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.


The Importance of Continuing Your Project Management Education

New project managers can learn to be good project managers and good project managers can learn to be better. And PMO staff members should continuosly find out what the latest tools and techniques are in the industry!  I believe this because I have seen it and I have practiced it.

This coming weekend—November 8-10) is a terrific opportunity for project managers and PMO directors to learn from the best at the 2009 PMO Symposium. The theme of this year’s symposium is “Building the Framework for Success” and it is being held at the five-star Intercontinental Buckhead Hotel in Atlanta near Lennox mall.

Symposium attendees will gain insight into issues facing PMOs across a variety of organizations and guidance on establishing and building an effective PMO. Symposium attendees may earn up to 20 PDUs by attending PMO Symposium sessions.

The conference begins with an opening presentation by the PMOSIG Board of Directors and invited guests who will discuss PMO challenges, opportunities, and best practices. Following the group opening presentation are breakout sessions—three each hour—from PM professionals and vendors. This is a great opportunity to learn from the experience of others. Each session has time for questions built-in, so you can get specific consultation on your project management and PMO.

I am especially excited about the keynote address on Monday morning because it focuses on a topic of professional interest and relevance to project managers operating in today’s tough economic climate. Kent Crawford, founder and CEO of Project Management Solutions, Inc. and PM College, will be discussing how to align the PMO with business needs. Kent is a PMI Fellow and a knowledgeable and interesting speaker.

The Tuesday morning keynote follows the theme of improving and demonstrating the organizational value of an active PMO. Craig Symons, vice-president of Forrester Research, focuses his research on PMO business alignment and running IT like a business. You can see additional information on all the topics and speakers on the symposium’s agenda page.

Networking opportunities with other project managers and presenters is available each evening at receptions following the formal presentations. My company is an exhibitor at the conference and we hope to meet and talk with you there! In fact, please be sure to come by our booth to register for the Xbox 360 and PGR4 racing game we will be giving away.

Cognitive Technologies is a Gold Sponsor for the 2009 PMO Symposium.

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