Does your organization invest in a Project Management Office (PMO)? If you are reading this then you must be considering setting up a PMO or have concluded your approach to project management is not working and you are in the process of analyzing, dismantling and preparing to rebuild it.
I’ve been through this process with several organizations – either building a PMO from scratch or rebuilding a failing one. It is not easy and it does take work, cooperation, collaboration and good project managers to establish and maintain an effective PMO structure. I’ve come up with 7 key considerations to building a great project management office. As you read these, consider how much more effective you and your organization will be with a PMO that can plan, prioritize and perform consistently and with confidence across your entire portfolio of projects.
1. Ensure PMO support from your organizational leadership
Senior leadership buy-in is essential to the long-term success of any PMO. I have personally worked in PMOs that were not supported at the top, where executives pushed their own projects through with hand-picked project teams outside of the PMO. It led to organization-wide confusion as to who owned the process, funding issues for the PMO itself, and undermined the authority a project management office relies upon in order to deliver project successes. It also challenges the PMO’s responsibility to shepherd the priorities of the holistic organization to ensure the resources are deployed on the right things. Bad structure and misalignment leads to PMO failure, every time.
2. Hire the right people
What do you need? Experience? PMP-certified project managers? Both? Emphasis should be placed on experience. Take the time to find and hire talent who have demonstrated success leading projects and achieving business objectives. Proven PM experience with articulable results achieved will lead to project successes. PMP certification, while definitely good to have, is not real-world project management. The certification simply reveals that the candidate has invested to develop their academic perspective. In my experience, some of the theory conveyed in the PMP certification is valid, but some simply does not translate well to application in most organizations. When considering two prospective hires, or weeding through a stack of resumes, do not fall victim to biasing your selection to PMP-certified candidates. You will be robbing your PMO team of the practical experience that will lead to success. I know this is controversial, but I implore you to go with experience as the number-one priority. You will thank me later.
3. Put the right leadership in place
Organizational savvy and perspective matters. Consider those already part of your company. Who do people trust or turn to for advice? Who consistently gets work done? Identify these leaders and work to pull them into the ranks of your project team. Someone from inside will already have connections and informal influence that will help you navigate change as the project management office goes through the creation process and the growing pains that follow. In addition to connections, look for leadership courage that will enable critical cross-team engagement and establishment of processes and policies they will stand behind. The connection angle is good because PMO projects need resources, and project managers will need access to information like financials and accounting input for the projects they are managing. As the PMO team structure is established and resourced with the right talent, it will enable the leader in place to invest in appropriate oversight. This includes reporting on progress and providing insights to company executives. Exhibiting results achieved will reinforce the value an effective PMO is delivering for the organization and ensure it remains viable for the long term. Therefore, the director should always remain focused on leading and guiding the PMO, taking care not to be lured into leading individual projects on the side.
4. Methodology? We don’t need no stinkin’ methodology!
Ok, I don’t literally mean you don’t need any methodology. You do. But be careful and consider the right methodology or a hybrid of methodologies. There are many choices… with two being traditional waterfall and agile? If agile, will it be Kanban or scrum? Agile is an umbrella term used to describe a project management and software development methodology which breaks down large complex projects into smaller manageable chunks. Scrum and Kanban are two agile project management methodologies with “subtle” differences. Will your PMO benefit from strict adherence to one methodology? Or, might you achieve more success by establishing your PMO and resourcing teams to be flexible enough to consider both traditional waterfall and agile, and then using whatever is appropriate for any given project or customer preference? I recommend building to be flexible and choosing to deploy tools that offer customization and adaptation. Your project teams will benefit and the results they deliver will be better.
5. Analyze and share the PMO performance
As mentioned above in the leadership buy-in step – the support of your organization’s senior leadership is critical. Having the backing of your senior management allows you to roll out the project process from conception through completion to the entire organization and ensure that it is the one project process for the entire enterprise. This is done best when PMO goals and results are captured in the form of a dashboard reporting system that accurately conveys project prioritization, status, resource allocation and risk. Visibility across the portfolio of projects is critical that is best achieved by deploying software built to support planning and project management. Do not be lured into a simple task management tool that over-promises and under-delivers! You need a solution that helps you plan, estimate, deploy resources and capture in real-time the impact of changes made as projects progress and priorities shift. Only a sufficiently robust tool will reveal accurately the performance and success of the current PMO solution and infrastructure you have put in place.
6. Make sure you have the upfront funding
Is funding in place for the project management office? Again, this is tied into the senior level buy-in. Without funding locked down, it is difficult to obtain and retain the talent necessary to make this work on a project-to-project basis. It is okay to start small and then build over time. Leadership will appreciate and generously fund a PMO that consistently delivers results. Simply secure initial resources sufficient to deploy the right PMO organizational structure and software that will enable effective planning, prioritization and performance.
7. Templates are a necessary evil
No two projects are the same. So using templates, while very helpful, is really only a “getting started on the right foot” concept from project to project. But you do have to start somewhere. In 25 years of managing projects, there hasn’t been one single project I started from scratch without using a project schedule template to get the planning phase started. You can create your own, or as encouraged above, select software that offers templates to enable a quicker start. The best project portfolio management (PPM products on the market also offer “duplicate” functionality that enable you to customize your own template, and then duplicate it for an application that makes most sense for your team and use case.
Efficiency is key. When similarities emerge with new project work taken on, the best path is to leverage the last best example of that deliverable. Starting from scratch with every project is not efficient or effective. I will always go back to the last great one I – or someone else – prepared. Why reinvent the wheel every project? You could risk overlooking something critical and take longer to gain customer approval on what may be a very high profit engagement. So, while templates may seem an unnecessary or rudimentary crutch, they have a useful purpose. I encourage you to embrace them and anticipate that, over time, you will find yourself using them on every project. Your PMO infrastructure and customer success achieved will be enhanced as a result.
What do you think?
I realize there is no perfect PMO. However, I believe that by applying these key PMO best practices and following the guidelines I’ve laid out here will help you get close. What are your thoughts? What have I missed? For those of you with ideas and experience, please share your thoughts on what ingredients go into building a great PMO. Let’s discuss!
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. He has been named the “#1 Provider of Project Management Content in the World” with over 7,000 published articles, ebooks, white papers and videos. Brad is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV.