformations may take time to deploy. Like the seeds that the farmer plants before the winter. This needs the winter, rain, and patience (not too much, not too little). This also needs that the seeds die first in order to liberate the plant itself. This is often the most difficult part, especially for “traditional” managers.

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