What is a PMO?

A PMO could refer to a bunch of different things which may be different to each person’s context, and yes that’s why speaking in acronyms can backfire.

In this context we are referring to a PMO as a Program Management Office.  Even though we have expanded what we are referring to there still be differences on what this word means to us.

Classically a PMO is a department created for the sole purpose of assisting programs achieve success. In larger organisations with a level of maturity in program delivery this may be a formal department which is staffed to serve and assist program delivery. Whilst in smaller organisations this may be a role undertaken by a senior person.

Whether large or small the PMO’s core functions may include:

  • The monitor and control of projects and programs
  • The management of portfolios
  • Establishment of policies and processes
  • Development of project and program methodologies
  • Establishing metrics and timelines for reporting
  • Training, coaching, mentoring and support
  • Creating accountability for the program
  • Communication of shared knowledge; lessons learnt etc.
  • Identification of opportunities and synergies across programs
  • Sharing and allocating resources across the organisation

If you are experienced in working alongside or even within a PMO you probably have your own version of what it means to you as well as how constructive it has been.

I work with many clients who feel that their PMO actually works against their attempts and diminishes their capacity to deliver on their programs.  Common causes for these symptoms include:

  • Feeling that the PMO is micromanaging them
  • Too much time in reporting
  • Convoluted processes or systems
  • Poor relations between program managers and PMO staff

I have also worked with many clients who share nothing more than positive comments about their Program Management Offices.  These often include:

  • Communication of processes
  • Assistance in developing project/program documentation
  • Training and coaching
  • Positive support
  • Being kept on track and accountable
  • Sharing lessons learnt
  • Sharing previous documents and proven methods
  • Assisting in resource allocation to manage peaks
  • Direction and establishment of networks within the organisation
  • Provision of transparency for audits
  • Provision of a redundancy in the event of program manager exit
  • Creating efficiencies in procurement through bigger buying

The notion of Program Management Offices tends to scare a lot of managers as they have had or heard about poor experiences.  I have found that in many cases the need for a PMO was real, however the method in which it was created was the source of the issue.

In one particular case (a large government department) a PMO was created to oversee all departmental projects.  I think something got lost in translation as since the directive said all projects, that’s exactly the approach undertaken.  So again small projects were put through the same rigor designed for high risk programs, and given that 95% of the work were small projects it was definitely not a fit for purpose solution.

In conclusion whilst PMO’s have a great deal of benefits to program management, they can also come at cost.  Ensure that your PMO is well established and works with the program managers and stakeholders to collaboratively drive success.





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