I first came across the Project Management Office or PMO concept twenty-five years ago whilst working as a project manager for a large systems integrator. Most of my colleagues – myself included were initially unclear about the purpose of the PMO and assumed that we were all to be relocated to new offices. Eventually we all realised that the PMO was there to formalise previous reporting and administrative arrangements. Over time, it took on new duties designed both to support the project managers and to provide valuable management information regarding the whole portfolio of projects.
Fast forward 25 years and it seems most organisations who engage in project related work have a PMO of one sort or another. I have seen countless models of PMOs and have set up several of my own. All of these share common themes but none are the same and that is a good thing since every organisation is different and needs different things.
Some PMOs are there solely to provide administrative support to project managers. This might involve arranging meetings, taking minutes, time recording etc. At the other end of the spectrum, the PMO can have far reaching influence by being responsible for setting standards, selecting projects, performing compliance reviews, reporting, training, hiring etc. Often, the name used to describe the PMO will give some indication about the nature of the PMO but this serves only as an indication and should not be relied upon. The following names are often used:
- Project Support Office – often used to provide administrative support to a number of projects
- Project Management Office (PMO) – generic term which could be centralised, departmental or there to support one particular project
- Programme Management Office (PMO) – usually created to support a particular programme of work
- Enterprise Programme Office (ePMO) – often also called the Centre of Excellence or CoE and is often responsible for all project selection, delivery and reporting. This may exist at the top of a hierarchy of PMOs.
With such a diverse range of options it is important that anyone tasked with setting up or improving a PMO has a clear definition of what is needed and expected.
PMO as a Service Provider
The best way of looking at the PMO is to view it as a Service Provider which provides Services to its Customers. Therefore, by defining the services to be provided and the customers to whom the services are directed, we gain an understanding of the type of PMO required. In this case customers could be project managers, project sponsors, senior management and suppliers to name a few.
Agreeing the services and customers is not easy. According to “A new framework for understanding organisational project management through the PMO by Monique Aubry, Brian Hobbs, Denis Thuillier” there are 27 services and 21 different types of PMO. Selecting the right type for a given organization involves a great deal of effort, stakeholder engagement and soul searching. The temptation is to include more services than are actually needed or can be provided. The organization can only absorb so much change and the more services that are provide, the more expensive the PMO will be.
The 27 PMO services are listed below. These should be viewed for guidance only since each organization will want to apply different descriptions and may have additional services they need to make.
- Report project and programme status to senior management
- Develop and implement a standard project management methodology
- Monitor and control project and program performance
- Develop the competences (skills) of professionals, including training
- Implement and operate project management information systems
- Provide senior management with advice
- Maintain a balanced portfolio
- Provide scorecard reporting to senior management
- Promote project management as a discipline within the organization
- Implement continuous improvement of the PMO
- Participate in strategic planning in order to ensure projects align with business aims
- Provide mentoring, training and coaching for Project Managers
- Manage one or more portfolios
- Identify, select and prioritize new projects
- Manage project files/documentation; setting up a knowledge management repository
- Manage one or more programs
- Ensure compliance with project management methodology through regular audits
- Manage customer interfaces
- Provide a set of tools that can be customized to meet the specific needs of programs and projects
- Provide specialized tasks (services) for project managers such as Admin, Room Booking etc
- Allocate (and share) resources between projects
- Carry out post-project management reviews (lessons learned)Operational
- Implement and manage the database of lessons learned or knowledge repository
- Implement and manage the risk and issues database
- Manage program benefits
- Networking and environmental scanning, mapping project relationships and environment within the organization and external to it
- Recruit, select, evaluate and decide on the salaries of project managers; establish a project management career path
As you can see, the full range of services will be beyond all but the most mature organisations. That said, it is just as important to consciously exclude services than it is to include them. This provides much needed clarity to the PMO’s customers about what they can expect. Of course, the whole PMO scoping exercise should be carried out with input from a cross section of stakeholders including different customer types. Where a particular service is not required in its entirety, some aspects or elements may be necessary.
Agreeing the PMO Charter
It is a good idea to set out the services both in and out of scope in the form of a PMO Charter. This PMO Charter describes the catalogue of services it provides (PMO Scope), who the customers are and what the customer can expect. It may also provide valuable context about the organization’s governance in order to explain how the PMO fits in. The PMO Charter would cover the following:
- PMO Scope (enterprise, departmental/hub, programme)
- Duration (permanent or temporary)
- PMO Approach (strategic, tactical, operational)
- Functions / Services required and relative priorities
- PMO Customers and SLAs
- PMO Maturity (current baseline & target baseline)
- People (experience, knowledge, numbers, gaps)
- Tools (current tools, effectiveness, desire for change)
- Processes (scope, quality, uptake, gaps)
- KPIs or CSFs
Setting up the PMO as a Project
It would be ironic if such a significant change could be implemented outside of any governance that the PMO is there to enforce. However, this is indeed what happens in some instances. Be in no doubt, setting up a PMO is every bit a project as any other and so should be managed as such. This means a project board, project manager, sponsor and all the rest.
There is much more that could be said about setting up a PMO but here are the key points:
- Initiate a project to set up the PMO
- Agree the type of PMO
- Select the services or functions that the PMO will provide and those which it won’t provide
- Identify the PMO’s customers and agree what they can expect from the PMO in terms of service levels
- Publish a PMO Charter so that everyone knows what they can expect
- Consider resources required to deliver the services specified and make sure they are available with the right training
- Agree Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and make sure there are processes in place to monitor these and continuously improve them