9 tips for a rock-star Project Management Office (PMO)

by Jan Schiller

In my career, I’ve been fortunate to maximize my value on both sides of the project management office (PMO) solution space. As a project/program/portfolio manager, I am a customer because I consume the services of a PMO. As a director, I define, establish, deliver and create demand for PMO services in alignment with the organization’s interest in achieving the best return on their project investments.

Here are nine essential success factors based on my well-rounded experience that could help elevate your PMO to rock-star status.

  1. Identify the PMO’s customers. This is a very basic exercise that goes a long way towards developing a positive image of the PMO. As we all know, ninety percent of project success is communication, communication, communication. Who will you communicate with? What must they know and do? PMO customers come in many forms. Who consumes the PMO services now? Who should consume those services in the future? Who accesses and uses the software the PMO requires and supports? Who manages the PMO’s customers? Be prepared for a list that is much longer than you may have anticipated.
  2. Be ready to listen actively and coach. Project managers sometimes experience frustration. Applying the PMO’s best practices might add to that frustration, especially if they are new to their role or the PMO is new. Acknowledge their thinking. ‘Project therapy’ must be in your PMO’s repertoire. The PMO doctor is in!
  3. Know what you want your PMO to be when it grows up. Define the list of services your PMO will deliver now, later, and never. Share this list with everyone (go on a roadshow, join stakeholdersexisting team meetings, conduct lunch ‘n’ learns). Your customers will find it difficult to comply and align with the PMO’s best practices if they don’t know what they are. They may not realize how helpful the PMOs can be. Share repeatedly to keep up with organizational changes.
  4. Be a facilitator. Be flexible. Ensure that all services are designed to support the path any project has thoughtfully developed to deliver a faster, better, cheaper solution. That path is likely a hybrid, customized approach that is not a direct and complete application of all and only the PMO’s best practices. By definition, projects are unique. Allow some flexibility in how those best practices are applied.
  5. Consult on your customer’s turf. Recognize that adopting and consuming the PMO’s practices and meeting the PMO’s expectations will take some time, as will becoming proficient in those practices. Realize that sharing information needs to be quickly followed by applying that information. At-the-elbow mentoring is a very effective way to improve the perception of the PMO and the project manager’s skill in applying the PMO’s best practices.
  6. Be patient. While mandating the use of PMO services seems like a quick win, it rarely results is sustained adoption. Embrace your first followers to achieve and sustain the adoption of the PMO’s services. The rest will follow or be curious.
  7. Create an atmosphere of trust. The ‘meeting before the meeting’ is an especially important service because it will help your customers successfully prepare for any formal presentations where project performance will be discussed. Roleplay with them. Be open, honest, and timely in your communication. Give helpful advice. Help them shine.
  8. Staff your PMO with credible people. Nothing has the potential to devalue a PMO more quickly than being coached by someone who has never performed the service, who lacks professional experience with projects, or who otherwise cannot relate to the customer’s perspective.
  9. Avoid ‘audit’ or ‘policing’ services. At least in the early life of your PMO. If you must police and rate a project manager’s compliance with best practices, begin gently with ‘health checks’ that incorporate supportive feedback and encourage learning and adjusting.

What tips have you found to be especially effective in ensuring your PMO maximizes your organization’s ability to realize the value of its investments in projects?


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