Based on publications released by the PMI in recently years, it is generally understood that there are four basic types of PMO’s (Project/Program Management Office), each with its own specialization in terms of services and functions it provides for the organization. While there are many different approaches to establishing an effective PMO, in my experience, there are some basic strategies that can provide immediate benefits to organizations that need to deploy a PMO as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible. The following tips are compiled from my experience designing, implementing, and operating PMO’s for a variety of different businesses.
Tip #1 – Start With a Small Team
While working with companies that have identified the need for a Program Office, I have found that most of them tend to choose a top-down approach. This approach generally consists of selecting or hiring a leader (most of the time a Director-level manager who oversees the staff) then building out the remaining team with Program Managers, Project Managers, Business Analysts, and possibly other functions where applicable. My experience with this approach is that this generally leads to a process-heavy organization that moves relatively slowly. My recommendation is to consider starting small, with a few individual contributors who are “on the ground”, working very closely with customers and/or stakeholders to begin providing valuable services that is essential to meeting organizational objectives, most likely through strategic projects and/or programs. This approach enables quicker decision-making, and allows the team to gain valuable insights into business sponsors and their processes prior to establishing a formal project management methodology. Starting with one or two Project Managers, supported by one or two Business Analysts, you position the team to be very nimble and enable them to work closely with the project requestors and project teams to achieve successes and establish a positive rapport, which builds upon itself over time as confidence grows with each successful project closure.
Tip #2 – Limit Number of Services to One or Two Key Items
Most PMO’s offer a variety of services such as strategic planning, portfolio management, project management, program management, training for tools and/or processes, and reference materials such as templates for various artifacts. While it is tempting to try to offer many of these services in order to gain a positive reception by senior leadership, it is often more effective to start with a small set of these activities, and demonstrate positive traction before broadening the range of services offered. Coupled with the recommendation of small teams (in top #1), it is much more effective most of the time to focus efforts on fundamentals such as project planning, requirements analysis, executive reporting, etc. Trying to do too much in a hurry adds risk to quality of services, and often accelerates upfront costs as well. The key is to invest small and wisely when starting to build a project management capability.
Top #3 – Collaborate with Business Leaders Early and Often
Many PMO’s that I have worked with, either as a contributor or an advisor, are situated within the Information Technology section of the organizational hierarchy. While there are advantages to this approach, often times, this leads to a dynamic that may be counter-productive in the long run; the “us versus them” mentality can creep in very quickly if not managed proactively. As a result, the relationship between the project stakeholders and project executors can become very challenging, even adversarial if things worsen over time. To mitigate this risk, I highly recommend new PMO teams to engage business entities as early as possible, even prior to the establishment of a formal project. This can be done through a multitude of ways, such as establishing a recurring project review with key business owners to evaluate their needs before the solution has been defined. This enables the I.T. group to collaborate with the business teams to gain a better understanding of the business need, and to help shape the solution which will ultimately define the project scope. Being involved upfront will enable the I.T. group to be part of the solutioning process, which typically strengthens the business-I.T. partnership, and provides a more effective environment for successful planning and execution of the project once it has been defined.
Adding value to the organization is not an easy thing for a PMO to do, especially when it is usually considered overhead from a cost perspective. Establishing strong rapport with key leaders and demonstrating the ability to deliver projects successfully are two key elements to laying a strong foundation on which an effective, long-standing Project Management Office can be built.