There are three types of PMOs. In the middle, lies the ideal type. Here are five principles to get it just right.
I once worked with a Project Management Office that had a rigorous project intake process. Projects were prioritized by force-ranking a score that was heavily weighted by ROI.
Sounds great, right? It ensures that resources are allocated to the projects that return the most benefit to the company. Not quite.
Projects that were 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 their requests were not being met.
Finding Balance in Your PMO
I’ve interacted with and been a member of many flavors of PMOs throughout my career. Some – like the one in the story above – were too “hot.” They were frustratingly rigid and enforced over-engineered processes that effectively 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 the IT and business teams to appropriately prioritize efforts, ensures that real benefits are achieved that align with the overall strategy, and supports both short- and long-term goals.
It goes beyond being an administrative watchdog and becomes an integral, active partner.
Five Principles for a Successful PMO
Getting a PMO to be “just right” is an art, but there are five principles that can help:
1. Know the Culture. Make sure the PMO structure and methodology is a good cultural fit for the company. Some organizations respond well to a more rigorous process, while some rebel against.
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.
2. Communicate. We all know to establish regular channels of communication with stakeholders, core team members, and extended team members. Remember to be transparent!
Something going wrong or may possibly go wrong? Don’t hide it. Communicate it and share the action or mitigation plan and key dates.
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 you say “no” to anything, consider how you can say “yes” instead.
For example, rather than “reject” a project that has no clear ROI, meet with the business sponsor and 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 a stakeholder for their thoughts on how the project, process or meeting went.
PMOs need to continuously evolve to stay relevant and add value.
5. Listen. Even if you are 100% sure you can finish someone’s sentence, STOP and actively listen. You may learn some slight nuance that makes the difference between OK delivery and excellent delivery.
Or you may find that one or more of your assumptions were off-base and need to be corrected. At the very least you will treat the person with respect 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 customer relationships were soured and in some cases ruined.
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 is always evolving based on the environmental change around it, but making deliberate changes that include applying these “just right” principles can help you create a PMO that is an invaluable asset to an organization, enabling and supporting successful deliveries and contributing to the overall bottom line.