Project Management

The Elusive PMO

From the Servant Leadership: Serve to Be Great Blog
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This blog is about leadership as it applies to projects and project management, but also as it applies to society in general. The bloggers here manage projects and lead teams in both business and volunteer environments, and are all graduates of PMI's Leadership Institute Master Class. We hope to bring insight into the challenges we all experience in our projects and in our day-to-day work, providing helpful tidbits to inspire you to take action to improve—whether in your personal life, your business/work life or on your projects. Read, comment and share your experiences as we share ours. Let’s make the pie bigger! Grab a slice!

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The Elusive PMO

In our jobs as project managers, we often find ourselves thrust into situations requiring us to share our knowledge to help others be successful. But that is not a problem for us: it’s an opportunity to help others become leaders - a main tenet of servant leadership. And what stronger leadership is there than a PMO formed through a mix of best practices from credible sources, collaboration and consensus among the PMs in your organization?

So you are an excellent project manager and your skills have been recognized: a high success ratio in the projects you manage, high technical expertise, outstanding interpersonal skills and an ability to boil complex theory down into comprehensible, practical and applicable processes in your organization. You have been chosen. Now it is time to set up the PMO.

There have been been many books and articles written on how to set up a PMO and how to make it successful. There have also been many written on why PMOs fail, the types of PMOs and whether a PMO should be a provider of good practices or a provider of PM services. You must be well aware of success metrics for your PMO. You must learn lessons from those who have tried and succeeded or tried and failed, and you must know the type of PMO you have been mandated to create.

PMs are a strong-headed bunch. They are in control of their own project organizations, often have a lot of autonomy, and may (believe it not) actually be resistant to change, much like many people in a multitude of organizations. So, you will be challenged with inviting their input, collectively separating the wheat from the chaff, having them feel they have had input and have been part of gaining consensus on ways to change to improve project success rates without undue process and fanfare.

There are a few things I feel require particular focus:

  • Identifying all the PMs in the organization and treating them as you would any key stakeholder in a project - communicate business objectives and intent, involve them, consult with them, and gain consensus on important items.
  • Using industry standard processes, tools and templates (PMI is a great source), but tailoring them to the organization, not just branding, but in content and use. One size does not fit all.
  • Implementing a training, certification, mentoring and coaching program so that help is always at hand, and everyone knows how to get it.
  • Installing a PM vernacular that matches the processes, tools and templates you are together espousing and socializing it within your organization’s PM Community.
  • Establishing a repository for all things PM, preferably online and mobile-friendly, making sure the entry point is highly visible, linking it to your organization’s main entry point to such applications.
  • Making the entry point usable, engaging a user experience expert to design, for example, graphical, clickable and easy to use interfaces.
  • Creating a PM community within your organization and holding regular meetings allowing PMs to showcase their projects, share lessons learned and discuss leading edge PM topics, in person or virtual or a combination of the two.
  • Establishing a virtual collaboration space for PMs, where lessons learned can be shared, where help can be requested and where virtual mentoring can take place.

These are just a few items to consider, of course. A final critically important note is to set up monitoring processes to ensure your PMO has high adoption rates and a robust sustainability plan. How will you monitor its use? If it is not used, how will you fix it so it is? How will you ensure it remains fresh with continuous updating?  How will you ensure PMs stay engaged in the community you collectively created?There is more, of course, and I am sure some of you will share your experiences and lessons learned here.

Here’s to the establishment of your vibrant, well-adopted and fully sustainable Project Management Office!

Posted by Mike Frenette on: November 28, 2017 08:14 AM | Permalink

Comments (10)

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Project Managers are not the best role to setup a PMO unless they have strategical knowledge to do that. PMOs fail when are not created as a result of an strategical analysis were the PMO is the solution to one organizational problem. Organizational architecture follows the strategy. PMO must be a component inside the organizational architecture where related portfolio/program/project management functions will be located. If that is not taking into account when a PMO is created then the initiative will fail.

Good Article
Project manager can and should learn from the failure and success of the others and form its own, all the knowledge and experience gathered managing people and project in some way help the PM to take a strategic roles in the organization be it the PMO and its functions.

I agree with Sérgio C., project managers are not the best individuals/role to setup a PMO unless they have the knowledge AND the official power to do it.

The setup of a PMO is a project, and if it is not treated as one, it will surely fail. It needs a project charter and PM plan, executive sponsorship, and stakeholder identification and management, among many other things.

A project manager who is hooked into the strategy of the organization, has experience running projects running projects successfully, and treats the set up of the PMO as a project is in a good position to set up a PMO. I expect if a PMO is being mandated by the executive leadership of the organization, as I have seen in many cases, it would certainly be a component of the organizational architecture. I don't think anything in this blog post would indicate otherwise.

In my opinion, someone who is not a project manager, for example, a person with only strategic knowledge and no PM knowledge, would be a poor choice to set up a PMO.

Maybe we are talking at cross purposes, perhaps referring to different types of PMOs.

As a PM, one of the best service I ever got from my PMO is tailoring support during planning. It makes quite a difference when someone can help you through the tailoring process.

Tailoring is critical. Or rather, the idea that you are expected to tailor is critical. Beware the PMO equipped with a whip and encased in concrete. ;)

Agree with Sergio, PM can be the part of PMO but can not have best role to establish PMO. PMO establish will provide mentor and guidelines in accordance of organizational strategic orientation. In absence of this PM has to start from scratches.

Awesome, article! Thanks for the insights!

Dear Mike
Interesting is your perspective on the theme: "The Elusive PMO"

Thanks for sharing

Have you already created a PMO taking into account the points you mentioned?
Still exist?
What lessons do you share with us?

Hi Luis,

Thank you for all your comments on the articles here on Sharing your insights are very helpful.

To answer you question, yes I did take into account the points I mentioned in my article, and yes, the PMO still exists and I am running it today. To be candid, I wrote this article based on what we did here.

A lesson learned is that it is important to share among PMs on more than just project issues and resourcing. For this reason, we have set up a "PM Mastermind" regular monthly session during which we will share freely.

We also established the "PPM Repository" - a place where all PM processes, forms, templates and sample are stored, as well project collaboration sites.This pre-dated the "Teams" functionality Microsoft recently released, but is similar in many ways. On this site, PMs can make suggestions for change, and we collect those into mini-projects when the time is right.

We weren't quite as strong with implementing of a training, certification, mentoring and coaching program. But then, we have only one staff project manager and the rest are very qualified contractors brought in under some stringent requirements. We will likely implement this point more fully as we staff up with PMs.

Thanks for asking!

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