Individual project managers rely on their experience and toolkit to get on with things quickly and effectively. When there are many projects, and many project managers, things can get a bit complicated. This is when the company needs something more to stitch it all together.
I have been fortunate to work in some complex, diverse and dynamic organisations. Never a dull moment, but business changes, growth initiatives and customer projects can overlap. Resources get stretched, bureaucracy buries the project managers and the executives can’t see what’s really happening.
My biggest takeaway was to simplify and harmonise the project activities where possible, and make the most of the resources we had.
A PMO, done well, can do just that, and it doesn’t have to be a costly overhead. Options are there for a team of people actively supporting project managers, or perhaps a library of standards, templates and best practice that the PMs can apply themselves. It all depends on the size and capabilities of the organisation, and the remit it sets for the PMO.
There is no single right answer, but some of the benefits are compelling.
The enemy of complex organisations is more complexity. It makes sense for a company to try and manage multiple projects in similar ways. Project team members will work in familiar conditions, where expectations are managed, and confusion and overlap are minimised.
A strategy may be delivered by multiple projects, generally independent but connected. With a PMO at the hub of activities, executives will be able to see the big picture of progress, outcomes and risks that are associated with the business plan or strategy.
A common approvals process means that executives can compare project proposals easily. The return on investment can be recognised across the portfolio rather than on a case by case basis, and weaker business cases or marginal contributions can be weeded out.
From the big picture, we can drill down to individual projects, and if they are similarly managed they can be compared. We can understand variations across teams, sectors, locations, and all sorts of other factors. A dashboard across the portfolio provides an evidence base to understand strengths and weaknesses, target support or perhaps to make changes in the future.
For any project manager, dropping into a known process with tools you are familiar with, helps to get things moving quickly. Approvals are less painful, resources mobilise at speed, and quick wins reinforce the purpose and potential of the project.
One of the PMO’s main purposes is to establish standard templates for progress reporting, budget, schedule, issue and risk management. It also builds comfort in a known reporting cycle with no surprises. A consolidated dashboard across multiple projects is a powerful tool to recognise achievement and focus attention where it is most needed.
There will be common skills or resources contributing to projects even though they may be spread across the organisation. Visibility of requirements across a wider pool of projects means that specialist skills can be hired where they are most used, and shared with other parts of the business to avoid unnecessary overlap and lower overall cost.
The same may be true of contingency buckets – do they need to be established (and invariably used) in each project or could they be held centrally and more closely monitored?
A PMO makes an excellent vehicle to pool the organisation’s widespread experience. Such a body of knowledge, widely accessible, and with the cultural willingness to contribute to and maintain it, is a very powerful asset. Understanding what works, and avoiding some of the past problems are firm foundations for project success.
Just as tools, methods and standards can be developed through a PMO, so can skills. A well-conceived training programme assures performance standards, and creates a succession path for future project managers built on good core skills and a flexible but proven approach. It also enriches the individuals taking part, and makes project management a high-performing and desirable place to be within the organisation.
The PMO is a valuable asset in complex organisations and doesn’t have to cost the earth. It makes a good investment, and with a solid remit, communicated to the rest of the organisation, well structured and carefully run, it will pay back quickly and add great value over the long term.