Over the past twenty years I have been involved in designing, building, and aligning PMOs in a diverse set of organizations ranging from startups to multi-national blue chip organizations across four continents and in over fifteen countries. These PMOs have served different types of industries supporting a wide variety of business objectives. The one thing that remained constant throughout this time in my professional and consulting career is that even within the best of circumstances setting up and running a PMO is a challenge that often causes organizational disruptions and negative complications for practitioners.
The establishment of a PMO is further complicated by the divergent views of what a PMO is and what function it plays in the organization. Additionally, the Project Management profession has not reached a consensus on differentiating between various forms of PMOs that could range from project offices to strategy implementation units. Often the reasons that cause false starts and missteps stem from a lack of understanding that designing the PMO requires strong alignment between organizational objectives, corporate culture, and PMO capabilities and services. All of these moving parts make the elements of what is needed to launch a PMO in an organization a challenging prospect that often either ends up with poor business performance or even results in stakeholder giving up on the endeavor all together.
Another main concern for PMO leaders is the potential lack of patience of organizational executives with PMOs in terms of allowing them enough room and time to mature and grow to meet organizational needs. The net result of this impatience is the executive sponsors may not see successful business results quickly enough and may decide to abandon the idea mid-stream.
What is a PMO?
PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (5th Edition) defines a project management office (PMO) as “a management structure that standardizes the project-related governance processes and facilitates the sharing of resources, methodologies, tools, and techniques. There are several types of PMOs: supportive, controlling, and directive.” In other words, a PMO is a team (unit, department, entity, management structure, or project team) chartered to drive the opposite of “business as usual” in organizations by championing change that transforms a status quo situation into an envisioned state. PMOs deliver capabilities, outcomes, processes, products, and services that enable the organization to successfully undertake projects, programs, and portfolios and to ultimately achieve key strategic objectives.
The collective experience that I’ve had in PMOs including the positive best practices and the hard lessons learned led to the design of a new concept and approach in addressing this important topic that I’ve called RapidStartPMO. This approach enables PMO leaders to be successful by figure out a way to build capability while at the same time run the PMO operations on a day to day basis. This dual approach is meant to focus on providing value from as early a stage as possible. Doing so requires running the PMO launch activities as two work streams, as seen below, one focused on the PMO Setup project and the second on running the work of the PMO.
It is important to remember though that most executives don’t really care about the PMO structure, methodology, or authority. They care about results! This is why the premise behind building and launching the PMO in this manner is to position it as an engine of change in the organization. Doing so requires alignment of objectives with organizational priorities to ensure that there is clarity in its mission and accountability to deliver results. Once this alignment is achieved PMO leaders are able to design a structure and set expectations with the roles in a consistent manner aligned with priorities.
One such decision that needs to come out of this clarity of requirement is to determine the type of PMO that is needed within the organization. In my experience PMOs can be designed to fulfill different roles. As such their structure could vary from one PMO to the other. Whether your organization is in need to creating a PMO that serves the needs of one project or a PMO that provides governance for all projects, is determined only when business objectives are clear and success criteria are defined long before you design the PMO or structure them. The different varieties of PMOs include:
Once this PMO purpose is identified, the organization is much better positioned to address critical questions such as:
- Is a PMO an entity that is focused on the management of a single project or overseeing the performance of multiple ones?
- Is the PMO a temporary structure within the organization or one that exist like other departments such as Marketing, Finance, or HR?
- Should the project managers report into a PMO or to line managers?
Developing clarity around the mission of the PMO can enable PMO leaders to identify the right type of roles that the PMO needs to play in support of the organization.
As a natural output of this overall process will be that PMO leaders will be able to clearly articulate the requirements for delivering the PMO in a modular fashion over time rather than a turn-key project. The benefit of doing so to allow the organization to mature gradually while it is delivering value as opposed to causing a huge system shock because of all the changes to the organization. The ultimate goal is to establish a process for building and running the PMO in a manner that fosters alignment between organizational strategy and the execution necessary to support it. The below diagram provides a pictorial view of the process:
As the above diagram highlights one of the most important outputs to the process is a definition of the service offering necessary to support the organization. According to the RapidStartPMO approach, the service offerings could be categorized as follows:
The most important lesson learned in this regard is to understand that your PMO mission, structure, roles it plays, services it offers, and capabilities it needs to house requires a significant degree of customization to meet the unique needs of the organization and the circumstances that are driving the need for establishing the PMO.
RapidStartPMO as an underpinning process that enables achieving a quick and value added launch is based on a systematic 12 week journey where the PMO team is delivering incremental value to the executive sponsors. These 12 weeks work as building blocks to help mature the practice of project management across the area of focus, whether be it one project or all of the organization’s projects. The outline is show in the diagram below:
At the conclusion of this process PMO leaders should ultimately be able to establish the necessary credibility in the organization. This will enable the team to be relevant for the different groups of stakeholders by supporting them in delivering with excellence. Additional information on this approach can be found at RapidStartPMO.com.