Project Management Office (PMO) - A Guide

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There are many benefits to a PMO, whether your company is big and booming or small and just starting. Below, we’ll dive into the world of PMO, talk about whether it’s right for your company, and find out why so many organizations are jumping onboard. First, let’s define some terms...

What is a project management office (PMO)?

PMO stands for Project Management Office. As a side note, depending on the company and the level on which these groups operate within a business, the “P” in PMO can stand for Project, Program, or Portfolio. But in general and for the purpose of this piece, we’re going to stick to the good-old-fashioned version, Project Management Office.

To put it simply, PMOs make stuff run smoothly. Like project managers, they’re put in place to make sure projects are done well and on time. But PMOs have a more overarching role. 

When it comes to project management, there’s a lot of repetition. If you’re a project manager, you may have noticed that you’ve been asked to manage several similar projects that align with your company’s goals and strategies. PMO’s jump on this repetition and similarity and make project management more efficient and effective.

How do they do this? PMO’s provide support, mentoring, standardization, and best practices in project management to ensure success and improve efficiency of undertaken projects. They create guidelines and keep track of repetition to ensure that projects meet a high standard and are aligned with the organization’s overall strategies.

So, PMOs are kind of like the quality control monitors within projects. This group defines and maintains standards for project management within their organization. 

But wait, there’s more: The 3 types of PMOs

There can be more than one PMO in a company. Enterprise-sized organizations tend to have a PMO in each department and an Enterprise PMO (EPMO) to maintain standards across departments and regions. Additionally, there are three general types of PMOs:

  • Supportive: This type of PMO provides templates and documents that the project manager and his/her team can use to manage their projects.

  • Controlling: In addition to providing templates and documents, these PMOs can also audit a project to ensure that the project managers and teams are adhering to their standards and are done according to the business goals of the organization.

  • Directive: These PMOs have the highest level of authority out of the three. They actually assign Project Managers to projects who then report directly to the PMO. 

Don’t let the titles fool you. All PMOs should be in place to support the organization and its project managers and teams. Unfortunately, PMOs have in the past moved into organizations and become rule-enforcing Dolores Umbridges.

But a good PMO works with the team and has the organization’s best interest in mind. So--whether a PMO is supportive, controlling, or directive--it should always serve and help the project team.

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The PMO Staff: Who’s on the team?

A mix of skills and roles are needed to ensure that the PMO succeeds in following, supporting, and executing their organization’s strategies. 

For a quick overview, the average PMO across all organizations is made up of about nine total members. These members are usually highly experienced professionals with an average of 10 years in their field. About half of PMO members also have their PMP certification. The other half are leaders and managers in the organization who have been grandfathered into a PMO position.

To give you a rundown, here are a few common positions within a PMO team:

  • PMO Director: This head honcho has the most critical role. He or she provides oversight on large projects within a department and any projects that cross divisional boundaries. They’ve got their eagle eye on all areas of the organization and the progress of it’s projects.

  • Project and Program Managers: While PMO Directors run the show, we’re big believers in the power of a great project manager. Project managers are responsible for the success of individual projects from concept to delivery. They plan, budget for, and manage their assigned projects and provide leadership, guidance, and support to the project team.

  • IT Project Manager: A well-staffed PMO has to have at least one tech-savvy team member. And most PMOs include an official IT Project Manager in order to ensure a smooth transition of projects from launch to day-to-day usage. These managers also collaborate with other IT professionals and staff to create any new piece or system of software needed for the project. They often build and manage websites and databases and are responsible for implementing software integrations.

  • Project Support Team: Several people can complement and serve the project managers so that the job gets done. They can include a Project Scheduler, a Project Planner, and a Project Controller. Each member of the team takes a bite-sized portion of a project and frees up the project manager to concentrate on the facilitative and business aspects of the project.

  • PMO Coordinator or Analyst: This multi-fold role keeps track of metrics like time, team members, and budgets. The PMO Coordinator also oversees knowledge management coordination. This fancy term just means that PMOs need to note and store important information in a project database. What would be important information to a PMO team? Any project records, standards, methods, and lessons learned from previous projects. If this team member also fills the role of PMO Analyst, they’ll make sure that project metrics and statuses can always be readily available to the project manager via presentations, charts, and detailed Excel statistics. 

  • Change Control Analyst: Some PMOs include a Change Control Analyst who can help teams quickly adapt when business stakeholders change their minds about what they want. On smaller projects, PMO teams can get by with a few spreadsheets tracking and controlling changes. But for large projects, having a dedicated team member to help you switch gears can be a big help. 

PMO Benefits

The role of the PMO is vital. They’re responsible for aligning projects to a business’ overall strategy and goals. They navigate risks, manage talent, identify expected benefits of a project, and maintain these benefits after the project is wrapped up. 

Creating a project management office can drastically improve productivity and bring greater clarity to your project management process. Check out these six surprising statistics to see how PMOs have been boosting substantial real-world benefits for years:

  • Even back in 2016, PMOs were cranking up the numbers. They created a 33% improvement in projects delivered under budget.

  • These PMOs also improved customer satisfaction by 27%. 

  • They brought a 25% increase in productivity.

  • And a 25% reduction in failed projects.

  • Since then, things have only been improving. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), 38% more projects meet their original goals and business intent in companies that align their PMO to strategy. 

  • They also had 33% fewer projects deemed failures.

To sum up the statistics, implementing a PMO brings more than support to your projects team. It’s saving companies money, increasing productivity, and improving products and processes. That’s why so many companies are adopting the PMO structure. PMOs are an investment into your own organization, and smart leaders are starting to catch on.

What are the top-performing PMOs doing?

While it’s clear at this point that PMOs help increase the success of an organization and its projects, a good approach can guarantee better numbers. So what do the pro PMOs look like?

Successful PMO practices all come down to training. Teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for a lifetime. Train PMs to manage and your net income will continue to grow.

According to PM Solutions, over 60% of PMOs now have a formal project management training program. Incidentally, high-performing organizations are far more likely to have a training program than low performers (85% vs. 38%). 

So, what does this training look like? There are a few good options. Most PMOs (about 80%) offer classroom-based training using in-house trainers. That said, more and more companies (about 50%) are now using external trainers. And larger organizations use on-demand online training. 

Training doesn’t have to take over your calendar, though. On average, these companies spend about five days per year in PM training. During these five days, though, high-performing organizations use a variety of PM training strategies--from software tools and training on PM basics to advanced PM skills development and leadership training.

The bottom line is this: successful PMOs invest in their teams. They attend and direct project teams by setting guidelines and offering templates, processes, and policies to follow. Project teams need great PMOs who can offer them good methodologies to lead the way. And they need excellent training that will set them up for success.

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A project is a project, no matter how small.

If you’re thinking of implementing a PMO at your organization, we salute you. A successful PMO will help you reach your goals in your projects and your company as a whole. 

We’re big fans and strong supporters of project teams--whatever size. A well-staffed PMO will allow you to provide support and impart expertise to your project managers and team. But if taking on another department isn’t the right fit for your business right now, there’re still plenty of ways to keep your projects in prime condition.

In fact, we’ve scoured the web, gathered valuable info from top experts, gleaned from our own experience, and created a list of project management best practices you can start using today. Check it out and start managing your projects like a pro.

PMO works

13 years ago, Paul Lindley decided he wanted to make better food for kids. His company, Ella’s Kitchen, took off and its customers spread across Europe, Canada, and the United States. 

Although Ella’s Kitchen was pumping out perfectly pureed baby food, their project management process was like a fork in a food processor. Up until 2016, new product development and existing product development was run by whichever project team was proposing a change. 

Dozens of different projects were running simultaneously. But the team was trying to manage tasks, budgets, deadlines, and details across nearly 150 spreadsheets. 

Roles and responsibilities were getting mixed up, people were frustrated, processes didn’t fit their purposes. and products were hitting the market late. 

Ella’s Kitchen needed a better system. The company formed the “Makes stuff run smoothly team” in 2016 when they realized that they desperately needed cross-organizational projects to be run by an experienced and impartial team as the company grew in size.

Their new PMO team moved in, and Ellen Jarrett took the role of Programme Manager. One of her first moves was to get Smoothly out of spreadsheets and into a project management software. She remembers, “Before using, I tried Asana, Basecamp, Write, and even a few more, but was a slam dunk.”

The company’s approach to projects was revolutionized. In the following 8 months, overdue tasks dropped significantly. In 2018, they entered the APM Project Management Awards and won the APM PMP of the year award. 

Marketing Director, Mark Cuddigan, remembers the company’s transformation, explaining how their old project management system was “the single biggest issue the company faced.” After they introduced the Smoothly PMO team, Ella’s Kitchen was named one of the Top 100 companies to work for by the Sunday Times.

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