Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Project Management Office Success Factors

More than three quarters of large corporations have some form of a project management office in place. How it's defined, exactly what its responsibilities are, how formal it is, and how it's run is going to be different from company to company, but the project management office is a major part of the landscape for most project-oriented activity within major companies.

Given that fact, I'd like to discuss what I consider to be the four key factors for project management office - or PMO - success. I've come up with these four factors after playing varying roles in creating, running, and dismantling PMOs over the years. Through these experiences, I've become opinionated as to what works and why certain PMOs have failed in companies I've worked with and for.

Let's examine these four factors in greater detail here - they are presented in no particular order because I feel that they are all equally important...

Secure executive buy-in for the PMO

PMOs come and go and, unfortunately, often the key to their failure in the first place was the lack of support from within their own organization. When a company's executive leadership doesn't back the PMO, then it likely won't have a chance in the long-term. For the project management office to truly be successful - and long lasting within an organization - it must have the backing of the company's executive management.

Without proper backing, PMO practices and policies will be difficult to enforce and slow to adopt. Some projects will circumvent the PMO process completely and eventually the PMO will become meaningless in the organization and ineffective to the customers it serves.

Appoint a strong PMO leader

If feel very strongly about this one. The PMO director should not just be the most experienced project manager leading the group who is also acting in the role of project manager on current projects. Certainly the PMO director will need to have a presence on high profile projects or on troubled implementations, but for the most part they need to lead the PMO and that should be 99% of their job. I've seen PMO directors who were stretched too thin leaving the project managers in the organization with little to no leadership direction to help handle project roadblocks, resource conflicts, training issues, and process concerns. Eventually, the PM practice in the PMO can start to erode.

Fill the PMO with good PMs

The PMO needs experienced project managers, not just PMP-certified PMs. Leadership and experience must win out when you're trying to establish the PMO and get early projects off the ground. Proven leaders with experience will get your PMO in the right position to be taken seriously throughout the organization. PMI certification, while good, doesn't guarantee experience or success. There needs to be a mix of skill, process understanding, and good, solid leadership.

Implement sound processes and use repeatable templates

For the PMO to be consistently successful, it must have consistent processes and practices in place for its project managers to follow and utilize. A PMO without sound processes in place is relying on luck to experience ongoing project success - and that luck won't last long. Proven and re-usable templates must be available for the project managers so that they can portray consistency to the customers whose projects they are handling. Consistent delivery breeds success and success breeds customer confidence.


None of these four steps guarantee success. And certainly only focusing on one will leave your PMO sorely lacking. But when all of these factors are acted upon, then you can be confident that you're giving your PMO its best chance for success.

It is critical that a company creates their PMO with the understanding that its mission is to manage all projects and that those projects be consistently handled by that PMO. Consistent project management is perceived by your customers as stability when you're running their projects. And consistent customer satisfaction breeds success, more projects, and greater profitability.

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