There are three types of PMOs. In the middle lies the ideal type. Here are five PMO principles to get it just right.
I once worked with a project management office with a rigorous project intake process. They prioritized projects using PMO principles focused on force-ranking scores heavily weighted by the project’s return on investment.
Sounds great, right? It ensures they allocate resources to the projects that benefit the company most. Not quite.
Projects needed to support customer requests didn’t usually score a high ROI. They were left at the bottom of the barrel, passed over month after month by high ROI projects. This left account managers frustrated and embarrassed as they continually made excuses to customers for why they couldn’t meet their requests.
Finding Balance in Your PMO
I’ve interacted with and been a member of many flavors of PMO designs throughout my career. Some – like the one in the story above – were too “hot.” They were frustratingly rigid and enforced over-engineered processes that barred growth and development. Others were too “cold,” providing little more than a rubber stamp of approval.
In the middle lies the ideal: the “just right” PMO. This organization enables both IT and business teams to appropriately prioritize efforts, ensures you achieve real benefits that align with the overall strategy, and supports both short- and long-term goals.
These organizations’ PMO principles help them go beyond being administrative watchdogs and become integral, active partners.
Five PMO Principles for a Successful Balance
Getting a project management office to be just right is an art, but there are five PMO guiding principles that can help.
1. Know the Culture
Make sure the PMO design, structure and methodology are a good cultural fit for the company. Some organizations respond well to a more rigorous process, while some rebel against it.
In the other direction, some organizations struggle to progress without being made to toe the line. Overall, a bad cultural fit will generate resentment and receive little, if any, support from senior leaders. Without leadership support, a PMO cannot be effective and is doomed to fail.
We all know how to establish regular communication channels with stakeholders, core team members and extended team members. Remember to be transparent!
Is something going wrong, or might something possibly go wrong? Don’t hide it. Communicate it and share the action or mitigation plan and key dates.
Is something going exceptionally well? Celebrate it and give credit to the responsible team members!
3. Add Value
A good PMO is a trusted and sought-after partner. Before saying no to anything, consider how to say yes instead. For example, rather than reject a project with no clear ROI, meet with the business sponsor to see if you can help them develop the business case.
4. Embrace Feedback
Regularly collect formal and informal feedback and use it to grow your PMO. Don’t be the guy who constantly asks, “How am I doing?” But do incorporate simple tactics like asking stakeholders for their thoughts on how the project, process or meeting went.
PMOs need to continuously evolve to stay relevant and add value.
Even if you are 100 percent sure you can finish someone’s sentence, stop and actively listen. You may learn some slight nuance that differentiates between OK delivery and excellent delivery.
Or you may find that one or more of your assumptions were off-base and requires correction. At the very least, you will treat the person respectfully and show them that you value their input.
What happened with the PMO from my story? The PMO stood by their prioritization process, explaining that it ensured they were getting the “best bang for their buck.” Eventually, the account managers went around the PMO and created their own manual processes, but not before they soured and, in some cases, ruined their customer relationships.
How could the PMO have acted just right? They would have acknowledged the account managers’ concerns early on and looked for a solution that met a broader set of requirements. Perhaps they could have adjusted the scoring to balance ROI with other considerations, such as customer impact, or created a separate resource pool dedicated to customer-related projects or reserved for business unit discretionary work.
A PMO design is always evolving based on the environmental change around it. However, making deliberate changes that include applying these “just right” PMO guiding principles can help you create an office that is an invaluable asset to an organization, enabling and supporting successful deliveries and contributing to the overall bottom line.