50 shades of PMO

„I have come to this company to learn exactly what the PMO role is – what it really does and what is totally out of its scope.” That was one of the first sentences I heard from my more junior colleague when we started working as PMO for a large project portfolio (150+ projects). What she said has stayed with me since then and inspired me to think of what the role PMO really is. Even though I have spent over 10 years being a part of or managing different PMOs I was not able to give a straightforward answer. Actually, I think that I have always enjoyed being a PMO exactly because the role was so fluid and gave me huge chances to develop professionally in various areas.

So what does a PMO actually do? And do you really need it?

The answer to both questions is obviously “It depends”.

If you think about the different types of PMOs that can be found in organisations - what they do, what their position is and what skills are needed - you will soon realise that there is no one true PMO model. It all depends on the organisation size, maturity level (which is obviously changing), functions and services delivered by other departments and the people who are part of the PMO team. And probably many other factors that I simply have not noticed yet.

Since it is so fluid and different – what does it mean to be a PMO? I truly believe that we can find at least 50 different shades of it, but let’s simplify them to 4 basic ones for start.

Do you really need a PMO for just a single project?

Green shades of PMO

If you are running a small project with just 1 or 2 teams and do not have to comply with numerous regulations you probably can do without a PMO. But once your project gets bigger and more complex or your organisation has multiple governance requirements you should think of engaging at least 1 person for the role.  

A PMO on a project (Project Management Office) usually has a supportive role. Apart from standard project monitoring, controlling and reporting responsibilities it often takes care of a wide range of tasks that support project execution and communication to make sure that everything runs smoothly. Weekly meeting presentation, holiday or training tracker, document repository, project site, organizing project events, aggregating information, updating data in PPM (Project Portfolio Management) systems and sometimes even preparing slides on behalf of other people or sorting out IT issues - you will probably not find these tasks on any official lists, but they are quite often being handled by a PMO. So if you have been struggling with any of them maybe it is high time to consider having a dedicated PMO for your project.

What if you have to manage multiple projects to achieve your business goals?

Yellow shades of PMO

More often than not we need more than just one project deliverables to achieve the business needs. In such cases we establish programmes that synchronise all the projects contributing to the strategic goal. Programmes may consist of multiple projects, engage 500+ employees and several project managers. In such a set-up it is the programme manager who needs most PMO support to make sense of what is going on in all relevant projects and how their interactions influence the overall programme performance. The Programme Management Office provides high-level plans, aggregated information on the current status of work within the projects, main risks or issues that need to be addressed, changes that should be introduced to stay on track and a communication hub for all programme stakeholders. It also designs and implements project management standards applicable to all projects within the programme. Such a PMO often serves as a translator between the programme and its numerous stakeholders (such as top management) who often need to be provided with key information presented in a synthesized, easy to grasp and visual form. Having an efficient Programme Management Office can actually determine if the programme itself is successful or not.

How do we know if we do the right projects and make the best use of our resources?

Blue shades of PMO

As companies grow and the number of projects they run rises, it becomes challenging to understand and control what is going on in the organisation and how projects contribute to the overall strategy. At this point it is key to ensure not only that we do our projects right but also that we do the right projects. That is when project portfolio management comes into picture. It provides a governance model that regulates what projects should be started, how their progress and status are tracked, what channels of escalation are used and how changes can be authorised. It also ensures that projects are aligned with the strategy, there are no project overlaps and all necessary standards, processes, procedures and templates are being implemented. In order to deliver all that, the Portfolio Management Office often operates on large data hidden in status reports, RAG signals, escalated risks and issues and compliance measures.  It really is hard to ensure proper strategy execution and resource optimisation without a Portfolio Management Office in place.

What else can we expect from a PMO?

Orange and red shades of PMO

I have to admit that to me personally, that is where the real fun of being a PMO begins. Once you do implement all the needed standards, KPIs, necessary templates and communication and everything seems to be under control, you can take a deep breath and look around. And then you start to notice that some processes need to be improved, some implemented and some killed. That the way your projects are delivered should and can be changed. Maybe you should invest more time in human resource management? Maybe you should have some user experience practices in place? Maybe you should communicate with your customers better and focus more on your marketing? Or maybe you should reinvent the way you provide your products and services and try to be more agile in the way you work? These are the questions and challenges that a mature PMO can work on. Obviously, it all depends on the organization and how it deals with its business areas but the PMO can and should challenge the status quo. It should look for and provide inspiration for future development. More often than not, it is in the perfect position to notice the improvement needs and address them. Such a PMO does require enough space (both in terms of time and decision-making capabilities) and open-minded people to be successful in this role.  It may not be a standard yet but I truly believe that this is the future of the PMO.

So where do we start?

I have to admit that the PMO types described above are based on my own experiences and the real world is most definitely rich in some more examples. What I think is crucial when you want to  start or expand your PMO is to understand your present and future needs really well and answer 3 basic questions: 

1. Why do you need a PMO?

Do you need hands-on support for specific projects, coordination of a large programme, clear governance for the whole portfolio or just organisational development in your Project Management?

2. How should it work in your organisation?

Is there a specific governance model and external regulations that your PMO should take care of? What is the responsibility split between PMO and specific Project and Programme Managers? What are the key interactions with other stakeholders (Finances, HR, IT, etc)

3. What should it focus on and what competencies are needed?

Should it follow the existing processes and procedures, try to improve them, support organisational change or even challenge the status quo and propose new development directions

Once you do answer these questions it is easier to choose the PMO you should focus on and think of the people you will need for it.

Contact us

Marysia Lachowicz

Marysia Lachowicz

Director, PwC Poland

Tel: +48 519 506 816

Follow us