This post is from guest contributor Brad Egeland, a leading project management consultant and author. His website, bradegeland.com, is regularly lauded as a top blog for project management, PMO and Agile related topics.
Managing projects in an organization is a way of life…a given whether you have structure built around it or not. It just happens. New initiatives get rolled out, new software gets built, tested, and deployed, and business units move from one building to another. All these are examples of projects that happen within any given organization. And usually someone leads the ‘project’ and is responsible for its overall success…or failure.
Another thing that is a given is this: more than half of all projects fail to some degree. However, the organizations that recognize the need to wrap some structure, processes, tools and policies around their project management efforts will usually realize more consistent success than the organizations that don’t recognize this need. And for those that work to create viable, functional, working project management office (PMO) infrastructures are just that much further ahead in the project management success game.
I’ve created a PMO, I’ve helped create PMOs and I’ve watched PMOs being built and executed from afar. And consistently I’ve seen certain characteristics – certain factors – that seem to be very important in terms of whether or not the project management office ends up as a successful part of the organization or whether it ends up being dismantled and tossed aside. These basically narrow down to six factors, in my opinion. Let’s examine them further:
1. Strong, dedicated leadership
I’ve always contended that a good PMO needs to be run by a dedicated PMO director who isn’t assigned to lead projects. The PMO director must be a leader for the PMO and have time to do this. He is the PMO’s voice, the person responsible for the career development of the project managers in the organization and the one responsible to make sure all the tools are in place for success to be realized. He’s not alone in this undertaking, but he is the point person and if he’s also leading high-profile projects for the organization, this job won’t be performed well.
2. Experienced personnel
It’s not enough for the organization to just staff the PMO with PMP certified project managers. Certification is good, but nothing beats a track record of experience and success. Look for that first when staffing the PMO.
3. Executive backing
It’s absolutely critical that the PMO have the backing and buy-in of the company’s executive management team. That’s where funding comes from, that’s were adoption by the rest of the organization starts, and that’s where your customers see what’s important to the organization. If the executive team has a stake in the PMO, then that PMO much more likely to become a viable part of the organization.
4. High visibility
The PMO must have significant visibility in the organization. The entire organization needs to see that this is an entity that will be around for a while and that it is the go-to unit for all project related undertakings and information. They must see that all projects go through this one entity and they must see that it is well equipped to handle the tasks for the internal organizations within the company. Otherwise, it will get lumped in with the latest ‘continuous improvement’ undertaking that the company has embarked on and no one will give it much of a chance to succeed or have any confidence in its longevity.
5. Processes, policies, and templates defined
Having document shells and templates in place, policies that govern how the PMO will be run and how information will be shared and warehoused, and the processes it will follow to manage projects and report project status information is critical to the ongoing success of the PMO. With repeatable processes and templates in place, your organization then has the tools for success and is not leaving each project’s success up to chance or luck. Rather, the organization will be able to recognize success, why it happened and repeat it on future engagements.
6. Authority to take action
Finally, the PMO must have the authority to make key project decisions and take important actions. There will not always be time on a critical project to seek out direction from executive management. Therefore, the PMO director must have the vote of confidence to make important decisions and must be able to delegate that to his project managers – at least to the most senior ones for sure – in order to ensure key project tasks can proceed unimpeded when the situation calls for it on critical projects and issues that just can’t wait.
These are factors that I’ve seen from my experiences of the years – mainly over the last 14 years of my project management and consulting career. But these are only my observations and experiences – I would very much like to hear from our readers. What particular ingredients do you consider critical to the success of a PMO? What have you seen work? What have you seen fail? Please share your insights as we continue this discussion.