How many project management offices have you been involved in or led? How many, in your opinion, have been successful? How many have served their purpose, helped the organization, properly equipped the projects managers, and positioned themselves for long term ongoing project successes?
I was reading about a 2012 survey indicating that 87% of organizations now have some form of project management office (PMO). That was an increase of 40 percentage points from a similar survey in 2000. Yes, most organizations now have PMOs. But are they effective? According to an April 2010 survey that I conducted of project managers and PM-related staff, the answer is no. 58% of respondents indicated that they did not feel their PMO was effective. Only 34% said that their PMO had good repeatable processes, procedures and templates in place to help them do their jobs well. And a full 47% indicated that their company’s senior leadership had no visible involvement in the PMO. One of my personal strong beliefs – backed by seeing failures where this was not the case – is that the senior leadership needs to back the PMO, have buy-in to the PMO and support it in order for it to succeed.
So what can we do to improve our project management offices today? This question is for PMO directors who are running the organization. This is for project managers who are part of the PMO staff. This is also for executive leaders of the organization that have an active project management office already in place. What can any of us do – today – to improve our PMO so that tomorrow our projects and project managers are better equipped to succeed on the project engagements that they are charged with leading?
Get leadership involved.
This one is key. If you are executive management, get involved with the PMO. Look at the portfolio of projects. Help with funding. Show support of the director and the project managers. If you’re the PMO director or a project manager in the organization, invite a member of senior management to several customer project status meetings as a show of interest in the customers and the projects you’re leading for them. Get them to attend several project kickoff meetings if they don’t already do that. If your CEO is in attendance at a formal project kickoff meeting, I guarantee that you’re customer will feel important from Day One. And that’s a very good thing.
It’s unbelievable how many organizations out there have PMOs that are just basically ‘winging’ it. I have no problem with project managers using what seems to work best for them – I’m one of them. But some standards need to be in place. And I think that it is absolutely necessary that a PMO has policies and procedures in place that are designed to help project managers repeat project successes on an ongoing basis. And that starts with a methodology that includes project templates like project schedule shells, project planning documents, and test cases that they can use as starting points to produce good project deliverables over and over again for their project customers. They’ll save time in the long run, increase project profitability, and in the case of project schedules the lesser experienced project managers will have more confidence that they are including the important tasks right from the beginning.
This one may seem a bit odd, but I think it’s important. A successful PMO is a visible PMO. Why? Because if no one realizes you exist and that you are benefiting the organization, no one will take you seriously. Promote the project management office within the company. Have a few informational sessions led by the PMO director and/or senior project managers to discuss the benefits of the PMO and the way they run projects to the rest of the organization. It will help promote use of the PMO for internal projects and for external projects from business units that otherwise may have run their own ‘projects.’ As a result it will certainly bring revenue into the project management office as it’s project portfolio grows.
There is absolutely no guarantee for PMO success. But leadership, money and visibility are three key ingredients to PMO effectiveness. By starting with these three concepts or actions mentioned above, you can quickly work to improve the effectiveness – and hopefully the success – of your organization’s project management office.