What makes a PMO successful? (Part One)

Posted on: September 1st, 2020 by admin 1 Comment
The following series is by friend and colleague, Tom Carter, PMP
Frequently when meeting with organizations about starting or improving a Project Management Office (PMO) I am asked, “What makes a PMO successful?”
While there are numerous contributors to success, there are three that I believe are essential:
  1. Alignment of management expectations with the:
  • PMO reporting level and authority
  • PMO services and expected results
  • Number and skill level of the PMO staff.
  • An organizational charter communicating the PMO’s services and authority to the potential users of its services.
  • Results that demonstrate value to the business in the first:
    •  One hundred days
    • Six months

Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.

Alignment of Management Expectations:

The importance of alignment between expectations and capabilities cannot be overstated. A one person PMO is not going to rescue all of a company’s troubled projects, align and balance its project portfolio, create and deploy a product development life cycle and train/coach/mentor the project managers.

Similarly, a PMO with all junior staff will be less effective than a PMO staffed with experienced personnel. What can be accomplished is determined by both the number of staff and their capabilities. Successful implementation of a project office depends more on initial staffing than any other factor.[1] Make sure that what you are being asked to accomplish is consistent with your staff size and their abilities.

In addition to staffing levels and competence, the organizational placement of the PMO needs to be consistent with management expectations.  PMOs can report in at the company, division or department level and their services and influence are primarily determined by where they are positioned in that hierarchy.
A division level PMO often has responsibility for managing the portfolio of all the projects in the division. They have the positional level of authority and peer relationships necessary to successfully execute that assignment. A PMO at the department level does not. Make sure that what you are being asked to accomplish is consistent with your placement in the organization.

Organization charter:

A project charter is an essential document for achieving consensus on the problem/opportunity, business objectives, scope and structure of a project. An organizational charter accomplishes this for a PMO. The PMO charter defines and communicates the organizational mandate for the PMO to exist. It describes the services provided, how to engage the PMO, and the PMO’s authority in areas such as reporting and standards compliance. “Organizational politics aside, the greatest challenge that most organizations face is to define what the PMO’s purpose should be, and why it is being created.” [2]

Here are a few topics that you want to make sure to address in a PMO charter:

Business Problem/Opportunity What difficulties with projects is the organization experiencing? Is there a specific opportunity that the PMO was formed to pursue?

Organizational History If starting a PMO has been tried before and failed, it is important to discuss what factors contributed to the failure and what is going to be done differently this time. Alternatively, if there are other PMOs within the company that are successful, this section can be used to discuss how lessons learned from them will be applied to this startup.

Expected Benefits What are the expectations of the PMO’s immediate management chain and the users of its services? What is the value proposition for the PMO?
Organization Who are the people on the PMO staff?  How is the PMO organized?

One last thought; in addition to a PMO charter it is a good idea to prepare a “sales brochure” that describes the services offered by the PMO and how to contract with the PMO for service delivery. The brochure is a good focus for discussion and a good “leave-behind” when meeting with prospective users of the PMO services.

BTW, the folks over at Projectmanager.com  have a good article called The Ultimate Guide to… Project Management Office (PMO) along with a corresponding tool. You can check it out here.



One Response

  1. Valencia Paz says:

    “Successful implementation of a project office depends more on initial staffing than any other factor.” As a people-oriented PM, I agree that you should hire people equipped with skills and knowledge. And you should develop a solid relationship with them since the success of the project depends largely on them. Thank you for sharing this informative post!