Is Joining a PMO the Right Career Move for You?

Andy Makar | July 30, 2019

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In your project management career, you’ll have multiple opportunities to perform different project management roles ranging from a project analyst to a program manager. A typical project manager career path takes this progression:

  1. Project Coordinator
  2. Project Manager
  3. Senior Project Manager
  4. Program Manager
  5. Portfolio Manager

One job role missing from the PM career path is a stint in the project management office.

Project managers wonder where the PMO fits in their career as many project managers are rewarded with more projects and higher complexity and scope—not detours into process, methodology, and compliance.

If you are a PM who has considered a PMO assignment, you may have asked yourself these questions:

  • Where does the PMO fit in this career path?
  • Is joining a PMO a good career move?
  • Will I be stuck if I go into the PMO?

There are many good reasons to add a PMO rotation into your career plan although some project managers may avoid a PMO assignment. I’ve experienced enough overly administrative PMOs to understand the concern. I’ve also managed PMOs and benefited from the experience. In this article, I’ll highlight several reasons to consider adding a PMO to your career plan.

Five Reasons to Join a PMO

1. Improve your program management skills.

Joining a large, program-level PMO is an excellent opportunity to further develop project management skills. Large programs, especially global programs, have many projects and work streams that require issue management, risk management, and change management across multiple teams. A program-level PMO provides a project manager with new challenges working across multiple teams and managing work at larger milestone levels than detailed project schedules.

If you work within a program-level PMO, you’ll be well positioned to implement the program governance processes needed to support a program. If you aspire to be a program manager, learn from an existing program manager and support the program manager within the PMO.

2. Improve your portfolio management skills.

If you join a department-level PMO or an enterprise-wide PMO, you will gain experience with demand management and portfolio management. At this level, you are assessing incoming work requests, assessing candidate projects, managing budget allocation, and supporting resource management across the organization. Instead of managing a single project, you work with senior leadership on the goals within each portfolio and the projects required to support them.

Senior leaders need to balance demand with their organization’s ability to deliver with the existing resources. A PMO role demonstrating portfolio management will strengthen a project manager’s skill set to work at a senior level.

3. Learn more about all the projects running in the organization.

When you work in a PMO, you gain better visibility into all the projects in the organization. If you’ve managed website projects for years, joining a PMO will give you insight into other projects, such as financial, enterprise resource planning implementations, or infrastructure projects, that you may never experience without leaving your siloed organization. This experience develops your business acumen—a fancy word used to describe how much you know about the company’s actual business!

In a single project, the project manager learns about a single project’s business benefit. At the PMO level, the project manager experiences multiple initiatives and learns how they all contribute to the company’s strategies and goals.

4. Improve the process and methodology with PM techniques that really work.

PMOs are often criticized for all their administrative processes, status reports, and templates that add overhead to a project. Project managers may resist following all these processes, but these processes and templates actually provide a structure for consistent delivery. If you are an experienced project manager, joining a PMO and improving the methodology with real-world feedback helps the organization.

Project managers are focused on the day-to-day grind of putting out fires, managing risks, and tracking schedules. Implementing process improvements for the organization is not feasible in addition to day-to-day project delivery. By taking a PMO assignment, the project manager has the opportunity to apply the tips, tricks, and best techniques that work into the standard PMO methodology.

5. Interact with senior leaders and develop your professional network.

A project manager working within a department or organization-wide PMO has more visibility and access to the senior managers responsible for decision-making in the organization. A project manager’s visibility on a single project is limited to the executive stakeholders supporting the project. If you are seeking a better networking opportunity, then a PMO assignment will give you great access to executive stakeholders across the organization.

Try a Rotation!

Adding the role of PMO manager or PMO analyst to your resume will strengthen your background and appeal to other hiring managers. The PMO demonstrates organizational breadth as well as a track record of project delivery. A PMO rotation also provides an opportunity to improve project management processes with real-world feedback.

I’ve always been a fan of having experienced project managers join the PMO for a year or two to help improve the organization’s PM practices and overall project management maturity. I don’t recommend making the PMO your only career move, but spend some time helping the organization and you’ll be well positioned for your next project management role.

Discuss