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An introduction to the project management office

Efficient project management gives your business a competitive edge, allows it to evolve quicker and reach its strategic goals. The project management office is an enabler to effective project management. Also referred to as a PMO, the role serves as a central point of governance for large projects. This article highlights why implementing a PMO for your project, internal or external, is crucial to your organisation. It defines the roles and responsibilities of the project management office and demonstrates how it will benefit your business.

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An introduction to the project management office (PMO)

What is a PMO? What is its function? And, more simply, how does it work? These are all questions we answer in this section.

What is a PMO?

A project management office, commonly referred to as PMO, defines a group within the organisation that is responsible for leading ongoing projects within the business. Some companies have a dedicated department for this, while others prefer the outsourcing path and work with specialised consultants. The department brings valuable return on investment to businesses as its primary goal is to streamline processes and standardise policies and methods. The PMO has an overview of all the projects taking place in the organisation.

The functions of the PMO

PMO consultants or teams are responsible for ensuring that projects in progress within the business are delivered successfully. They have an acute knowledge of project management and know how to navigate different environments. The PMO consolidates the documentation they work with and puts together metrics to deliver projects in a structured way. This is particularly useful for staying on track and knowing what to prioritise as there might several projects running at the same time. Typical responsibilities of a PMO include:

  • Ensuring there is no scope creep during the project;
  • Working with different stakeholders to deliver the project on time and within the allocated budget;
  • Developing the project plan and ensuring it covers all aspects of the project with key milestones, tasks owners, dependencies and more;
  • Continuously working on process improvement for projects;
  • Reviewing project KPIs and reporting on a regular basis to ensure the progress and metrics of the project are in line with expectations;
  • Identifying potential roadblocks to the project and laying out opportunities to counter them;
  • Providing leadership teams or project sponsors with regular updates on project progress.

The PMO works closely with project managers and ensures the use of best practices when it comes to project management.

Your project manager in the PMO structure

Project managers and the PMO work closely together. However, their roles and responsibilities are different. Project managers lead projects one by one and handle the day-to-day tasks. They manage the stakeholders involved with the project and work to ensure that tasks are completed as per the project planning.

On the other hand, the PMO is responsible for creating and monitoring project management standards. They support project managers by giving them tools, tips and templates to follow. Their role is to ensure that the project management practices within the organisation are optimum and that the projects launched are aligned with the organisation’s goals.

In short, the PMO has a broader scope than the project manager. They oversee the entire list of projects for the organisation. Due to this larger scope, PMO teams are versatile and it is not uncommon to see professionals from finance, IT, risk management and planning within the PMO group.

What should you look for in a PMO?

PMO managers lead teams of project managers. In the role, similarly to other leadership positions, they are responsible for the quality delivered by their teams. They are the link between project managers who deliver projects on the ground and senior sponsors who receive updates on the work completed. As such, the role requires multiple skills, from excellent communication to organisation skills, empathy, coaching, analytics and much more. They need to have a keen eye for detail while being able to take a step back to understand the bigger picture.

PMO project management responsibilities

Not every organisation needs a PMO. For those that do, especially in a fast-paced environment, the PMO might be a significant competitive advantage. The project management office should focus on the value that projects bring to the business. Below are some responsibilities that, if delivered well, might be a game changer for the organisation.

Put in place project governance

Having governance is critical to the success of any project. It creates a structured approach from the start where everyone is aware of their roles and responsibilities. The PMO is in charge of creating this governance. It should be thorough and list all the stakeholders, including project manager, project sponsors, clients, project team, etc. The roles of each and every one should also be clearly defined and communicated to the group. A detailed and clear governance will lead to better prioritisation, optimisation of the project’s resources and will ensure that everyone sticks to the plan.

Report on project progress to senior sponsors

Reports to leadership teams on the projects taking place are an essential part of the PMO role. Keeping the senior sponsors in the organisation up to date with the progress through defined metrics centralises the information and provides valuable insights for decision making. The PMO typically provides updates on the overall progress of projects, the achievement of key milestones, any roadblocks that might be slowing down a project, any risks to key deliverables, gains in operational efficiencies, financial status of the project versus budget and overall project performance.

Prioritise projects within the business based on their importance

One of the key roles of the PMO is to ensure that projects are not launched in isolation. This is often the case when departments work in silos and it presents risks to the organisation. Having a PMO in place means that there is a global view of all the projects and therefore an appropriate prioritisation. This forms an essential part of the business planning and will lead to smoother change management.

Plan projects and allocate resources appropriately

With several projects running simultaneously, it is essential to plan resources effectively and not overwhelm them with multiple tasks or change management processes at the same time. The PMO is responsible for ensuring that the right resources are allocated to projects at the right time. Through the consolidated view of projects, they can see the resource capacity. As such, they can schedule projects to not overlap or even consolidate projects to maximise the output.

Optimise workflows and processes

Projects can become complex quickly and as such, it is essential to implement methodologies and to automate processes. Doing so will streamline the work effort and bring better outputs from the lessons learned. This is one of the key responsibilities of the PMO. The role aims to automate workflows to bring efficiencies. It should also look into forecasting and anticipating upcoming projects.

Use lessons learned

A lot can go wrong when launching and delivering a project. The key to success is to use these pitfalls as learnings for upcoming projects. With its global visibility, the PMO is able to extract lessons learned and to feed that knowledge to project management teams. This transfer of knowledge is critical for long-term efficiencies in the organisation. It builds up over time and allows for the creation of methodologies and standards that will streamline the work effort for project managers in the long term.

Coach project managers

One of the roles of the PMO is to act as an advisor for project managers. As such, the project management office provides training and support to the PMs. They act as a coach and develop a PM’s soft and hard skills in their role.

Assigning the right PMO to lead within your organisation is essential. It will set the scene on the expectations and structure projects globally within your organisation, ensuring there are no silos. Indirectly, the PMO reinforces the company culture by creating synergies between projects and by focussing on the bigger picture. For more on how to cultivate your company culture, drive engagement and lead your business to success, have a look at the following content:

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