Organizing the PMO

pmo3The PMO, or Project (Program) Management Office is an entity that is responsible for definitions and standards for project management within an organization. In its most simplistic sense, the PMO tries to facilitate some level of common practice, processes and solutions of scale for the organization that can be leveraged and re-used as new projects are added to the fold.

PMOs do not always exist in a corporations. But when they do, they often take on the role of gatekeeper for projects within the organization. A PMO will often be part of a centralized project management structure that facilitates project managers to teams on a needs basis. This centralization allows for better monitoring of all projects and programs within a corporate structure as well as providing a single point of contact for processes and standards.

For the most part, you will likely only see PMOs in organizations that follow a more projectized or hybrid matrix of organization. (Note: For a review of organizational structures, please view the post: The Best Structure to Work Under for the Project Manager)

A common perception for many who have interacted with PMOs in the past is that they are far more trouble than they are worth. Many cite excessive bureaucracy, process bottlenecks, a large swath of paperwork and a constant overhang of scrutiny from project managers who spend more time nagging than they do actually providing constructive assistance. And unfortunately, a lot of these perceptions are founded; but not because the concept of a PMO is a bad one, but because the structure and execution inherent to the PMO is flawed.

When a PMO is set up and staffed properly, it can be an invaluable resource to the company and project teams. With that being said, how exactly should the PMO be set up to maximize its efficiency?

Effective Administration

One key aspect of ensuring that your PMO will function effectively is having proper administration in place, along with the tools necessary to allow projects to function efficiently. There is a tremendous amount of data collection, analysis, information distribution, general scheduling and various governance activities that need to take place. In order to accomplish this, the right individuals need to function as the vanguard of those actions. Trying to allow the PMO to ‘self govern’ or run with limited administrative resources will ultimately lead to confusion, bottlenecks and productivity reductions. In all likelihood, projects will often suffer themselves as they get caught up on the maelstrom of an understaffed and under-administrated PMO.

One key attribute that no PMO should function without is good collaboration and content management software. Having the right software suites in place, usually web enabled and accessed in the same location, will go a long way towards ensuring data is both collected and distributed effectively.

Business Analysis

As mentioned above, a large part of the PMO’s remit is data collection and analysis. As such, it is imperative that the concept of business analysis and data monitoring is not taken lightly. Comprehension of data inherent to projects or aggregate programs cannot be overstated and ensuring that the right individuals be assigned the role of business analysis is an important part of PMO staffing. With that being said, having individuals dedicated to the role of business analysis is imperative.

Note that different skill sets will likely be required to ensure that proper comprehension of data can occur. Standard business analysts will be needed as liaisons with key stakeholders to help interpret requirements for key projects. Additionally, other analyst types such as process analysts, information analysts, legal analysts, etc may also be necessary for an overall successful PMO. Much of the decision on which and what types of analysts are needed will be dictated by the type of corporation, their specific set of deliverables and the overall structure of the company. (Eg. legal analysts may actually reside in the legal department, not the PMO)

Hiring the Right Project Managers

As most will agree, project managers can make or break a project. Hiring the right individuals with the proper skill sets will go a long way towards ensuring the successful rollout of key projects in the pipeline. An important note is that the skill set of the project managers should adequately reflect the type of projects that will fall within the remit of the PMO. Reporting structures in companies vary and depending on how centralized the PMO is will dictate the nature and function of the project managers within its reporting structure.

Whatever the organizational breakdown, the function of the PMO should be the main predicate for the type of project manager’s that need to be hired. For a PMO that is mostly responsible for governance and policies, a few seasoned and senior project managers may be adequate. For a more advanced PMO that is responsible for the actual projects across the entire enterprise, clearly needs more project managers with skill sets that reflect experience across the spectrum of projects. It is also important to note that certain projects that are more internal in nature also may require a different set of skills from the standpoint of the project manager as opposed to projects that produce deliverables going to market. Consideration should be taken to assess the PMO and its overall function and then determine how to perform the hiring.

The Five Facets of a Good PMO

From a holistic standpoint, a good PMO should ensure that it tackles what some call the ‘five attributes’ of a good PMO. The graphic at the top of this post denotes those key attributes and each will now be defined in detail.

  1. Standards – One of the key notions of a PMO is to ensure that specific projects and their inherent methodologies are performed in a consistent fashion. From this standpoint, the PMO should act as the vanguard of all standards and policies in use within the organization. This can include uniform tool utilization, common templates, best practices guides, and so forth. The key takeaway is that a PMO should strive towards commonality; the more often that standards deviate from project to project, the harder it is to maintain those projects (or aggregate programs) in a consistent and efficient way.
  2. Policies – This would normally fall into the realm of ‘governance’. Ideally, the PMO should monitor how projects are being executed within the enterprise and determine if any are deviating from the more common methodologies that are in use. Note that one of the common fallacies of PMOs is too become too aggressive in its monitoring aspects, effectively turning the PMO into little more than an internal police department. Certain policies should be adhered to but it is also important to add some level of flexibility to any situation to give the project managers a little leeway. Policies are meant to be rules and the last thing that a PMO wants to see happen is the Wild West within the corporation. At the same time, they also want to avoid a George Orwell Dystopia. The point of policies is to act as a guideline to give individuals frames of reference with regards to certain principles in the corporation. Some will be absolute but others can be flexible. Additionally, policies should be a living concept within the PMO. If a policy becomes stale or does not scale in a new project situation, adjustments should be made accordingly.
  3. Training – As with any entity in a corporation, a learning curve will exist for those becoming familiar with the various concepts being employed, the tools being used, the people involved, etc. As such, a PMO should have a training component that affords project managers, stakeholders and team members to have a singular point of contact or online reference that they can visit to get answers to various questions and use documents and videos made available as guides. As much as possible, the training component should have plenty of ‘self-service’ aspects associated with it to ensure quick turnaround for individuals. Specific hands on training can also be incorporated as needed in the form on online lecture series or in classroom study. Training can often be broken down into three target areas: Passive (self service), Active (online lectures and videos) and Interactive (virtual or physical classroom). A good PMO should use some combination of these options to produce a cohesive training set.
  4. Resources -Depending on the nature of the organization and how it is structured, the concept of managing and providing resources to projects could be part of the PMOs overall remit. This could involve direct control over the resources working on a project, the project (or program) managers assigned to a set of given projects and even the contractors that may be brought in on a case by case basis. The nature and type of resources that need to be managed will be dictated by how the PMO and the company is set up. A more projectized organizations will lean towards a PMO that will have more responsibility over all resources, while a more functional organization will have a PMO that is less directly influential in this regard.
  5. Processes – Amidst all the various aspects that a PMO might be involved in, how overall project processes are developed and controlled is probably amongst the most critical. Standards and policies provide baselines, but to truly be able to have consistent and uniform metrics across various projects, it is important to design a process that is used effectively across the board. Now processes can often be points of contention across teams, with some favoring more rapid development while others favor a more structured or waterfall type approach. Regardless, the PMO should strive to create a process that is scalable and flexible enough to allow teams to function semi-autonomously whilst simultaneously achieving the desired goal of keeping things consistent. Most process methodologies can achieve the goal of being a solution of scale and if this is instrumented correctly, the process itself will be standard enough to function effectively across the enterprise.

PMO Pitfalls to Avoid

A PMO is still a point of contention for many, as mentioned earlier. Many feel that a PMO in and of itself is little more than a bureaucratic nightmare that often involves little more than paper-pushing and constant scrutiny. And truthfully, many PMOs that are not adequately set up or structured will often be quite guilty of those labels.

In order to ensure your PMO does not fall into some of the common traps that exist, here are a few tips to keep in mind when structuring your own:

  1. The Allegiance Issue – PMOs that have too much commonality between project managers and functional managers will often appear redundant and irrelevant to those attempting to utilize their services. Additionally, the project managers in those circumstances will often simply placate to the whims of the functional manager even in the face of contrary evidence. To avoid this issue, ensure that your PMO has autonomy when it functions and that the project managers are given some level of authority over the release cycles of the deliverables.
  2. Poorly Defined Processes & Standards – To re-iterate the statements mentioned earlier, a PMO should strive to ensure consistency and uniformity in its processes and standards. This is arguably one of the most important aspects of the overall PMO and if not handled correctly, will lead to a large amount of confusion and frustration to the teams working on the various projects. As much effort as possible must be given to this area to avoid problems with execution of the PMO.
  3. Provide Actionable Metrics – Everyone and their mother it seems loves fancy charts, pretty data points and nice graphs. Yet in the end, if these items are doing little more than acting as filler for one’s Powerpoint presentation, exactly how viable are they? A key point of any metric is having something actionable associated with it. The schedule metric for example can demonstrate if the project timeline is in jeopardy. If so, actions can be taken to mitigate the problem. Ultimately, metrics provided should have an actionable component associated with them to ensure some level of feedback always exists.
  4. Monitoring the PMO – Just as the PMO monitors projects and resources, the PMO itself should be monitored by upper management. The efficacy of the PMO can only be established it there are improvement metrics and general sentiment metrics associated with the PMO that demonstrate it is actually helping and not hindering those using its services. Things like percentage of projects successfully rolled out on time, budget metrics or even general satisfaction surveys should all be employed to showcase how effective a PMO actually is from the standpoint of its function. Simply instituting a PMO but not monitoring its performance can lead to situations where the PMO merely becomes an expensive paperweight, taking up space and cost while providing little value.

**Conclusions**

PMOs exist in various organizational structures, either at a high company (portfolio) level or in separate instances throughout various facets of the business. A good PMO can become an invaluable resource to the company. But a poor structured and managed PMO can become a dreadful hinderance that causes more problems than it solves. Whomever is responsible for the PMO should strive to treat the entity as something that provides a value and service to the company as opposed to a ‘big brother’ agency that is just there to police internally.

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