Setting up the PMO to help rather than hinder

In previous posts we have talked about the benefits of setting up an effective PMO and discussed the various structures.  Having made those decisions, it is time now to implement  processes and find staff that will make your PMO a success.

Setting up the PMO requires a systematic, sequential implementation process to ensure all of the necessary steps are taken to ensure the required people and processes are in place and the organization is established to provide the necessary support. A simple checklist translated into a comprehensive implementation plan will ensure that the appropriate steps are followed and that the necessary involvement of all stakeholders is carefully handled.

However, the most critical element in the process of setting up a successful PMO is staffing it with the right people.  Many important characteristics are needed by staff in PMO’s, without which they really cannot function effectively within this demanding environment and the most critical of these are; organization, communication and negotiation.

Some of the key attributes to consider for PMO staff:

  • Experience:  Staff experienced in the key role(s) in the PMO is a critical requirement.  Someone who knows what to filter to the Project/Program Director, how to escalate to the Steering Committee, the key aspects of change control etc.
  • Adaptability:  If the PMO is going to be moulded to fit the overall organization, then it needs to be staffed by people who understand the priorities and can come up with novel solutions to resolve issues and new ways to communicate information
  • People-oriented:  Those who prefer to sit behind process, email and reporting tools are most often those who jeaopardize the success of the PMO.  To make a PMO work, it is important to get out and talk to the different Work stream / project teams and gain their trust and support by selling the PMO capabilities
  • Persistence:  There is always going to be an element of repetition necessary when a PMO is established.  However, repetition does not mean that it should be assumed that all understand the outputs or that those standards can be dropped. 
  • Empathy:  Understanding the implications of actions the PMO carries out and if possible, minimizing the impact on usually overworked project teams
  • Empowerment:  A PMO needs to have teeth and the Program/Project Director needs to ensure this by empowering the team.  Without true delegation of powers, the PMO will soon lose respect and response.  People who fill these roles should be ready to assume this mantle

The most successful PMOs take a proactive rather than passive approach, active engagement with the teams rather than a mechanistic review of delivery indicators. This approach requires that the staff in the PMO are committed to adding value and ensuring delivery success by quickly and consistently responding to issues as they occur. This approach builds confidence in the teams that the PMO is there to assist rather than adding to already burdensome overhead. It relies predominantly on value-adding staff rather than elaborate systems or processes.

Have you any experience in setting up a PMO which works well and do you have any war stories to share on your experiences – what sort of people capabilities are important?

In my next post I will round out the process of ensuring sustaining success.

John Hall

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