Overview of PMO concept and duties
First, let’s examine the overall concept of the PMO and the duties it is intended to perform. The key functions that the PMO brings to the organization are:
- A structured governing project management body
- A central repository for all projects and project information
- A centralized management structure for all project management functions
- An experienced and competent staff of project managers
- Project portfolio reporting capabilities
- A well-defined project management process or methodology
The organization with a project management office in place has the benefits of one central hub for all project management functionality. All projects can and should be run through this office. All project managers should report through this office. The PMO should be it’s own separate entity with a staff, a budget, a mission, etc. The best PMOs are well-defined and freestanding organizations within their companies or business units.
Common PMO downfalls/concerns
Once an organization has created a PMO, then they have a mature, successful project management practice, correct? Not even close. Many companies with PMOs still see project failure rates well above 50%. And PMOs within mature organizations still fail – sometimes more than once. I worked at one Fortune 500 organization that went through several iterations of a PMO without ever truly getting it right.
PMOs fail for many reasons – lack of communication, lack of senior management support, lack of experienced personnel, lack of solid processes in place, and yes…even lack of funding. In this next section, we’ll examine what I believe to be the key steps to take to ensure that you have the best possible foundation for your PMO going forward and, therefore, your best chances at project success for your organization.
Steps to creating an effective PMO
An organization looking to experience the best possible chances for success for the projects they take on and the customers they manage them for may want to look at creating a well-defined project management office to oversee the entire PM functionality. Or, if they have a PMO structure already in place but are continuing to experience repeated project failures or frustrations, a PMO reorganization may be in order.
Either way, these next four key concepts are what I consider to be the main building blocks to PMO effectiveness and project management success:
Obtain senior company leadership backing/participation
I’m going to start off with this one because I feel strongly that this is the most critical factor for PMO success. Our senior leadership makes the decisions on budgets, projects, who stays and who goes, etc. Because of this, their buy-in on the project management office and its place and importance in the organization is of utmost importance. If these company leaders do not see the value in the project management office and do not promote it as a viable entity, then it will not survive. Major projects may get assigned to other departments, funding for the PMO will be limited or non-existent, and the ability to staff the PMO with good PMOs and structure it with good processes will be severely limited. Executive leadership must be on board …. otherwise, the PMO is doomed to fail and projects will fail with it.
Ensure strong leadership
Too many times the PMO Director ends up being a project manager who just happens to be leading the project management office. That’s really a bad call unless your organization and PMO is very small. The director needs to be a well-connected leader in the organization. One who can knock down obstacles for the project managers on their projects. But that person needs to not be overloaded with 5 or 6 of their own projects. It’s understandable that a leader like this may be in high demand for a very visible project or to assist a PM on a troubled project with a high profile client, but that needs to be the exception, not the rule.
Hire experienced project managers
Seeking and hiring PMP-certified project managers is a good place to start, but it should definitely not be the only hiring objective. PMP certification can help ensure that your project managers are using best practices to manage projects, have a good foundation of project management knowledge, and are using a common language when communicating across projects. However, it is still only a supplement to down-in-the-trenches project management experience. The PMO must contain several project managers with experience in leadership roles and many successful projects under their belt. That said, it’s still also a good idea to a have a mix of junior and senior level project managers allowing the more senior project managers to mentor the junior staff as your organization seeks to grow its own PM talent.
Implement templates and repeatable processes
Your well-stocked PMO full of experienced PMs and eager-to-learn PMs needs templates, processes, policies, etc. to follow. In short, they need a good project management methodology to lead the way. Time – and money – must be allocated to putting this in place before the PMO can successfully take off. Otherwise, your project successes may just be luck and potentially rare. Just as you must allocate enough time and money up front in a project to plan, you must also do that with the PMO. A consistent process with reusable templates for project plans and documents will give your project managers the tools they need to run successful projects that will allow you to see that success repeated in a higher percentage of projects going forward.