Why a PMO is important

Todd McGregor, managing director of Forrester Middle East, explains the drivers behind establishing an efficient programme management office and the practices behind it.

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By  Todd McGregor Published  April 1, 2007

CIOs institute programme management offices (PMOs) to bring order and standardisation to project qualification, prioritisation, and management. IT is continually buffeted by: business requests that exceed its ability to deliver; questions on IT cost and value; and perceptions that project delivery, which should be a core competency, is an IT deficiency. To meet the need for repeatable and predictable good practices and IT investment expectations, IT organisations establish PMOs to accomplish multiple objectives.

Manage the process by which project requests are evaluated and initiated. IT must have a rational process to receive business requests and determine the priority for resource assignment. Without this, business demand will hit IT areas from all directions, priority becomes driven by the squeakiest wheel, and IT resources are frittered away with no ability to relate effort and value. PMOs address this by standardising the project request and approving the processes specific to the size of the request.

Institute a standard project management methodology and framework. If the IT organisation does not have a standard project management methodology and framework, it can't develop a project management competency, management ability to oversee multiple projects is hampered, and business sponsors won't know how to work with the project team. With a focus on a single methodology, the resulting standardisation optimises project delivery and develops project management "bench strength".

Collect and disseminate "best practices." Through their work on typical projects and within the existing organisation model, project managers (PMs) often create their own "best practices" - be they ways to estimate testing tasks or to manage interdependencies with operational staff. PMOs create value when they institute ways to capture these best practices and make them available to other PMs.

Provide a shared resource pool of experienced project managers. Capable project management is usually a scarce resource and firms with insufficient bench strength are forced to bring in outside contractors when demand exceeds supply. While this may address the capacity issue, it raises isues concerning costs and limits knowledge transfer. A PMO that makes project management skills available and portable across projects fulfills the need for high-quality project management across the enterprise.

Like many IT staff functions, PMOs often struggle with authority, accountability, and collaboration. Persistent CIOs don't let their PMO slide into oblivion - they proactively recognise symptoms and address root causes.

Monitor how well the PMO is doing. They get feedback from PMs and business leaders about the issues and value of the PMO. Satisfaction surveys, feedback forms, and informal get-togethers in the business exec's office at 5:30 p.m. - these all provide valuable input.

Ensure PMO responsibilities and processes align with organisation goals. The level of support needed for the PMO erodes when PMO processes are too bureaucratic.

Conversely, when the PMO doesn't have the necessary responsibilities to achieve the goals, its credibility suffers.

Foster the right relationships. PMOs will not be effective if they are treated as a process silo separate from other IT processes working to meet business needs.

CIOs should make sure that the relationship of PMO processes and reporting to the operations of IT steering committees at the overall IT and individual project levels is clear.

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