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So you think you need a PMO?

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A definition of a Project Management Office (PMO) is ‘a group or department within a business, agency or enterprise that defines and maintains standards for project management within the organisation.  The PMO strives to standardise and introduce economies of repetition in the execution of projects.'

In a presentation hosted by the Cornwall, Devon and Somerset Chapter of the SWWE Branch, Chris Mills (Secretary of the PMO SIG) outlined the evolution of the PMO from the 1970s (mainly in the Defence/Government sector) to the present day, when PMOs are now embedded in some 60% of worldwide organisations, where it is considered that they have a positive impact on project performance.

Simplistically, a PMO provides:

  • A repository for P3 methodology
  • A common language
  • A communications 'nerve centre'
  • Support to benefits delivery
  • Facilitation of maturity and capability
  • Facilitation of P3 delivery

Taking examples from his experience at project, programme and portfolio level, Chris outlined the challenges and key lessons of PMO implementation.  The choice of where to pitch a PMO relative to the parent organisation was an important starting point; pitched at the wrong level a PMO might not realise the full potential benefits.  Chris stated that the PMO SIG may seek to develop a maturity model to assist organisations in this aspect of PMO set-up.  It was also necessary not to ‘tread on toes’ whilst working closely within the organisation.

Benefits claimed from introducing a PMO include the the provision of training and development in a wide range of project management skills; optimisation of processes and tools and improvement of structure.

Chris identified the common reasons for PMO failure that had been collated from real life feedback.  The average life of a PMO was given as five years and this was mainly due to:

  • Lack of support/sponsor
  • The value of the PMO was difficult to quantify
  • Differing perceptions of the role of the PMO

The cost of running a PMO was estimated as being between 2 – 5% of cost of the project/programme/portfolio; the benefits included having a ‘centre of excellence’ that could be used as a means of spreading the ‘learning from experience’ gained- although Chris stressed the benefits of using workshops to spread knowledge rather than writing a report that may get filed away and never read.

Chris also explained the types of characteristics a PMO may take on and explored the importance of ensuring these complement the requirements of the organisation around it. For example, where P3M process is well understood and embedded a supportive style may be more appropriate than a controlling one.  He then outlined the functions within a PMO and how they align with the APM role definitions and competency framework, giving examples of career development paths that encouraged movement of staff between delivery of projects/programmes and the PMO function.

Chris was thanked for his interesting and thought provoking presentation and for his willingness to address the number and range of questions put to him.

Julian Harris, Cornwall, Devon and Somerset Chapter Representative.

The presentation can be viewed below and on the APM Resources page of the website.


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