Manage the “PMO Project”

Posted: February 19, 2009 in Project Management
Tags: , ,

I have read a story about a company that perceived the PMO function incorrectly and, consequently, deemed it a burden that would do nothing except blowing up its overhead cost with no return on investment.

The story started with an enthusiastic employee in the company who loved the Project Management profession and worked hard to earn the PMP credentials. He encouraged others to follow his footsteps and to become PMP’s. He decided to move on with the new profession and to establish a Project Management Office (PMO) in the company. He initially succeeded in selling the idea to the top management and started to set the PMO up after he had changed his current position in which he served for more than 10 years. He started with selling the idea to other branches of the company through a couple presentations then published the first internal newsletter about PM and the importance of PMO. He compiled a PM Methodology document and published it for people to use.

A few months later the people interested in his work, especially his followers, have not heard any new activities of this to-be PMO. After they contacted the PMO officer they were stunned by the fact that the PMO started to die prematurely. More surprisingly, they received an internal circular that this person (officer) has now been appointed a new position that has nothing to do with PMO! Yes, the PMO officer has changed his career path.

When he was asked about the reasons behind this sudden change he declared that top management had really not been convinced about the idea of the PMO. They claimed PMO would require additional overhead costs that, from their perspective, were not justified especially during times the company imposed cut-cost policies. It would increase manual work. Moreover, executives claimed that their projects do not require a PMO to manage them although they have piles of pending projects.

This story begs the question of who is responsible of this failure in establishing the PMO and selling it correctly to the top management. To me, I would point my finger at the PMO Officer in the first place.

Establishing a PMO in a company is a project by its own. It has to undergo all phases of a project lifecycle. I believe that a thorough feasibility study should precede initiating such a project. This study is the best place to present the values and benefits of having a PMO in place. The project has to have a sponsor who supports the idea and commits to providing the needed resources. Getting the buy-in from the sponsor is not the end of his role in the project. He has to be involved of any obstacles the project manager (in this case the PMO officer) might need help to resolve. In the planning phase of this project the PMO officer should have involved all team members who will participate in building the PMO (other project managers in the company who will eventually be reporting to the PMO). Planning the PM Methodology is the most important part in the project. The PMO officer did not get other members’ buy-in by ignoring their input to the methodology.

The point in this blog is to draw the attention to the importance of using the best practices of Project Management even in establishing a new PMO. It is a project that needs feasibility studies, sponsorship, stakeholders’ buy-in, team members’ involvement, proper planning, executing, monitoring, and closing. If the project fails, it is the Project Manager’s responsibility.

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