What does a good PMO (project/programme management office) look like?
The standard response is often to describe a best practice model and list some core services, but I want to challenge this perspective. In my view, it doesn’t really matter what activities your PMO provides; it is far more important to ensure they add the right value to your organization.
So let’s look at it in a different way:
Could the PMO be described as adding value to your organization’s strategic portfolio? Does your PMO allow your senior responsible owners (SROs)/board executive to make sound financial decisions, such as project closure or prioritization? Does it ensure business critical projects are set up for success? If you can’t say that your PMO does one of these things, and it should be, then something is clearly wrong.
But before you can start to reshape your PMO, check what your stakeholders really require from it. If they need good data to allow them to make financial decisions, that is absolutely what they must have because that is part of ensuring the strategy can move forward.
So how can you ensure the PMO adds maximum value to the organization?
1. Undertake up-front and ongoing stakeholder engagement.
Check the requirements of both the demand side (SROs, the executive and steering group) and the often over-looked supply side (project, portfolio and programme managers). Once clarified, your temptation may be to just keep going with that clarity of purpose. But don’t: you need to re-test against the potentially shifting portfolio and organizational dynamics as well as your stakeholders’ needs. Use this re-validation process as a positive way of ensuring your PMO remains aligned with what is required and valued.
2. Make sure you have the right people, with the right capabilities, in key roles.
While this is not easy and every PMO will demand a different set of capabilities, depending on its size and complexity, there are some obvious areas to look out for:
- Stakeholder engagement: to ensure the right people are receiving the right messages in the right way – avoiding any misinterpretation
- Project management: to be able to support and/or challenge with credibility
- Analysis: to be able to collate, interpret and analyze often complex data
- Communication: to listen to and be able to present the right messages in the right way so that they will be accepted – even the difficult ones
- Negotiation: to act as a broker between the sponsor, business and PMO. Not usually a daily demand but potentially an invaluable skill at enterprise level.
3. Ensure everything you report is as good as it can be and that sound decisions can be based on it
This is one of the most critical things that SROs, executives and boards need. They are sensitive to developing problems that could have been anticipated from the data, so you need to be confident that information is reliable and credible.
I believe there are some critical services provided by PMOs that are invaluable, but the function is getting a bad press in some quarters where it is seen as an ineffective overhead.
We need to change this mindset. Taking steps to redefine the services that can and should be offered in a wider business context will help to establish these as essential elements that the organization not only requires but, more importantly, values.
Read more AXELOS Blog Posts from Jane Nichols
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The agile imperative for project managers
5 winning ways with agile and programme management in 2017
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Making day-to-day use of knowledge gained through your best practice qualifications
Which PPM qualification is right for you? A guide for practitioners and employers