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Revisiting the basics of PMO

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The PMO Specific Interest Group (SIG) has always been focused on bringing wisdom and support to anyone with an interest in Project Management Office. One way we do this is through the PMO 101 Summer School, which took place a long time ago in a galaxy far away.

As the industry continues to evolve, we are seeing more growth in the student and career change membership. So we want to revisit and summarise the salient points of PMO by going ‘back to the basics’. In this blog, we share some of the key points you need to know for successful PMO:

The benefits of installing a PMO include ensuring that projects are linked to strategic objectives; decision points (or stage gates) are understood and agreed upon in advance; continuous improvement opportunities are identified through repeatable processes; and expectations can be better managed. This is all vital to know, but remember, the changes in the work economy have expanded the role of PMO into more concrete Centres of Excellence (CoE) with a focus on community, people and development. Ensuring that the project community has a safe, collaborative and enriching place to work is just as important now than it has ever been.

The ‘type’ of PMO that is implemented is key to successful and sustainable change. Best practice exists to provide the frameworks for teams to build around, but making best practice fit the organisational context will determine the success of the PMO (and the projects it supports). These days, there are more permanent PMOs than temporary teams. This means that, as the design of PMO evolves, it is key to understand what it is that the PMO’s customers need, and to create a service catalogue that matches those needs and expectations. Implementing something that has worked before (or exists in a framework) without local modification is more likely to lead to failure as each organisation is different.

Reporting lines matter. A PMO that reports to the CEO will be very different to a PMO that reports into another Director. This reiterates our previous point that the context should be considered before designing a new PMO or transformation programme, and the importance of knowing who the customer is.

Transition from standalone to a more enterprise focused PMO is possible, as long as there is a clear transformation roadmap and considerations such as maturity, scale, hierarchy, and expectations are discussed and understood.

Not all organisations need a PMO office. Some are not ready for the structure that a full blown PMO adds, so in some cases you will find that skills are distributed throughout the organisation instead of in one central PMO space. This can be successful, as long as the people delivering those PMO style services communicate well and collaborate regularly.

Critical success factors for PMOs include good and strong leadership commitment and focus. Knowledge management is vital to understanding how to evolve over time, with a focus on people and their development. Core practices need to be in place and any hybrid ways of working needs must be addressed.

Our industry continues to evolve, and for those just starting out in PMO, or looking to explore PMO further, these insights can help you  understand the wider world of PPM, and PMO in particular. You can view our ever-growing content on our APM PMO SIG page, including a variety of PMO Wisdom interviews, articles and opinions. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter to keep up to date with all things PMO, and read part two of this blog. 

This blog was co-written by Emma-Ruth Arnaz-Pemberton and Neil Banks 

Neil Banks
 is an Associate Member of APM and a PMO SIG committee member. Throughout his career he has worked on delivering large-scale change across public and private sector organisations and has a keen interest in improving the effectiveness of dispersed teams through the use of technology and new ways of working. He views PMO as a key part of sustainable project delivery and management of change in organisations.


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