What is a PMO and When Do you Need One?
Willy-nilly. That’s a funny word. Willy-nilly. It popped up on my project management cliché’ radar about 6 years or so ago. It’s used in sentences such as “why is everything done so willy-nilly around here?”, or “you can’t run off and do what you want all willy-nilly.” I always took it to mean that people or processes were running hither and thither with very little control, supervision, accountability, or concern for the others and the big picture.
I finally decided to look it up. I thought I wouldn’t find it at Dictionary.com but much to my delight “willy-nilly” was an entry.
It’s a wonderful word that is both an adverb and an adjective. It goes back to the early 1600s and originates from the phrase “will ye, nill ye” which basically means “with or without the will of the person”.
In today’s terms it means “haphazardly” as an adverb and as an adjective it means “occurring or taking place whether desired or not”.
To state the obvious, willy-nilly is not something you want to have associated with your projects.
When Do You Need a PMO?
We are going to answer the second part of the question first (regarding “what is a PMO and when do you need one?).
With the definition of willy-nilly in mind, the question to “when do you need a PMO (project management office) is simple. You need a PMO when you hear someone say “projects just seem to get done willy-nilly around here”.
Now, you may not hear that exact expression, but you get the point. When you find that people, processes, and technology are stumbling over each other to finish projects and there’s no way of tracking projects successfully then it may be time to consider implementing a PMO.
What is a PMO?
There are many variations and shades of color about exactly what defines a PMO. But, one thing all PMOs have in common is that it is a centralized group of people (or department) that is set up for the purpose of applying the skill set or profession of project management across the organization. In other words, a PMO is an anti-willy-nilly device that brings accountability, visibility, and a sense of discipline to the company.
Four Core Services of a PMO
Knowing that a PMO is an anti-willy-nilly device, what are the primary services that a PMO offers to an organization? Below are a few:
1. Standardization of Reporting – Most companies that grow quickly also grow in silos. Everyone is so caught up and justifiably concerned with what is happening under their own jurisdiction, they put reports and metrics in place that they can use to effectively monitor the progress of their departments.
This works great for them because they know what these reports mean. Marketing has a certain definition of ‘complete’. Engineering has another definition for ‘in progress’. The Quality Assurance team has another definition for what ‘rework’ means. The problem is that there is not one set of consistent definitions or reports across the enterprise.
This is OK in the short-term when a company may be small and people keep in constant communication with each other. But, as a company grows and team members become more disconnected this can become a nagging problem that continues to devolve and get worse.
This is especially true when upper management has to sort through disparate, disconnected, and sometimes flawed information to make proper decisions.
A primary function of a Project Management is to standardize the entire reporting process. This means identifying the best of the best of all the departments that are involved, coming to an agreement on common definitions, and then them implementing easy to use, easy to access, and easy to understand reports across the entire organization.
2. Standardization of Processes – A second core service for any that ask the question “what is a pmo” has to do with developing a set of standard processes for projects to be managed within the company. The same problem with reporting in a silo-ed environment described above can creep into a company’s approach with processes. Inconsistent reporting is bad, but inconsistent processes are even worse.
One department may feel that it’s perfectly fine to have the same person who worked on a particular deliverable to sign off and say that it passes a quality check. Another department may gasp in horror if they heard of such a thing. There are no consistent processes in place where someone can feel 100% confident that what holds true for one deliverable holds true for all deliverables.
This is where a PMO’s services come into play.
A PMO is in the unique position of transcending organizational boundaries and coming up with a set of processes that work across all departments.
Is it easy?
No. It’s hard to assimilate and aggregate what one department does and tie it into what another department does so work can seamlessly move from one group to the next. Is it worth it? Absolutely!
3. Project Portfolio Management – What is a PMO and when do you need one? When you are not sure of what’s going on within the company and you do not have a clear understanding of priorities.
Every salesperson that sells a project to a client is going to believe that their project is a priority. They will beg, borrow, and steal to make sure the proper resources are working on their project that they committed to the client. That’s their job.
The problem is that there are 6 other salespeople who are out selling and feel that their project is top priority. You know that there are only so many resources in the company and that the conflicting demands placed upon them is sure to burn them out. This is where “willy-nilly” can really become evident.
The service provided by a good PMO is the ability to prioritize projects that are truly the most important and allocate resources accordingly. These may be projects that are strategic to a company’s future growth, or they may be projects that are necessary to make this month’s payroll.
Every circumstance is going to be different, but it takes this objective group found in the PMO to manage and prioritize a company’s portfolio of projects.
4. Management of the Project Support Team – A PMO is the central repository of all things related to project management. This includes the resources that allow professional project management to occur.
The final core service a PMO serves is to manage the project support team. This will most likely include Project Coordinators, Project Managers, PMP Certified Project Managers, potentially Program Managers and possibly even Business Analysts.
It is with this central group of people that projects, reporting, and processes can be effectively managed to get the most done.
So, if you hear the expression “willy-nilly” you now know its origin. With a renewed understanding of what is a PMO and when do you need one…just make sure it’s not applied to your projects!
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