ABCs of a PMO



Many times in my project and program management career I have looked to my company’s Project Management Office (PMO) for help and support.  A PMO will offer leadership to help solve difficult business and technology problems, serve as a sounding board to explore new approaches and strategies, and provide a framework for a standard project methodology in order to initiate and execute projects utilizing industry best practices.  The PMO will also help identify the best resources for the area of expertise a project manager requires to fulfill a project or program need.  Typically the PMO is staffed by individuals with an abundance of project and program experience so that they can offer mentorship that supports the project, program, or portfolio environments.  Without a PMO in place there could be inconsistent approaches and delivery standards which could lead to poor project outcomes.  The organization may not realize the return on investment for the business case driving the project delivery without a solid PMO practice.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a PMO as “An organizational body or entity assigned various responsibilities related to the centralized and coordinated management of those projects under its domain.  The responsibilities of a PMO can range from providing project management support functions to actually being responsible for the direct management of a project”.  The PMO’s focus should be on continuous improvement and support to improve the organizations’ and individuals’ project management execution capability resulting in faster delivery.  I have worked in organizations where the PMO has provided support along with audit functions and in other organizations where the PMO has provided direct management and execution of projects.  I want to cover some key observations from my experiences, where the PMO helps contribute to successful project implementations whether they are vendor lead or internal application development initiatives.

Availability of Support Resources:  Most of your project management responsibilities occur during normal business operating hours (unless your stakeholders are global) so the PMO should have resources available during these hours or be flexible enough to work around project demands.  It is assumed that all of the tools, templates, and the lessons learned repository(s) are available electronically at all times. This is a critical aspect of a project’s success and your PMO should play a key role in it.

Support versus Roadblock:  PMO processes and support should not be so onerous that they stall or delay the activity of the project. A great PMO offers partnership with the project manager in a way that enables success. The PMO should monitor the perception of their audience and adjust their approach to ensure they are fostering project success.

Current Process Framework: The PMO should provide current and easily used project management tools and templates. All new processes and tools should be implemented in support of the defined project methodology being utilized within the organization.  There should be an analysis by the PMO of the cost to implement changes in the process or tools from a resource knowledge perspective and organizational change management perspective.  The PMO should also validate that any changes in process or tools adhere to the vision, mission, goals and objectives of the organization.  There should be an active auditing function of the tools to ensure the ongoing effectiveness is realized.

Training and Career Progression: Many times project managers believe their first responsibility is to successfully execute the project they are working on and support their team member’s growth.  This leaves very little time to focus on their own skills and stay abreast of new practices within their profession.  The PMO should offer training that is in support of the variability of the project. This would include online sessions held in the evenings or weekends, white paper soft-copy distribution, and finally classroom courses that can be taken either during project downtime or in between assignments.  The PMO should also encourage Project Managers to continue their education as a requirement for career progression.  This would also support the requirements of PMI for the project management certification continuing education requirements.

Resource Competency: Project managers look for and value guidance from experienced professionals who have walked miles in their shoes, and have lived through tough project battles.  The experience gained while working through diverse and challenging engagements help the PMO better support the project management team.  PMO resources should be very familiar with the daily challenges facing their project managers and their skillset should be highly experienced.  They should continuously look for new and more efficient ways to execute projects within the organizations culture.  

Resource Availability: Project managers look for resource availability from the PMO to staff their respective projects.  Once a project manager identifies the types of resources they need to staff their respective engagements a process and tool should be outlined by the PMO to support the acquisition of resources needed.  The PMO should have visibility of all the organizational project and program resources needs in order to support the organizations ongoing business strategic initiatives.

In summary a PMO is a very valuable area within the organization when there is a clear understanding of the role the PMO plays within the organization based on the culture and resource needs.  The PMO should be looked at as a center of excellence that provides support and a framework for those that are effectively executing projects.  The PMO should also provide clear direction and quality resources for the project managers within the organization.  Finally the PMO should be looked at as a valued corporate service or function by providing thought leadership and project management direction for the organization.  If these processes and functions are in place then an organization will be able to reap the benefits of consistent delivery of business driven strategic goals.