You may have heard the acronym PMO, and a few things may have crossed your mind. PMO? What’s that, and do I need one? Will a project management office (PMO) just create more bureaucracy? Is this a fleeting trend, or could it really provide the kind of control I need in today’s business environment?


If you’re looking for more control and accountability (and what executive isn’t), a PMO is a great place to start, but like all good ideas, it needs some watering and care.


Don’t make a declaration in a memo and have a PMO on paper only. If it’s going to work, it needs to be a living, breathing system within your organization. Before you decide if it’s worth it for your organization, let’s look at what a PMO can do, what you can expect and how to get started.


Seven Things a PMO Can Do


  1. Improve project portfolio management: Develop the capability to select the right mix of projects that most effectively and efficiently meet strategic objectives.
  2. Provide project support: Build a conduit for project management guidance to project managers in business units.
  3. Create project management process/methodology: Develop and implement a consistent and standardized process.
  4. Conduct training: Build training programs and develop a staff of program managers who can manage multiple projects across the enterprise.
  5. Establish a home base for project managers: Create a centralized office from which project managers operate as a cohesive team that works across an enterprise.
  6. Become internal consultants and mentors: Advise employees about best practices.
  7. Assess project management software tools: Select and maintain project management tools that will be useful for the capabilities of the staff.

What Can You Expect?


First, set realistic expectations. Don’t bring in a golden trumpet and present extravagant returns when you don’t have anything to benchmark against.


Payoff in the power of discipline. You can boost organizational efficiency, cut costs and improve on project delivery, but even more important is the path to get there. The PMO provides discipline that is often lacking in organizations. It helps you to deliver strategic projects with more consistency and efficiency.


Standardization and Sarbanes-Oxley. PMOs can provide the structure needed to both standardize project management practices and improve project portfolio management. A PMO can help your organization determine methodologies for repeatable processes. In the U.S., The Sarbanes-Oxley Act has been a huge driver for the development of PMOs. The act requires companies to disclose investments that may affect a company's operating performance. Many large projects fall under that definition. With or without Sarbanes-Oxley, PMOs give a company a central brain for project management and provide companies with a systemic way to keep a closer watch on project expenses and progress.


Focus on culture. Many PMOs fail when they are not set up to work in a company’s culture. If you look at other important strategic initiatives in your company that were successes, you’ll generally find that they worked because they flowed within your business culture. Make sure your PMO does the same. Don’t isolate it as some solo test project. Make it part of the organization’s very fabric.


Image check. Before you embark on building a PMO, take the temperature of your organization. Do you need to educate them first about what a PMO may do for your organization? If PMO has a negative connotation for whatever reason, sometimes a name change is all it takes. For example, A Center for Project Excellence. The objectives are the same, but the name may support a corporate initiative already underway.


Getting Started


Know where you’re going. What are your organization's goals, and how is the PMO supporting those goals? As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Hitch your wagon to a star.” If management is focusing on a strategic initiative, make sure that your PMO is part of it. Don’t measure and manage what management doesn’t care about.


Decide what shape your PMO should take. There are two basic models: A consultancy hub that provides project managers in business units with training, guidance and best practices; and a best practices center with project managers on staff who are loaned out to business units to work on projects.


Build a good team with solid leadership and clear ownership. Don’t employ people with downtime to lead the PMO. Choose strong leaders who have a direct line to you.


Track the success and share the results. Don’t treat the PMO as a top-secret international security mission. Share the mission and its successes, failures and benefits with the entire organization.


Use baseline controls. Decide what you want to track and set expectations for what you want to benchmark against.


Be relentless in your pursuit of performance. Results come from diligence and dogged determination. Support your PMO with clear commitment and support from the senior-most levels of your organization.


When can you see the bottom-line impact? Once you have a baseline to measure against, you can see results in less than three years. You’ll save money by empowering better resource management, reducing project failures and prioritizing and supporting those projects that offer the biggest payback.


Make it actionable not administrative. Avoid the pitfall of making the PMO a purely administrative office. Instead, make it the center of change, a catalyst for improvement across your organization with tangible and realistic strategic goals.


Success starts at the top. If the vision of the PMO is coming from the top, it’s already on the road to success. If the PMO is on management’s radar screen, then your leadership team will focus on it too. This will give the PMO the support it needs to bring long-term results to your organization.

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