Program and Project Management Offices (PMOs) have been in the news. OK, you won’t have read about this in your daily paper, but in the UK the PMOSIG became incorporated as the Association for Project Management’s 13th specific interest group a couple of years back. While PMOs have been around for a long time, this was a big step forward for the recognition of the work they do. And they do a lot more than just produce reports.
The role of a PMO
A PMO is the backbone of a successful project management approach at an organization. It is a function that provides decision support information, although it doesn’t make any decisions itself. A PMO underpins the project delivery mechanisms by ensuring that all business change in an organization is managed in a controlled way. According to the Office of Government Commerce’s, (based in the UK) standard for Portfolio, Program and Project Offices, the most mature PMOs provide:
- Governance: ensuring that decisions are taken by the right people, based on the right information. The governance role can also include audit or peer reviews, developing project and programme structures and ensuring accountability.
- Transparency: providing information with a single source of the truth. Information should be relevant and accurate to support effective decision-making.
- Reusability: stopping project teams from reinventing the wheel by being a central point for lessons learned, templates and best practice.
- Delivery support: making it easy for project teams to do their jobs by reducing bureaucracy, providing training, mentoring and quality assurance.
- Traceability: providing the function for managing documentation, project history and organizational knowledge.
So what does that actually mean in practice? PMO teams fulfill a variety of functions on a day-to-day basis including:
- Gathering data about project progress and producing reports
- Developing standards and processes
- Encouraging (or enforcing where necessary) the use of those standards and processes
- Managing resources for projects
- Delivering training and mentoring project team members
- Managing dependencies across multiple projects
- Tracking benefits
- Reporting on financial information such as return on investment.
As part of this, the PMO is also the guardian of Enterprise Project Management tools and project management methods. There will normally be an expert (or several) in the PMO who can support project managers and their teams with using any project-related software.
Different types of PMO
PMOs look different in different organizations, as you would expect. A recent study by ESI found that nearly 60% of companies have more than one PMO, so decentralization is by far the norm.
Over a third of PMOs have more than 10 members of staff, and the location of the PMO is evenly split between IT, another business function and at a corporate level, so PMOs can be found pretty much anywhere in an organization.
In some companies, the project managers report directly to the PMO, although this is not as common as you might imagine. More than half of the project managers in the companies surveyed by ESI reported in to somewhere else. The increasing maturity of the PMO function means that we are likely to see more and more project managers reporting into a PMO in the future, which in turn provides a better opportunity for standardization and embedding tools and processes.
Your PMO might be a central function reporting to the Board, or it might be a department within a division. You may have a hub-and-spoke model with a central PMO and divisional units in different locations. The PMO might even be a temporary team, put together to support a large program. It may incorporate a centre of excellence for training and standards, or that might be separate. In short, there are a number of different ways for a PMO to operate, and they all have the objective of providing operational efficiencies and supporting the successful delivery of change.
Whatever model you choose for your PMO, getting the implementation right will undoubtedly make the difference between a function that increases the success of projects and one that just focuses on retrospective reporting. A mature PMO can really help an organization make the most of the tools, methods and the skilled staff they have, by ensuring all these resources are used in the best possible way to support the organization’s strategic goals.