The acronym PMO frequently gets used without being defined. In fact PMO has three widely used meanings: Project Management Office, Program Management Office and Portfolio Management Office. When discussions of PMOs come up in organizations not many people stop to ask which P is being considered. In light of that, it’s not surprising many PMOs are unsuccessful. For the purposes of this article we’re discussing project management offices and how to make them successful.
Here are five actions you can take to help your PMO succeed:
- Give your PMO a clear purpose and unambiguous goals
- Make your PMO consistent
- Start your PMO small and find out what your project managers want
- Have your PMO develop standards and tools without being heavy handed
- Make your PMO willing to help the projects they support
1. Give your PMO a clear purpose and unambiguous goals
Many project management offices fail because their staff don’t understand the goals of the organization. Make sure your PMO and project teams understand why the PMO was created, its goals, and the problems it is attempting to solve. Is your PMO trying to reduce project risks? Improve executive understanding of project status? Create more consistency between projects? Provide project managers with a homebase between projects? There are many great reasons for establishing a PMO, just make sure you know which ones best apply to your organization.
2. Make your PMO consistent
One organization set up a project management office to drive project consistency. Review checkpoints were established so the program management team could ensure projects were on the right track before moving from one phase to the next. For example, a project had to obtain charter approval before moving from initiation into planning. The problem was the PMO itself was highly inconsistent. Project managers submitted artifacts for review but the approval committee was never the same. The first time an artifact was reviewed, the committee might say to change something and then resubmit. The resubmitted artifact might then be rejected by a different group of reviewers because of the changes required by the initial review committee. It became a maddening exercise for the project managers, who eventually realized the PMO had no authority to keep their projects from moving forward. The project managers understood a charter might never get approved but the sponsors still expected on time delivery. As a result, clearing PMO checkpoints came to be seen as an exercise in satisfying a bureaucracy that only prevented the project teams from getting real work done. The project managers determined part of their job was keep the PMO away from the project teams so the teams could get valuable work done while the PMO argued about how to best document project artifacts. Needless to say, this didn’t drive any improvements or consistency between projects. Whatever your PMO demands of its projects, make sure it is consistent.
3. Start your PMO small and find out what your project managers want
Like any organization, a project management office will evolve over time. According to CIO Magazine, the average PMO takes about 3 years to mature. Keeping that in mind, it is best to start small and let your PMO gradually take on more responsibilities. A small, focused PMO will demonstrate more success than one that has too many goals or an undefined charter. As the PMO begins to develop, find out from the project managers how the PMO can best help them. Do they want mentors they can turn to when they need assistance? Do they need help understanding how to better communicate with their stakeholders or how to navigate the procurement process? A PMO that focuses on helping project managers deliver will add more value and be held in much higher regard by the very people it serves.
4. Have your PMO develop standards and tools without being heavy handed
One of the most common goals for a project management office is to improve consistency between projects. To get there the PMO will need to standardize the tools and maybe even the techniques employed by the project managers. It’s important to provide the tools and standards but also to build some flexibility into their use. In all likelihood a $25,000 project doesn’t require the same amount of rigor as a $5 million project. The point is to allow commonsense to help guide which tools and standards are applied depending on the project.
5. Make your PMO willing to help the projects they support
Project managers often look at project management offices with some disdain. That’s because too frequently PMOs force project managers into activities that distract them from meeting their project’s delivery goals. When asked by a PMO auditor if he knew what auditors did, one project manager replied “Yes, you come here after the battle to shoot the wounded.” Luckily the auditor had a great sense of humor but the project manager was serious. He viewed the PMO auditors as “Monday morning quarterbacks” who would simply pick apart his decisions with the full benefit of hindsight and document every mistake he made. He did not see them as a group of people who came to help the project succeed. Thankfully the auditor stayed on with the project team for several days to help mitigate risks he identified. In the process he won their trust and respect. He demonstrated he was willing to roll up his sleeves and do what he could to help the project succeed, not just enforce standards for standards sake.
Whatever the reasons your organization wants a project management office, make sure it’s purpose and goals are well understood and don’t expect miracles. PMOs take years to mature and won’t produce dramatic results when they first get started. Most PMOs will not lower project delivery costs, so if that’s the reason your organization wants a PMO, you may need to reconsider. A flexible PMO that helps project teams where they need it most will eventually be respected by, if not embraced by, the project teams and their sponsors. Ultimately a PMO that remembers all projects are established to deliver results will be much more likely to succeed.