Project Management Office (PMO) – A Quick Guide

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Do you know your PMOs? If you’re leading a project, you need to. They have an impact on your project. Do you know what that impact is?

If you can or can’t answer those questions, you should read further. Whether you think you know it all or are still struggling to figure out what the PMO acronym stands for, then a little education is not going to hurt.

What Is a PMO, or Project Management Office?

Yes, PMO is an acronym, which stands for project management office. But, what does PMO really mean? It’s a group or department within the organization whose job it is to define and maintain the standards for project management within that business. Think of the project management office as the regulatory commission that is looking to standardize and introduce economies of repetition to the execution of a project to maintain productivity.

Therefore, it is a source of documentation. It also offers guidance to the project and develops metrics on the practice of project management and its execution. 

Project management offices have been around since the 1800s, though their function has evolved over time. They began as a type of national governance of the agricultural industry, but by 1939 was beginning to be referred to as a project management office. What we know today wasn’t in existence until the 1950s, and today they are a dynamic entity used to solve specific issues. 

What Are the Functions of a PMO? 

The project management office has not always merely been about standards and methodologies. They can be part of strategic project management by facilitating, or even owning the portfolio management process. In this capacity they can monitor and report on active projects and portfolios, reporting progress to top-tier management to foster strategic decision making. 

There is a range of control and influence that the PMO can have on the project. There are different structure types.

  •  Supportive, a consultative role
  •  Controlling, requiring compliance 
  •  Directive, controlling and managing project

But in general most PMOs act as the backbone of a successful project management approach in any organization. They offer support and information. Most provide these services to their organizations and projects.

  •  Governance: They make sure that the right decisions are being made by the right people based on the right information. This can also include auditing and peer reviews, developing project structure and making sure there’s accountability.
  •  Transparency: Provides information that is relevant and accurate to support effective decision-making.
  •  Reusability: There’s no reason to “reinvent the wheel,” so they are a depository of learned lessons, offering templates and best practices from previous successful projects.
  •  Delivery Support: Facilitate project teams and help them do their jobs more effectively and productively by streamlining process and bureaucracy, offering training, mentoring and quality assurance
  •  Traceability: They also manage documentation, project history and organizational knowledge. 

pmo defined

What Are the Different Types of Offices in a PMO?

There are usually three kinds of project management offices, at least when looking through the lens of a organizational exposure perspective.

  1.  Enterprise
  2.  Organizational
  3.  Special Purpose

But there can be many ways to apply project management governance. It’s not wise to limit their types to a few, even if many land in those three buckets. 

According to the International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, “many PMO typologies exist from the 1800s as a collective for running government strategy in the agricultural sector, to the civil infrastructure projects of the early 20th century to the early 2000s when the PMO became a commodity to the traded and traded upon. It would be impossible to group PMOs into specific types.” 

How Does a PMO Benefit Your Business?

Now that you know what more about what a PMO is and what it does, the reason a project is going to benefit from having one is beginning to become clear.

Offers Guidance

First, when you have one you have an agency to align the project or portfolio of projects with an eye focused on the future strategy of the organization. This allows you to work within the boundaries of a long-term plan and therefore be more efficient in your decision-making thanks to PM office guidance. 

Helps Keep Projects on Track

They also act like an external mechanism to deliver projects successfully. Due to their metrics-based assessment, they can help keep projects on track and alert you when scheduling, budget and other scope issues are threatening to derail the project. That way you can act when issues arise—before they become potentially project-ending problems.

PMO has a Big Picture View

When you’re working on a portfolio of projects, the project group has a keen understanding of the links between those projects. They are aware of the dependencies that can impact one to the other. This provides you with a bird’s-eye view of the work that is often not part of your purview, putting your actions in play on a larger canvas, so you can see how a small move could have larger repercussions. 

Helps with Communications

They can also been seen as another arm of your communications plan. They have the ears of your stakeholders in ways that you might not, and therefore can facilitate communications with them, both freeing you up for other work and making sure your message is delivered and understood. Project management governance can help with communications across the board, too, as they often have working relations with other parts of the project or program participants that you might not be as intimate with.

PMO Shares Resources Throughout the Organization

Setting one up also allows for the sharing of resources. If your resources are limited but your projects aren’t, a PMO can strategize the use of those resources across your project or program to best use them productively.

When you have yours aligned to a business case and strategy, there are many benefits like this, from support to portfolio management, centralizing training and project management tools, as well as mentoring. Of course, a project management office alone is not enough. You need good people, proven processes and supporting technology to get the most out it. 

How to Set Up a Project Management Office

You’re probably wondering how you can set up a PMO in your organization. Think of it as another project. So, therefore, you’re going to follow a similar process.

  •  Analyze the situation
  •  Form a plan to respond to that situation
  •  Implement that plan

You’ll need to find someone to back it, someone in management with knowledge of change management. That person must understand the venture fully, be fully onboard with believing in its benefits and then actively promote the process of setting it up.

Step 1: Analyze the Situation

Now analyze the current situation by checking the project management methodologies, processes and tools that are being used for any signs of weakness. Also, do the same analysis with any ongoing projects. You’ll want to create a complete and up-to-date informative project list, prioritized if possible, to determine who is working on what. 

With this information you can document the project management majority of the organization, which is crucial paperwork to refer to later on as you apply improvements to the system. But remember, be delicate in your report and not neglect the positive, as the process can get very political. No one is served by ruffling feathers. 

Determine the goals of the project management governess by getting a stakeholder analysis. But first you have to identify the stakeholders and find out what benefits they’re looking for. Stakeholders can include management, executives, project managers, controllers, even staff members. They’re all going to want to see what the value is, so you have to make that clear from the get-go.

Related: Stakeholder Management Strategies & Tools

Step 2: Design the Plan

Begin by defining its areas of responsibility, hierarchical position and competencies. What’s its mandate and services? For example, is the PMO a service unit providing tools as required or is it set up for training and support of project managers to ensure project quality? 

There are many areas that a PMO can find itself responsible for, some of which are sketched out in the list below.

  •  Training and coaching, attending to staff development for project members and teams
  •  Operation support, holding workshops, or temporarily taking on work as project controller
  •  Methods and processes, which might include pm tools
  •  Strategic project management office, responsible for project setup and implementation, selecting projects and prioritizing them through cost-benefit analysis and other conditions

Don’t overload your project management office from the start. That’s a recipe for disaster. To ensure you’re productive, stick to just one or maybe two areas of responsibility. Your stakeholders might want to overload the it with too many responsibilities and task. Speak with them about realistic goals and practical path forward. 

Remember that the PMO is a new entity in the organization, so you it’s going to take time before it’s commonplace. There will be a learning curve. Make sure all employees are introduced to the PMO and briefed on what it’s responsible for. This provides clarity and promotes the its services so people use them. 

Step 3: Implement the Plan

Just as you would in any other project plan, proceed step-by-step, provide the IT infrastructure, and finalize the PMO staff training. Focus on change management, as this is one of the foundational tasks. And you want to cement organizational buy-in, so it doesn’t hurt to reiterate the beneficial reasons for implementing it. 

When you’re communicating the PMO’s areas of responsibility you can do so on the company’s intranet or whatever platform or venue is best. However you disseminate this information, be sure to include these three things:

  1.  What are its services
  2.  The processes in the company’s project management
  3.  Who is the team leader

Once you’re in operation and internal staff has assumed full responsibility, if it had been set up by an external consultancy, the new project office has to persuade all stakeholders of the benefits it brings. This usually results in the following phases: 

  • Scenario 1: Early success, happy stakeholders.
  • Scenario 2: Period of disenchantment, which is not unusual after implementing a new structure or competency, but it can lead to some skepticism. 
  • Scenario 3: Initial skepticism evolves into constructive collaboration as the project office establishes itself in the culture.

PMO with ProjectManager.com

If a PMO is successful, it’s monitoring and tracking projects in a timely fashion, so it can respond if they are moving away from the strategy and objectives of the overall organization. ProjectManager.com has the portfolio management software you need to make your PMO work.

One advantage of using ProjectManager.com to keep your project portfolio on track is that is works across the organization, offering transparency. Transparency allows a PMO to maintain alignment, manage change and allocate budgets and resources across the enterprise.

The feature that offers the biggest bang for your PMO buck is ProjectManager.com’s real-time project portfolio dashboard. It is able to track project progress as it happens by monitoring a variety of project metrics. Because our software is cloud-based, this data can be updated from anywhere and tracked at anytime.

real-time portfolio dashboard
Get ProjectManager.com’s real-time portfolio dashboard to help your PMO do its job better⁠—Try it free

 

The graphs and charts of the real-time project portfolio dashboard can also be filtered to provide just the amount of info you need, or it can dig into specifics. The clear visuals make it easier than ever to stay on top of portfolios, so the PMO can act timely.

ProjectManager.com also allows you to create project groups for individual projects, portfolios or portfolios within larger portfolios. Now, you have reporting organized as you need it, by team, region, schedule, manager, etc. This allows the PMO to better analyze the project or portfolio by the key data points they want to track.

Final Thoughts on PMOs

As noted earlier, a PMO’s success depends on appointing the right person to promote it. Sometimes they’re going to have to demand unpopular changes, so the only way for them to be successful is with backing from management, clearly defined responsibilities and competencies. 

Then there’s the culture in the organization, and it will likely take time for the project management office to settle into this establishment smoothly. For this transition to occur successfully there must be transparency in the project environment. Therefore, how transparency is applied in the company culture is going to either help or be a hurdle. 

But once it has been established and proves its usefulness, you’ll find it an integral part of project management. It helps support success and provides overview for project managers who might not see the whole picture as they often are pulled to work in the weeds. 

A PMO is only successful when it has the right tools to provide it with the information it needs to oversee the project or programs it’s responsible for. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management tool that can manage one or a portfolio of projects, getting real-time data that is instantly charted on its dashboard for at-a-glance information and a deeper dive into the details as needed. Try it yourself and see how it improves you project management by taking this free 30-day trial.

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