PMO and Value Expectations
When someone says PMO most people think of a team of Project Managers with a long list of forms and procedures that everyone needs to follow. This might have been true in the past, but these days their is an greater expectations of the PMO to provide more value to the company. It is not enough to say you completed your project on time, schedule or budget if you can't prove those projects brought value to the company. This value expectation can vary greatly between companies and even within different departments of a company.
The Flow of the PMO
The three roles of PMO I want to cover are Strategic, Governance, and Historical. I also reference Plan - Do - Check as it is the basis of the concept. Besides the three areas of focus, you also have the procedures, templates, metrics, and tools used to support the roles. The diagram below shows the general flow of a project through a PMO starting as a candidate project, then an approved project and last a closed project. A PMO can also include Project Managers that run projects, but it does not need to have them. Project Managers could be in the functional departments of the company with central oversight and governance handled in the PMO.
The most value from the PMO is also the one done the least, or poorly, and that is the Strategic role. This is where the PMO works with senior leadership to select the candidate projects that best align with the strategic goals of the company, have a sound business case, and provides the benefit to cost ratio. This is usually done through a combination of cost/benefit analysis and a scoring system that looks at all facets of the project. A well-oiled PMO will be able to provide the executive team with enough focused information on the project proposals to make smart decisions. Sounds easy right? It would be except I forgot to mention one more factor and that is politics. Sometimes the logical choice does not always prevail. There are two things that can improve the chances of objectivity. One is the obvious support from the top. The second (and just as important) is a lean, efficient, and transparent process that provides leadership focused information needed to make informed decisions. Without the strategic role your value to the company will be minimal and have little support from the top.
The meat and potatoes of a PMO is the Governance role. This is the part you see in every PMO and the area some dread the most if you have mounds of process and procedures. It is where you monitor the projects to ensure it is properly following project process and procedures. To do this you will usually have guides, templates, a project portfolio dashboard, and project portfolio tools to help Project Managers follow the PMO procedures. This is also where you ensure the project scope, cost, and schedule is in tip-top shape. If not, the project should be flagged and escalated up the chain of command. For a regulator, this is what they care about the most and considered the main reason for their existence. Some companies setup a PMO solely to meeting regulatory requirements and completely miss the other roles that increase the value of the PMO.
The last area is the repository of historical artifact created from the project. This is used not only for reference when doing future similar projects, but also to validate that you delivered what was chartered and for statistical analysis. The first part of this is tougher than people realize. Once the project completes, or cancels, you will archive all the project documents created during the project into a document repository. Unfortunately, archiving all the project data into one area can be spotty. You might have all the meeting minutes, but not all the infrastructure design docs, all the requirements, but none of the test results. The reason for this is you are dealing with various functional groups in a project who each might handle their documents differently, you are working with external resources, or it is in a database. This is where the PMO and Project Manager need to be diligent in ensuring you have a single place to find all projects information or links to the information. This becomes all the more important if you are in a regulated industry. The second part is a review the performance of the project. Did it meet the objectives it was set out to do? Were there lessons that could be learned from the project? And (most importantly) did the project deliver the benefits that were defined in the business case? This last part is missed the most as it needs to be done at least 6 months after the project closes to let the product deliverables settle in. The last part is the statistical analysis you get from historical data. If you are using a Project Portfolio Management tool you’ll be able to pull all types of data about the performance of the closed projects.
That is the three roles the PMO. The depth of each role varies greatly for each organization and if the company is really big you will see a PMO at different levels with an enterprise PMO and divisional project offices.