A quick Internet search yields lots of great information about the benefits of a Project Management Office (PMO): common processes, improved project selection and oversight, and best practices for everything under the sun that might be related to a PMO. There's also a lot of good guidance about what you need to do to get started. But before you run off to create your charter, your business case and the presentation materials, you may want to consider if your organization is actually ready for a PMO.
Organizational readiness is the combination of circumstances and conditions that enable the initial formation of the PMO and provide the necessary ongoing nutrients to achieve full potential. In a nutshell, organization readiness means having the 'right stuff' to make sure that the PMO will be able to spend its time contributing to the organization's success rather than just fighting for survival.
Having started more than a few PMO's myself, I can tell you that the best condition for readiness is ‘need.’ All of us know that want is very different from need. When everyone shrugs their shoulders and sighs, 'Yeah, we could probably improve our project performance,” or “Maybe starting a PMO might be helpful but...,” it’s highly likely that that the organization is not ready. On the other hand, when projects become a burning platform – with that undeniable set of challenges that are appropriately addressed through the expert application of the disciplines or processes typically found in a PMO - then you're ready.
For example, let's say you have a large program or initiative. But it’s not just any large program, this is a large mission-critical program; A program that, if it fails, takes the company's future with it. You need central coordination and visibility into multiple efforts so that swift and decisive action can be taken as challenges arise. Or, let's say that you work in an environment where there are a lot of projects going on concurrently and, while everyone is working hard, little gets done. Priorities are unclear and competition for resources is fierce. Management recognizes the problem but can't seem to get their arms around the situation. In both cases there is a compelling need for what a PMO has to offer, and you're ready for a PMO.
Something else to think about is the breadth and level of organizational support. In my definition, organizational support means more than just lip-service. True support means that the PMO stakeholders recognize and can defend the value of the PMO. It also means that those stakeholders across the impacted organization are willing to participate in the formation of the PMO, contribute to the design of PMO processes and standards, and support the application of and adherence to those standards over time.
While we often recognize that this kind of support is important from our executives, we underestimate how important it is from peer groups within the organization. After all, these are groups that the PMO ultimately depends upon for the resources and information it needs to accomplish its mission. If these groups aren’t ready and willing to play, there won't be much of a game. The PMO will be relegated to the role of ‘Process Police,’ spending more time chasing down data, documents and people than adding real value. Or even worse, the PMO will be perceived as the ‘Prevention of Progress Department’ – additional overhead without any real benefit.
Last but not least, organizational readiness for a PMO is tied to organizational will: Once your organization has a PMO in place, are the decision-makers going to make the decisions needed to realize the benefits? If a project is inadequately justified, poorly defined or badly managed, is someone going to be willing to say ‘Stop’? If we provide information that clearly shows we have inadequate capacity to execute all of the projects that we want to do is someone going to make a decision about what we are not going to do? The best PMO in the world can’t be successful if decision-makers can’t or won’t decide.
So are you ready for a PMO? If you don’t have clear need, support and will, it’s highly likely that starting a PMO will be an uphill battle and, even if you can pull it off, success may be short-lived. If you already have a PMO without need, support, and will, it may be time to make it a priority to get your organization ready for what it already has. Been there. Done that. Good luck.