A PMO – the solution to all problems…or not?

PMOs – Project Management Offices – are certainly en vogue these days, and have been for quite some time. Many organizations aiming to improve their project management have put the implementation of a PMO high on their wish list. But is a PMO really worth the money and effort?

PMOs come in many shapes and forms. Generally, a PMO is a central staff function with the agenda of improving project management performance in an organization. PMOs can have a variety of different roles, ranging from “policing” projects, providing administrative support, offering tools and methodologies, supporting project managers and sponsors, to actively owning resources and even projects.

And this is where the difficulty starts – which role should my PMO play: Staff it with a PM guru who creates and enhances the project management methodology? Or move all project managers into a central pool to be managed by a PMO manager?

The first option is an inexpensive start that will not threaten anyone, but will quickly come under scrutiny for its value. With the second, there is a real shift in power and “culture” within the organization and it has the potential to cause conflict and meet with resistance by current project owners/stakeholders.

There is no right way for starting up and structuring a PMO. The PMO is nothing more than a means to an end. The starting point for a PMO journey is to ask a series of questions:

  • What problem are we trying to solve?
  • Where is the organization today with respect to project execution?
  • Where do we need to go next?
  • Where do key stakeholders see current strengths and opportunities and what are their needs?

Depending on the answers, a PMO is often a good way to achieve your project/program goals. And if it is, the next step is to determine the appropriate structure and role for the PMO as well as a strategy to establish it – including deciding if you even want to call it a PMO!

This sounds awfully simple. But too often, organizations get carried away by listening to stories of how other companies successfully implemented a PMO and thereby solved all their problems.  “If it works for them, why shouldn’t it work for us?”, the sweet promise of an out-of-the-box PMO approach.

Once a decision is made to move forward with establishing a PMO, the hard part begins. You cannot just copy what another company has done.  It is an organizational change effort that needs to consider the entire ecosystem around project execution. As with any attempt to change a complex social system, such as a department or even a company, changing roles, responsibilities, and reward systems always comes with unanticipated side effects. It is crucial that you factor that into your PMO plans.

See here for more information on what FitforProjects typically looks at when doing a “Project DNA Review” – a way to answer the questions outlined above.

One Response to “A PMO – the solution to all problems…or not?”

  1. The interesting thing that I think is overlooked alot when considering PMO implementation in an organisation is – who do we want to run and manage our PMO? Too many PMOs fall back on people who have minimal actual experience of running programmes or projects – or people used to managing at a corporate level – and instead go with a cheaper resourcing solution like – someone who has previously worked in a PMO as a co-ordinator.
    Once the decision is made about what the PMO should do – organisations need to make sure they don’t fall down when it comes to putting the right person in charge

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