Supporting Project Management

A CIO/PMI study showed that project success rates doubled in the second year of a PMO's existence.

PMO, or project management office or officer, is among the more recent of the alphabet soup of acronyms in the business world. Introduced in IT departments and companies about 10 years ago, PMOs can provide the structure needed to both standardize project management practices and improve project portfolio management. A PMO can help your organization determine methodologies for repeatable processes, helping to deliver strategic projects with more consistency and efficiency, cutting costs and saving time.

Having a PMO is by no means a “quick fix.” A CIO/PMI study showed that project success rates doubled in the second year of a PMO’s existence and continued to climb for several more years. We advise the project managers we teach to aim for some measurable results within the first 6 months, but significant improvements take time. To get the most value for your company, here are some guidelines to help get you off to a good start with a project management office and its project management officer:

Get a clear direction that is aligned with overall strategic business plans. Be clear on what measurable outcomes you want the PMO to accomplish and how it aligns with overall strategy. The PMO charter should provide comprehensive and convincing information supporting the project opportunity with an implementation plan for the PMO, including required resources, timeline, costs for start-up and initial operations. The PMO objectives, roles, responsibilities and structure should match the company’s overall strategy. Decide what to track and set expectations for what to benchmark.

Stay in touch. Management and the project management officer should meet regularly and agree on prioritization of what projects best align with the business strategy. Some suggest a PMO steering committee that includes senior members of the CEO office and major business units.

Seek action over administration. Avoid the pitfall of making the PMO a purely administrative office. Instead, make it the center of change, a catalyst for improvement across your organization with tangible and realistic strategic goals. Periodic meetings with the steering committee can help curb the reporting treadmill by keeping everyone up to date on PMO activities.

Prepare for a change in corporate culture. The important strategic initiatives in your company that were successes probably flowed within your business culture. That’s no accident, so make sure that your PMO does the same. Don’t isolate it as a solo test project. Make it part of the organization’s fabric.
Give the PMO autonomy. To make the best choices for corporate direction, a PMO needs to be free to prioritize projects based on a compelling business case consistent with the strategic goals of the company. Turf wars, budget battles and fiefdoms placed outside the PMO’s scope are some of the reasons behind the META Group’s estimate that 20 to 30 percent of projects fail to deliver sponsor/stakeholder expectations.

Provide support. If the vision of the PMO is coming from the top, it’s already on the road to success. If the PMO is on management’s radar screen, then the leadership team will focus on it, too. This will give the PMO the support it needs to bring long-term results to your organization.

Manage perceptions about PMOs. Before you embark on building a PMO, take the temperature of your organization. Do you need to educate people about what a PMO can do for your organization? If the term “PMO” is undesirable, change the name to “center for project excellence,” for example, and you might overcome objections that a PMO would raise.

Establishing a PMO, some have observed, is a project in itself. However, once a PMO has been established, with benchmarks to help measure, you could see some improvements in 6 months and larger achievements in less than 3 years. Support your PMO with clear commitment and support from the senior-most levels of your organization, and you’ll save money by empowering better resource management, reducing project failures and prioritizing and supporting those projects that offer the biggest payback.

Michelle LaBrosse is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the “Cheetah Success Series” and a keynote speaker and industry thought leader. E-mail her at marketing@cheetahlearning.com.