What Is a PMO?
PMO is an acronym that stands for project management office. But, what does PMO really mean? It’s a group or department within the organization whose job 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 the execution of a project to maintain productivity. It offers guidance to projects and develops metrics on the practice of project management and its execution.
The project management office doesn’t always focus solely on 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. Watch the video below to learn more about managing project portfolios.
What Are the Functions of a PMO?
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, and by 1939 they were beginning to be referred to as project management offices. What we know as a PMO today wasn’t in existence until the 1950s, and now they are a dynamic entity used to solve specific issues.
There is a range of control and influence that the PMO can have on the project. There are several different structure types:
- Supportive, a consultative role
- Controlling, requiring compliance
- Directive, controlling and managing projects
In general most PMOs act as the backbone of a successful project management approach in any organization. They offer support and information. Most provide the following 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: They provide 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: They facilitate project teams and help them do their jobs more effectively by streamlining process and bureaucracy, offering training, mentoring and quality assurance.
- Traceability: They manage documentation, project history and organizational knowledge.
Essential PMO Tools
There’s a lot of ground to cover when discussing PMO tools: the demands on PMO software are broad and complex. PMOs need basic project management features such as task management, workflow management and planning tools, along with more advanced project portfolio features.
In addition, teams need to be able to collaborate and take control over their ongoing projects, as they all impact one another. This ensures that you’re keeping project processes standardized and meeting business goals and objectives.
Here are some essential PMO tools that no PMO should be without—all of which are included in ProjectManager.com.
The first step in any successful PMO software is that it works in real-time so you can see what’s happening as it happens, and teams get to collaborate.
Our software is cloud-based and is instantly updated. Teams know what to work on, and you get transparency into processes to keep projects running smoothly.
PMOs have lots of projects to manage. These projects are not isolated, and most complement each other. Therefore, it’s crucial that PMO software has a portfolio view to see all projects on one screen to be able to quickly note how they relate to one another.
We have multiple project views, including an overview feature where you get a high-level one of all your projects. You have the controls to group and organize them as you want, to drag and drop them into folders or create new folders for each client who needs more specialized attention.
Our software gives PMOs both broad and narrow views of projects. A real-time project portfolio dashboard tracks progress across six project metrics in colorful and easy to share graphs and charts. Get more detailed data with automated reports on status, tasks and timelines.
While a high-level view is good to track progress, if you’re dealing with standardizing processes and making sure every task is meeting the requirements across all projects, then you must have more detailed data.
With our portfolio roadmap, you see every project you’re managing in your PMO. All the projects are laid out on a timeline on a Gantt chart view. Now you can see each project at the task level and filter the Gantt to get just the information you need, whether that’s by assignee, project manager or customer. We help you make more accurate PMO forecasts.
Resources for a project include staff, equipment, materials and more. That’s just for one project. Resource management at the PMO level will help you manage those resources to keep your projects moving forward.
We have a resource management tool that can track, manage and report across your portfolio. You have visibility into your resources and can make sure they’re balanced so that each project has what it needs, when it needs it. Because our software is cloud-based, you can track your project’s performance against the planned work to make sure you’re staying on schedule.
Workload management is a window into a team’s tasks to make sure there are no imbalances. Team workloads vary. If you’re not keeping a close eye on who is tasked with what, teams can find themselves overworked or underworked. Neither is good for productivity or morale.
Our software gives you transparency into the workload of all your projects in easy-to-use color-coded pages. See at a glance who is overallocated and then reallocate resources right from the workload page to balance the team’s workload. It’s that simple: optimize resources in real-time. Now you can make data-driven decisions to better manage your teams in multiple projects.
There are many ways the PMO looks after their organization, from roadmaps that gather all the tasks of multiple projects on a shared timeline to looking at your projects through the lens of resources. But your most important resource is your teams, and PMOs need a team management tool that provides transparency into their work.
Our Team section makes it even easier to balance resources and assignments. Your projects’ resources appear on the team page, with task progress indicated as colors. There’s a priority level for tasks, too. You can filter the page by team members so that you have even more control over your team’s resources and workload.
Reporting is one of the key tools for tracking progress. You can look at the projects from a high-level dashboard view or drill down for more detailed data with reports. Reporting keeps projects on track and stakeholders updated on progress.
Reports can be customized by customer, priority and much more to show what you want to see for better PMO oversight. You can even get reports on specific projects in your PMO, all downloadable and shareable.
What Are the Different Types of Offices in a PMO?
Now that we know about PMO tools, let’s look at the different arenas where those tools can be applied. There are usually three kinds of project management offices, at least when looking through the lens of an organizational exposure perspective:
- 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 be 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 more about what a PMO is and what it does, we can examine why an organization should have a PMO and how a PMO benefits the organization as a whole.
The PMO Offers Guidance
First, when you have a PMO you have an agency to align the project or portfolio 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 quickly 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 another. 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 be 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 connected with.
PMO Shares Resources Throughout the Organization
Setting up a PMO 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 your projects aligned to a business case and strategy, there are many benefits 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 of 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, ideally someone in management with knowledge of change management. That person must totally understand the venture, be fully onboard with believing in its benefits and then actively promote the process of setting it up.
Step 1: Analyze the Situation
First, 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 do 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 system by getting a stakeholder analysis. 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.
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 project management tools
- 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 two areas of responsibility. Your stakeholders might want to overload it with too many responsibilities and tasks, so speak with them about realistic goals and practical paths forward.
Remember that the PMO is a new entity in the organization, so 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 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:
- What are its services
- The processes in the company’s project management
- Who is the team leader
Once you’re in operation and internal staff has assumed full responsibility, if it has 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.
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, and with 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 the PMO has been established and it begins to benefit your projects, you’ll find it an integral part of the organization as a whole. It helps support success and provides an overview for project managers who might not always see the whole picture, allowing them to do better work for their company and for their teams.
Ready to start a PMO at your business? Make sure you give them the best tools for the job. Sign up for a free trial of ProjectManager.com, so your PMO can have a positive impact on your organization.
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