What’s That PMO Doing?

February 18, 2010 by
Filed under: Leadership, People, Project management 

I was running a workshop on project management yesterday, and one of the first things I did (as usual) was to go around the room to ask what people were looking for in the session. One person volunteered that back on their project, they have a PMO that drives things, and what he wanted to get out of the session was to “find out what goes on behind those doors”. I may not know what does go on behind those doors, but I do have thought or two to share.

Right up front, without any further questioning, I have problems with the indicated lack of transparency from this group. There are certainly a number of different philosophies that can drive a Project Management Office in an organization, and not all of them are good ones. One of the principles that I think is critical for a sustainable PMO is this transparency. Not the “open door policy” that some organizations have in place (but ends up being perceived as a burden with all those pointless interruptions), but an “openness”. Openness to engage anyone in the organization, openness to collaboration as a necessity for success, openness to inclusion of the rest of the organization to be part of the team.

If any group should set an example that silos have no place in a project environment, it is a PMO.

The PMO should be based on shared participation with the teams, and reap the benefits of shared success. This grows the trust between everyone in the organization, and builds a sustainable environment where people on the project teams can be groomed to participate as part of the PMO, sometimes on a rotating basis.

The attitude needs to be centred on leadership over managing projects, on mentoring teams rather than telling them what to do. A good PMO may contribute to the organization in terms of defining standard practices, but in a role where they participate with others in the development, rather than build them in a vacuum and deliver them to the teams.

All of this can only exist if there are no metaphorical ‘closed doors’ to get in the way.

I have seen too many examples where PMOs are run as elite groups that somehow magically drive projects, pass along edicts as though they were stone tablets, and enforce the procedures they have foisted on the teams with little input as to their practicality. Often, these groups have designations that might suggest that they are superior to the others on the project, that the opinions of others don’t really matter, that you need to know the secret handshake to be part of the elite group (this actually happened with one PMO I consulted with, who were quite cool and aloof until they found out I had that mystical PMP designation).

These groups may be able to sustain their position through relationships with senior management and deflecting less than stellar results toward those teams that didn’t follow their procedures, but they won’t add nearly the value they could. PMOs should be measured on the value they bring, and that means they should be able to measurably demonstrate their value at an organizational level.

Without openness to broad participation, without an attitude of leadership and mentoring, it is safe to say that PMO is doing the wrong things. – JB

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