The International Prototype of the Kilogram has been kept in a glass jar at the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (International Office of Weights and Measures) in Paris since 1889. The prototype is made of an alloy that is 90% platinum and 10% iridium and is kept under strict supervision, deep within the building.
You might wonder why a simple kilogram needs such high security, to be kept under lock and key. Quite simply, because without an internationally recognized and agreed weight for a kilo, anyone would be able to claim their products were the correct weight and short change their customers.
A Project Management Office (PMO) is a little like the International Prototype of the Kilogram within your organization. PMOs are particularly common in large organizations that employ thousands or even tens of thousands of people, yet can also be found in much smaller outfits. PMO responsibilities are necessary to standardize the way employees and project managers run projects.
Without a PMO, every project a company runs would be managed completely differently, according to the style and approach of each specific manager. Project Managers (PMs) may believe this gives them more freedom, yet actually means customers experience your company as disorganized and inconsistent. If a client works with numerous different project managers, they will have varying experiences and results. At the same time, you are unable to share best practice across teams and retain knowledge from departed PMs.
Your PMO, therefore, should help implement standard practice across the business. Now whilst that may sound easy in itself, there are a lot of challenges – both from people outside the PMO and from the within the PMO. Let’s explore what these are and see what you can do to set up a successful PMO.
As with any attempt to standardize how other parts of a business behave, PMOs can face stiff resistance from the rest of the company. Each department and Project Manager has its own way of doing things, and any attempt to change that will be viewed with deep mistrust. PMOs need to overcome this, as well as many other challenges:
- Chief Executives tend to set up a lot of projects, yet they fail to support PMOs. CEOs often bypass PMOs or become involved in managing projects. This makes the role of the PMO obsolete.
- Projects often become the ‘pet project’ of the person who set them up; as a result, the PMO’s attempts to standardize projects are ignored.
- There is a lack of experienced Project Managers to run a PMO.
- All to often, the PMO does not have a fully defined role. As a consequence, PMOs often become involved in actually running projects – when their real job should be to help and advise Project Managers on specific projects.
Given these (and other) challenges, how should a successful PMO function?
As is so often the case, successful PMOs depend on combining the right, skilled people with the technology that helps them do their job, manage resources and communicate effectively.
The key PMO responsibilities include:
Experienced and strong leaders
Whoever runs the PMO needs to be an executive with skill, intelligence and hold a real understanding of the challenges of project management. Ideally, they will have extensive experience of PM and know the company and its workings well.
The PMO leader needs to be able to communicate effectively with Project Managers, as well as push through change within the organization that will standardize project management best practice.
People from diverse backgrounds
There’s plenty of research that shows that diverse teams outperform those where all members are the same. In the context of a PMO, the same holds true. A PMO which is comprised of colleagues with different professional backgrounds will have a far more diverse base of knowledge, skills and new ideas, which will contribute to making the PMO far more responsive.
PMOs need people who can take on major challenges and come up with new solutions. Advising and guiding other project managers, listening to their problems and helping them overcome these issues is key to the role.
Every PMO should have at least one Resource Manager – and all members should have solid knowledge of resource management best practice and know how to use resource management tools. Resource Managers are able to find alternative resource allocation, boost efficiency and have an overview of how resources are deployed across all your projects.
Fundamentally, your organization’s PMO needs to standardize project management practices across the business, while offering support and guidance as a knowledge hub for Project Managers. To avoid failure, the PMO needs to have a strong voice within the business – ideally at the CXO level, where it can ensure the whole organization understands its purpose and recognizes it as the primary resource for project management solutions.