Large businesses are complex when they are running multiple projects to achieve change and growth. In fact, businesses in adverse positions must make changes but in turn, this drives complexity into an already challenging situation. A PMO or Project Management Office can help ease everything and organise chaos. In this article, you’ll find out what does a PMO do and how a PMO can it help businesses to achieve and deliver the right change portfolio.

Firstly, what does PMO stand for?

Depending on the business, PMO stands for “Project Management Office” or “Programme Management Office”. The PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) promotes a PMO as Project Management Office. I’ve also heard instances where the “O” stands for “organisation”.

However, whatever the PMO acronym stands for, one thing is generally consistent. That’s what their role should be.

What should a PMO do?

Essentially, a PMO is a team or department that controls projects and change initiatives across the business. They understand the strategy and organise projects to be able to fulfil this strategy. Also, they can be responsible for implementing best practices across the business change teams. In addition, they should be the standard bearer when it comes to maintaining high quality project management and change management standards.

The most effective organisations at delivering change believe in having a PMO. The PMI’s “Pulse of the Profession” survey in 2017 showed that 81% of champion organisations have a PMO. That’s compared to 59% of businesses that under-perform when it comes to project proficiency. So, PMOs can help businesses structure their project portfolio when they are used effectively.

Basically, a PMO should organise the chaos of running multiple change projects across different teams. On different timescales. And with different objectives. It brings clarity to the overall organisation and helps drive the right decisions.

When can a PMO fail?

PMOs can be seen as a saviour for organisations when they are first created. However, the PMO can soon risk becoming an administrative body. They can be perceived as adding “red tape” and hoops to jump through. Sometimes, a PMO can be seen as a team that slows down change and gets in the way. Sometimes, they can be seen as the “project management police” that are present to audit each project and each project manager.

Essentially, in my opinion, this is everything that a PMO should stand against!

Studies have shown that the lifecycle for PMOs can actually be quite short. A study by Duddy and Perry in 2010 found that 75% of PMOs will shut up shop within 3 years of their inception.

Some PMOs can start to use checklists to tick off what has been done and more importantly what a project manager has missed. Soon, this risks becoming a blame game or witch hunt for project managers that are getting things done by unconventional ways. So, consider this a PMO warning if you start seeing excessive and unhelpful use of checklists and project audits.

Read more about Project Management Office failures in this great PMI article.

What does a PMO do on a day to day basis?

The role of the Project Management Office will vary from company to company. It depends on factors such as the project maturity, the scale of change and organisational setup. There could also be a set up where you find smaller PMOs to act locally within an organisation with then a “master PMO” that sits centrally.

However, the day to day role of a PMO should contain 5 elements:

  1. Helping the board or executives to make decisions that deliver the business strategy
  2. Supporting and guiding project managers to make change happen
  3. Chamioning effective project management
  4. Reporting on projects so there is one version of the truth
  5. Ensuring consistency across the business to aid effective and fair decisions

Depending on the organisation set up, the Project Management Office may also act as an internal consultant. By working across projects, this can help deliver consistency and support the project managers.

The bottom line – PMOs should be accountable for delivering change

If a PMO shirks responsibility and becomes the “project management police”, you know they have failed. Instead, they should be accountable for delivering change. I believe that the failure of a project should be diverted by the PMO. This failure should be diverted ahead of time by supporting the project managers and setting them up for success. Plus, the PMO should be able to see the signs of failure and should step in to support the project and advise the organisation. This is when a Project Management Office becomes a powerhouse within a business and adds true value.

If you need to define the goals for a PMO, you may enjoy reading about setting SMART objectives. (Or, if you’ve had enough of the SMART acronym, have a look at these SMART goal alternatives.

project management expert Oliver BanksAbout the Author

Oliver Banks is an expert at delivering retail change projects and programmes. Whilst at Tesco, he set up and ran a couple of PMOs. One focused on improving replenishment and stock control in 2000+ stores. The other focused on store associate change across 300,000+ employees. So, he has a PMO T-shirt and has seen the challenges and opportunities! Since, he has advised companies to help them get the most out of their PMO set up.


project management expert Oliver Banks

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