I’ve never been imprisoned, but I have been in a PMO

Project Management Office
Is there value in a Project Management Office?

After the American colonies won their independence from England in 1783, the founding fathers feared that people would like their independence too much. They debated whether to have a constitution. Thomas Jefferson was against having a constitution because he didn’t want the dogma of so many rules. John Adams (a stubborn rule follower who probably would have made a great project manager) wanted a constitution to create a framework of law.

This is the framework of the classic debate that exists in our current day between our political parties. We all seem to disagree on how much governance people need.

We face a similar debate in the project management world in large organizations. Should we have a project management office? Do we need to centralize our project management approach for a more standardized way of doing things? Or do we hire experienced project managers and allow them the freedom to do their jobs without the dogma of inflicting our standards on them.

Why have a Project Management Office?

The purpose of a PMO is to help its constituents achieve their business objectives. Those constituents are the business groups for whom you run a project. If the organization has a centralized PMO, the business goes to them and requests a project manager to execute the project.

The assumption is that if you develop a set of good standards for project management, and have all of your project managers follow them, you will be more efficient. You’ll have a team of project managers that can run a project in roughly the same, predictable way for any of your business constituents.

According to the Project Management Institute, PMOs are designed to:

  • Reduce failed projects
  • Deliver projects under budget
  • Improve productivity
  • Deliver projects ahead of schedule
  • Increase cost savings

The objectives of most PMOs are:

Better Governance to certify that decisions are made with complete information by the right people.

Knowledge sharing to ensure that people within the group learn from other peoples’ experiences.

Support to make it easy for project teams to do their jobs with less bureaucracy, and to provide mentoring and training for higher quality.

Standardized approach to ensure consistent documentation and management approaches are utilized.

Misalignment with objectives

One could argue that that if the above mentioned things are the goal, then a project management office is a great idea. Many PMOs that I’ve been a part of have all of those objectives. Unfortunately, their execution takes them down another path.

In one organization I was part of, there was a weekly PMO meeting where every project manager took a turn giving the status of their project. Few of the projects were interrelated. This resulted in everybody wasting everybody else’s time.

Other PMOs seem obsessed with tracking trivial administrative activities. They routinely monitor timely submission of time sheets and other reporting activities. Compliance statistics – and non-compliant team members – are customarily shared in the weekly meeting.

A common objective of a project management office is to develop a standardized approach. This generally includes any document that is generated for the project. PMOs often develop a “one size fits all” mentality and requires every project to submit all of the standard deliverables. This results in PMs focused on mounds of paperwork, taking time from value-added activities of managing the project.

The irony is that the organization that was established to reduce bureaucracy often actually increases it.

How to build a better Project Management Office

A PMO’s leadership should focus on the following practices to make sure they are providing their constituents with the best possible service offering:

  • Develop a succinct list of objectives. Work with your business customers to develop a short list of objectives. Determine what they want from a PMO and focus on delivering that to them.
  • Focus every activity to those objectives. With everything you do, ask yourself the following two questions:
    • Does this help us achieve our objectives?
    • Does it add value to our customers?
  • Communicate with your customers. Meet with them regularly to verify that the objectives are still current. Find out if there are any areas where their objectives are not being met.
  • Query your project managers. Find out if the PMs see value in a centralized approach. Make sure they understand and are following all of the standards. Make adjustments where necessary.
  • Provide training. Make your meetings count by training and mentoring the project managers. Few of them care about the status of the other projects. But encouraging them to share their knowledge and experience will encourage learning and a more cohesive group.
  • Some may complain that the PMO restricts their freedom to manage the way they want to manage. It may be that their way is not as good as the PMO’s approach. But it could also lead to a discussion that results in changing an approach, or allowing more flexibility for multiple approaches.

Conclusion

Project management offices have a reputation for not adding value. To avoid this, they should take the time to determine the desired value needed by their customers. Then, they should make sure that all of their activities are focused on delivering that value.

The members of the PMO are a great collection of knowledge. They should be encouraged to share their knowledge with each other in a collaborative approach.

The concept of a project management office is almost always to provide value. It’s the execution that often takes much of the value away.

How effective is your project management office?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net