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I've worked with organizations that have started project management offices (PMO) in order to become more project oriented in their work processes.

Sometimes it works, and the PMO becomes a source of project management knowledge that it teaches throughout the company.

Other times, it starts running in the opposite direction as the rest of the organization, becoming the sole source of all project management knowledge -wanting everything to go through it.

What steps can be taken to make sure a PMO benefits the whole organization rather than turning people off to project management?

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What you can do is to find The Purpose and The Goal which will guide you. Something you could call The PMO Manifesto - the set of rules you want to conform to, the set of reasons PMO were raised and the set of goals you want to achieve. There should not be too many of them.

It looks like you already know what you want to achieve and what you are afraid of (what you are afraid loosing). I guess it would look (for example) like:

  • we are here to help people, help improving the efficiency (process) and help improving work environment

  • we value process that work over the process that is trendy, buzzwordy, or by-the-book

  • we remember about changing of the environment and incompleteness of our knowledge, therefore we promise to stay open minded and ready to learn

Print it and put in clearly visible place.

Or you can find a leader among you who will share the vision, show the way and make you remember about the path taken.

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Step 1 should be to ensure that the person chosen to manage the PMO is a great communicator, as well as having the appropriate qualifications. Step 2 should be to ensure that the PMO manager knows what the organisation expects of the PMO, and that the organisation understands the role and purpose of the PMO.

I suggest that problems are most likely to arise when there is a variance between the corporate understanding and the PMO manager's expectations, so ensuring alignment should be the top priority.

Introducing a PMO is a business change project in itself: you are introducing new working practices, changing the status quo, and potentially triggering some resistance from people who feel that their roles are being changed or diminished by the new team. I like a very simple model to help me to manage this type of change:

  1. Consider the business need for this new set-up, and make sure that this can be expressed concisely and clearly;
  2. Be able to paint a very convincing picture that sets out a clear vision of how you want it to be;
  3. Ensure that the necessary resources are available to manage the change (including communicating it), as well as having the resources to operate the new PMO;
  4. Have a simple plan for managing the change, or at least for the first few steps of the change.

Hopefully these, when taken together, will exceed the resistance to change. If not, then they need to be strengthened until they combine to make a case that stands up to scrutiny.

Good luck!

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These are great answers. In my experience it's critical to look at the value chain of the PMO and makes sure that you look to provide value that your 'client' understands is value. For instance, by strengthening the methodology and standardizing process you provide efficiencies that save time and money for the business side of the company (in their language) or you build a standard methodology to delivery projects (your language).

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Great answers from everybody.

I want to append on @Perry Wilson's answer regarding "strengthening the methodology and standardizing process", i.e. which Project Models you use within your company.

In the company I worked for (as Process Leader of Product Portfolfio Development process), we had bought a lot of companies and all had their own Project Models. In all the procured companies their own Project Models were deeply "in the walls". Since coworkers, especially from Customer Support organization, were involved in more than one project and often in projects with different Project Models for the same type of project, there were a lot of time/cost lost due to "different language".

Therefore we started a huge project to merge them all together. It was not only to get the phase definitions/scope standardized, but also the nomenclature. We had so many synonyms used and also mixed.

With that cleaned up and defined, we finally printed booklet and sent it out to everybody working in projects, at any level.

For this to work, we made the booklet light weight, meaning the most important information per phase on two adjacent pages. This made it easy for readers to read through quickly, and they could also have the current phase of projects they worked in open, standing on their desk. (Beside the booklet, we also had a more extensive version of the Project Model online, as well as forms for asking questions, notify of misprints or even post change proposals.)

The CEO ordered everybody to read them and then we followed it up with further training for everybody that had got a booklet - more or less the whole organization (and this is a big company).

This had a huge impact.

  • We had a standardized Project Model regarding phases, steps, deliverables, milestones, requirements to pass gates.
  • We used same templates and systems for documentation.
  • We spoke the same "language" - using same terminology.

All this enabled

  • Everybody, from Steering Committee members to coworkers, knew their role much better.
  • Everybody knew what the different organizational departments (incl. PMO) were responsible of and when responsibility shifted (for example from a PreStudy to an actual Project, Advanced Engineering, from Project to PreMarket...).
  • It was easier to support another coworker and have back ups.
  • And perhaps the most relevant for this question - it sure strengthened the knowledge and support of the PMO.

Fun Fact - The name of the Project Model is now even used in job ads by consultant companies when they are looking for people to work in this company.

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