The Project Management Office (PMO): Is it Really Worth it?
Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is married, a father of 9, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.
Have you ever been part of an organization that constructed a project management office only to see it fail? Perhaps you even played a role – as an existing project manager in the company – of helping to set the ground rules for the new, internal PM organization. Maybe you donated templates, helped write guidelines and documents, and put pieces of the project processes and policies on paper. After all, a formal organization like a PMO must start somewhere. And, quite frankly, we usually start with what we know, right?
I’ve been in these situations before. Once I was asked to help (before I had much PMO experience and opinions), but mostly the PMO was created around existing PMs and usually it only involved the hiring (or re-assigning) of a more experienced PM into the role of PMO Director. That’s when we began meeting and trying to figure out how to sort out the work, how projects would be assigned, what we would do for our weekly team meetings, etc. If it seems a little backwards and poorly thought out…well….it was. And it failed…multiple times. Sometimes it failed multiple times in the same company. What do they say about the definition of insanity? Something like, “It’s doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.” I think many of us have lived through that.
So how should it be done? How should the PMO be created? What key elements must be in place? There are probably as many opinions about this as there are people reading this article right now, but I’m going to tell you my thoughts. In order to plan, create and maintain a successful project management office – or at least one that will have hope of realizing success - I believe that you need to stick to, at a minimum, these three key principles:
Get executive buy-in first and foremost
I realize in many organizations you can’t fund an undertaking without some kind of buy-in and, of course, budget (which usually comes with the buy-in). But I’m not talking about the “Here, go and set this up and let’s see how it goes” type of buy-in. I’m talking about real live corporate leadership backing. A CEO who understands the importance of one internal PM organization having all the projects channeled through it and making matrixed resources available to work on those projects. Having company leadership that will go to the PMO for projects and project talent. Company funds that will be specifically targeted to the PMO and won’t dry up. And leadership that will back the PMO by ‘selling’ it to new and potential customers and will periodically attend project client meetings. All this says to the customer and to the rest of your organization that “Hey, this is important and we back it 100% and expect it to succeed.” That’s important.
Put real PMO leadership in place
The PMO Director needs to be both an experienced project manager AND a leader with some power, the ability to make decisions, and the freedom to manage the team. And that last statement is a big one. What I mean by that is it needs to be someone who is watching out for the PMs, running interference and knocking down roadblocks for them when necessary, and isn’t bogged down with also trying to lead 2-3 projects while doing all this. They need to be the leader, not just another project manager. Certainly, it will be expected for them to jump in to help on a key project from time to time and maybe lead a highly visible project once or twice. But that by far needs to be the exception to the rule. The PMs in the PMO need leadership, guidance, career development, and information dissemination. They need a manager, not a colleague who presides over them.
Define best practices, PM processes and templates
A winning PMO needs to be able to recognize success and replicate it. Luck is good, but it won’t give you long-term success and it won’t retain project customers. The key to long-term PMO viability is solid PM processes put in place and utilized by experienced PMs who agree with and understand these processes. Devise templates and planning document shells and documented processes that everyone in the group will follow. And – as part of the defined ongoing processes of the PMO - develop a list of best practices that you will follow no matter what. Best practices like weekly team meetings, weekly status calls and status reports with and for the customer and team, and lessons learned sessions at the end of the engagement and even during the engagement for longer projects. Create some absolutes that you will all follow. You can revise these from time to time as needed, but as a group and as a change to your PM procedures, not on one project manager’s whim. Keep it standard, keep it flowing. You’ll notice success more frequently by doing this.
The bottom line is this…nothing will guarantee project success and nothing will guarantee that you’ve created a project management office that won’t crumble after 6 months or 3 years. But by starting with a stable foundation based on these three principles, you’ll have a better chance of creating a good PMO that will enable your PMs to have the tools they need to realize more frequent project successes than would otherwise be possible. So, yes, creating the PMO – a good PMO – is worth it in my opinion. If it’s done right, it can be great. If it’s done wrong, then it becomes a drain on the company’s finances and resources and your project customers will notice and leave and your good PMs will leave, too.