What You Know (And Should Know) About PMOsExecutive Communityon May 21, 2024 at 11:00 am Work It Daily


Project management offices (or PMOs) are gaining increasing popularity as the project management profession continues to make solid inroads across organizations that are demanding higher levels of performance in an ultra-competitive world. Implementing a PMO is not only a viable strategy to meet these expectations but also an important neutral voice to assist with vetting the portfolio of strategic initiatives and client-facing projects.

The Project Management Institute (or PMI), the world´s first, largest, and most recognized body in the project management profession, made headlines in October of 2023 when it acquired PMO Global Alliance (PMOGAS), the leading global standard in PMOs. This strategic acquisition further cemented PMI’s dominance in the profession while providing its members with an even broader suite of certifications and business knowledge.

All PMOs Are Not Created Equally

Most people associate PMOs with providing standards, guidance, training, and mentoring so as to optimize project performance. While this is mostly true, most people do not realize that all PMOs are not created equally.

In fact, there are several structural components to be considered when implementing the desired configuration.

By undertaking an honest project management maturity assessment, using techniques such as ISO 33000, organizations can effectively identify where their project management gaps are as well as land on a recommended PMO structure. The aim, of course, is to help drive more successful projects, not to mention increased retention of the precious project managers who are more in demand than ever before.

Key tip: It is important to assemble the right audience when conducting the exercise as well as establish guidelines so that the participants really give an honest assessment in order to achieve a realistic output. The exercise can (and should) be repeated when necessary, so as to make any changes to the configuration as quickly as reasonably practical, in accordance with business agility concepts.

The 4 Classifications Or Components Of A PMO Structure

Once the project management maturity exercise has been completed, the next steps in configuring your PMO would be to plot the results of the assessment into four sections, or component areas in which PMOs operate:

Section 1: Based on the degree of control and influence

The level of control that the organization wishes the PMO to exert is a very important decision to make, especially taking into account business culture, organizational structure, and long-term strategic goals. Depending on the organizational needs, the PMO may hold more of a consultant-type role aimed at providing tools and guidance rather than actually managing projects, or the assessment may demonstrate the need for more of an audit role to ensure compliance with corporate directives. The highest level of control would be direct project control and P&L responsibility, which would be more suitable for mature projectized organizations.

Section 2: Based on the mission undertaken

How your PMO will support the organization is the next critical piece as it challenges the organization to determine if the PMO should focus on increasing project delivery success (short-term goals), provide standards, processes, tools, training, and techniques for project managers (focus on continuous improvement), or be a true business partner to manage the organization´s portfolio of internal and external projects (strategic partner).

Section 3: Based on the position within the organization

The first two sections set the stage for how the PMO will actually be structured as well as where in the organization it will actually sit. The most basic approach would be for the PMO to manage a single complex project or program and this can have its merits for short-term targets. A more mature approach would be for the PMO to work under a department to handle such critical tasks as performing operations master planning and project-program management. This can be a very effective, middle-of-the-road approach. The most embedded PMO model would be that of undertaking strategic missions tied to portfolio and budget management as a neutral business advisor, reporting to top management.

Section 4: Based on the degree of technology applied by the PMO

The last piece of the puzzle would then be to determine the level of technology to be applied by the PMO. This obviously depends on the available systems, software, and business processes within the organization. Projects do not necessarily depend on ultra-sophisticated project management software to produce successful outcomes; I myself have used the MS Office software suite quite effectively during my career. Understanding the mix of manual, automated, and now AI solutions will be key drivers to ensure that enterprise data is managed effectively. One size does not fit all so make sure this is carefully reviewed so as to produce meaningful reports and dashboards which will allow for more effective decision making.

Key Considerations For Structuring Your PMO

Personally, I really liked the structured approach tied to the four components or remits of the PMO. I would advise companies to use this technique as an awareness and guidance tool, rather than following the results to the letter, as companies, industries, and, most importantly, people are evolving at an increasingly accelerated pace.

You may be surprised by the results of the assessment as well as the proposed structure for your PMO. This ties to not only the honest part of the exercise but also where the organization sees itself in the future. It may be very appropriate to acknowledge the current state and aspire to a future state by gradually ramping up the remit and responsibility of the PMO.

It also may not be practical to implement each section and I have seen the human instinct to mix and match the component parts so as to arrive at a hybrid configuration naturally creep in, especially in this age of streamlined, multi-hat-wearing project professionals. I would definitely use this mixed approach carefully and back it up with clear processes, roles, and responsibilities (WBS-RACI) so that expectations are aligned from top to bottom.

No matter how you decide to implement or evolve your PMO, don’t be afraid to fail fast and redirect as needed. Do make sure your people and clients are a central focus for long-term sustainability.

Finally, consider potentially implementing several different PMO structures should your organization have multiple divisions or locations. In this case, ensuring interaction with the different PMO groups will be key so that overall organizational objectives can be met more effectively, while also allowing for greater mobility within the company.

PMOs can certainly generate many benefits to organizations; those who understand the value proposition will no doubt have a leg up on their competitors as well as more satisfied employees and clients!

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