Getting a PMO Right is Worth the Effort

I want to say thanks to the PMO Sig for the PMO Symposium they held this week in Atlanta!  It was informative and had some really good information on how to setup and improve PMOs.  This week I wanted to share some thoughts on getting your PMO right.

The Project Management Office is a repository of corporate knowledge and best practices that help sustain and grow an organization’s business through more effective project management. The PMO brokers between IT and other divisions, it reviews deliverables for compliance with standards and stakeholder requirements, and provides training, mentoring, and resources to project managers and developers. For newcomers to the Blog, back in February 2009, I wrote about when an organization needs a PMO. To recap—you need a PMO when:

  • The development effort crosses multiple departments with different stakeholders
  • Staff is being shared across several projects
  • Projects are complex and last over several years or have hundreds of workers during the project’s  lifecycle
  • There is an outside independent validation or audit
  • The project has special compliance requirements
  • The organization desires a single methodology across multiple programs

In today’s tough economic climate, the contribution that the PMO makes to ensuring each project produces results that meet organizational and stakeholder goals has increased in relevance and importance. So why is it so hard to get a PMO right?

A tongue-in-cheek blog post, “10 Ways to Destroy the Effectiveness of Your Project Management Office” by Alec Satin captured a few of the bad decisions organizations make in their PMOs. Here are a couple of gems from his post:   

  • Make sure to set up a climate of fear by emphasizing the penalties for non-compliance.
  • Locate the PMO as far away from project managers as possible.
  • Leave the vision to Oprah and Deepak—PMs should focus on getting the work done. They don’t need to know about business goals, objectives and customer needs.

There are other reasons organizations fail in effectively implementing a PMO. One of the reasons is lack of patience. It takes time for the PMO to get established and make a difference in ROI and productivity. In its initial stages, “the PMO is a cost without a measureable return”. Pulling the plug too soon means the investment will never be realized in improved performance.

An organization’s culture can quickly defeat the positive potential of a PMO. Creating a PMO requires changing the organization’s how-we-do-things-here—sometimes in big ways. If an organization has a cowboy culture where each PM runs his or her own show, getting everyone on board with common processes and metrics, sharing key resources, and using lessons learned from other projects are alien concepts.

Placing the PMO at the wrong reporting level is another problem. If the PMO is treated as just another support service like training or SQA, it will not have the clout, respect, or visibility to make a difference. In the “my vice-president is bigger than your vice-president” world, hanging out at the bottom of the organization chart is not the right place for an effective PMO.

Is a PMO worth it the cost and effort? ABSOLUTELY!
From, “This European PMO Value Survey conducted on behalf of CA highlights that a centralized PMO can significantly improve the delivery of projects for an organization and help improve business performance.”

From Joliet College, “IT organizations that have organizational standards for project management, including a program office with suitable governance, will experience half the major project costs overruns, delays and cancellations of those that fail to do so.”

From Paul Checkowskyin of General Motors (GM), “[Organizations] themselves are finding ways to leverage these PMO capabilities and this expertise especially helping to identify and resolve integration issues, mentoring of enabling processes and eliminating deployment roadblocks. So I think it’s been very positive…”  

Our experience at Cognitive Technologies has shown that organizations executing complex software development projects using a PMO as part of standard operating procedures report greater control, more effective collaboration and increased communication. Organizations supported by an effective PMO have greater confidence in their project bidding and delivery promises.

Share your experiences with a Project Management Office via the comments section.


3 Responses to “Getting a PMO Right is Worth the Effort”

  1. David Andres Says:

    Spot on. I like it when you say “… lack of patience. It takes time for the PMO to get established and make a difference in ROI and productivity” Totally agree. I think PMOs should target few things and deliver fast for the company to perceive it as helpful, rather than thinking big and having to wait years for a “perfect” full blown PM system.

  2. Joanne Wortman Says:

    Great post. I would add the following to the list of PMO drivers:

    -Multiple projects share interdependent milestones
    -Multiple projects that will impact the same groups of end-users

    Another reason for failure could be inadequate attention to articulating the value proposition and “selling the change” into the organization.

  3. What is PMBOK All About? « Fear No Project – A Project Management Blog Says:

    […] years. In the past, I wrote two blogs about my experience and recommendations on PMOs including Getting a PMO Right is Worth the Effort and Do you need a […]

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