The topic of whether a PMO can be built or grown is a passion of mine. Although a simple word change, it creates a change in the thinking and the strategy of the PMO. To me, a PMO cannot just be built and left to run on its own accord. It is a continuous improvement project that must be grown. But more importantly it must be grown to fit within the culture and environment of the organization. Too many times I have seen organizations build a PMO only to tear it down, or end up rebuilding it. However, when you plant the seed of an apple tree and you nurture that seed it grows and the branches naturally spread out and it bears fruit. I look at a PMO the same way.
So why is it we see so many organizations and vendors and even individuals continuing to try to build a PMO and then to make the organizational culture and environment fit to what they have built? If you were to build a one bedroom home you would see conflict by trying to fit multiple families within that one home. In presentations that I have given I worked to change the mindset around building a PMO versus growing a PMO. You cannot start with a world-class PMO it must be grown.
There is also a lot of conversation around whether implementing a PMO is tactical or strategic. What I have learned from my experience is that a PMO is strategic in nature with tactical components. I do not see a PMO as strictly tactical as tactical tells me it is a one-size-fits all and as we all have learned that is not the case.
The first step that I see in growing a PMO is by first doing analysis across the different divisions and departments as to their levels of maturity in different aspects of project management. What you will find is different divisions and departments have varying levels of maturity. Once this information is compiled and analyzed you have the ability to identify the overall maturity level of the organization as a whole. Then you need to determine the expectations of the services that the PMO will provide to an organization. I am a believer that this should be documented in a PMO charter which outlines the services along with the value add and benefits derived from those services. This PMO charter turns into a living document because as the PMO grows the charter and the services should grow.
Once the PMO charter is completed you plant the seed of the PMO, and from there you nurture it and you watch it grow. You monitor and control the expansions, the new added value services, but most importantly you monitor the perception and view of the PMO. Although sometimes considered a bureaucratic entity, a PMO should be a department that people want to come to and not try to avoid. These steps do not stop, they should continue. Too often I have seen organizations implement a PMO and they look to others to improve but they failed to look internally at other ways that they can improve themselves. PMO’s also encourage communication; but in the conferences I have spoken at everyone agrees that within the PMO the communication often lessens. Why is that? Why should it change? If anything, the PMO should be communicating even more.
In today’s ever-changing corporate world, project management frameworks continue to evolve, new frameworks are introduced, and technologies change at an astounding rate. Because of these reasons, I believe a PMO needs to stay strategic to stay ahead of the curve, with the strategy in mind that tactical components can be delivered. But as with any strategy these must be reviewed to make sure the strategy is still in alignment with the environment and the culture of the organization. One of the main reasons I have seen PMO failures is literally due to the lack of internal continuous improvement, the lack of strategic planning, and the fact that it does not fit within the culture and environment of the organization.
It is important to remember that PMO’s are about the people, the technology, and the process. It is not just about telling people how to run a project. If I could give any advice, I would ask that you look at your PMO and identify first if it fits within the culture and environment of your organization or if the organization’s environment and culture is meant to change to fit within the PMO. I would then look to see if you are over-processing the process as this can often cause negative perceptions of the PMO. Processes are not put in place just to have a process. As with anything we do, the process should add value and the benefit should outweigh the cost of that process.
The last thing I would suggest is if you are not continually looking internally for ways to improve your PMO or the communication that comes from the PMO, I would immediately begin to do so. If not, you may soon find your PMO going through a restructure, a reorganization, a rebuild, or even dismantled.
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Author, Speaker, Project / Program / PMO Thought Leader
Over 20 years project management experience with a passion for helping organizations grow their PMO, their project managers, and their teams. My passion has taken me to the pursuit of a Doctor of Education, as I enjoy seeing the proverbial light bulb come on. I am a believer in continuous growth and improvement, and believe that an organizations culture and environment is what drives the growth of PMOs and all areas, and not the other way around.