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What makes a successful PMO?

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Tailoring the project management office (PMO) function to the specific needs of a given business, whether explicit or implied, is crucial. It should meet the organisation's needs when driving change. Successfully delivering projects to timely completion and realising desirable outcomes is what determines how 'fit for purpose' your PMO is. 

A PMO leader will define clear aspirations for the PMO, whether it's to be 'best in class' or even 'lowest cost' (note that cheaper isn't always better). The PMO should increase the likelihood of the organisation to deliver projects on time and within budget successfully.

The degree of PMO support will mirror the organisation's degree of complexity, the maturity of its leadership, staffing and skills to meet business demands. As projects move the business closer from present state to desired future state, it is vital to appreciate what is enabling successful change within the organisation.

Define a clear vision for the PMO

Start with the purpose of your function and align that with the goals of your organisation. By establishing that vision, you can create a common purpose, making it easier to maintain engagement and commitment. You must set the right culture for the function, which should link to the wider culture of the organisation. Include an effective reward system to encourage the desired behaviours.

Ideally, the PMO must act as a strategic partner within the business by knowing both its present state and strategic objectives, continually evolving the function's operating model in line with changing requirements within the organisation.

While the traditional PMO is process-driven, modern PMOs continually improve their approach to change – applying flexibility, learning agility and much shorter feedback cycles to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty as the new norm in delivering change.

For PMOs to act as strategic partners, it is crucial to get the context right concerning organisational interdependencies and constraints between projects. Proactively eliminate duplication of project efforts by taking an enterprise view of the business landscape. It's not just reallocating under-utilisation of funds to reinvest in other projects quickly. It's also to avoid investing in the wrong projects in the first place.

Effective stakeholder relationships and communication, supported by collaboration and cross-functional teamwork, is essential. Encourage early warning if a project will not meet the intended timing or outcomes, which avoids a waste of money – even if it means uncertainty for project resources.

Organised structure and standardised processes

Your PMO should be using technology to the fullest to provide timely, accurate and relevant information to key decision-makers. Work smarter, not harder by moving away from various spreadsheet templates to more integrated collaboration tools. Measure time and cost metrics against the quality of delivery.

Having the right software is one thing, but it still needs proactive project managers who can use that information to anticipate and correct failing projects before it's too late. Having robust, standardised processes in place will enable better assessments of whether a project is on track to meet their cost, schedule and scope objectives.

Where the path to success is unclear, the PMO steps in to manage uncertainty and ambiguity. Ensure that processes are not too rigid to allow for any tailoring to the structure to allow for the requirements of a particular project – whether a linear, iterative or hybrid methodology is required. Assign the appropriate resources to support that project based on that structure and method.

Update your skills

Good PMOs need the right balance of skills and experience. You want both seasoned professionals, plus people with the right enthusiasm and attitudes who can develop and grow into the roles.

The PMO needs to update itself constantly. Without keeping up to date with the latest trends, the PMO may risk losing relevance. Build effective, capable teams through continuous technical training, coaching and leadership development. 

Look at new technologies and business trends for opportunities to move the function and the business organisation forward. Continue to challenge whether it still makes sense to maintain legacy infrastructure.

A successful PMO must continue to remain relevant for the long term, building upon a reputation of trust and collaboration. It should be viewed as an integral part of the business.

Brought to you by Project journal, a free publication for APM Members.

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  1. Steve Martin
    Steve Martin 06 July 2021, 03:08 PM

    Great article, thank you. It has provided me with some ideas of how to re-energise our PMO, and make it more integral to the business's strategy & goals. At the moment, I see the PMO becoming side-lined as the company reacts to the turbulence that the pandemic has caused.

  2. Neil Banks
    Neil Banks 07 July 2022, 04:57 PM

    Thanks Dante - a really useful article and summary of some of the tensions that can exist with PMOs and organisations, particularly when the role of the PMO is underestimated or misunderstood. Having worked on projects with and without PMOs, I'd go for PMO every time. As projects are by their very nature ephemeral, in my view it is vital to have the stability of a centre of knowledge and excellence that can be called on for expertise and wisdom long after projects have finished.