A new study shows that there has been a major shift in the role of the Project, Program and Portfolio Management Office (PMO).  PMOs are playing a more strategic role beyond project management, including managing all planned work and resources.  The wider responsibility of a PMO includes a wide range of management services such as strategic planning, IT service and application management and budgeting.

The research also shows that PMOs are becoming a hub in an organisation, focusing on general business processes.  However, the main tasks undertaken by a PMO remain programme and portfolio management, process improvement and high level reporting or dashboards.

As the role of the PMO has widened to encompass other areas outside of project and programme management the profile of the PMO team in the organisation has also changed and over 55% of PMOs report to C-level executives.

The biggest organisational challenge facing PMOs was recognised as departmental silos.  This isn’t surprising: as PMOs take on responsibility outside project management they will come into contact with people from other departments.  PMOs can be a driving force in standardisation and ensuring good communications between departments, but it looks like there is still a long way to go.
Project Management Organization
During 2009 most PMOs plan to improve their reporting capability, although the survey was done before the economy took a turn for the worse, so it remains to be seen whether or not they will make any progress this year.  Reporting is not perceived to be a ‘value-added’ option for executives: having good project dashboards doesn’t make your company any more money (although I would argue that it’s indirectly responsible as quality reports will show you which projects are worth doing).  This is likely to be one of the improvements that gets cancelled this year.

The analysis also looked at what traits make a good PMO.  The clearest denominator of success was process maturity:  nothing surprising there.  The better the processes, and the more widely adopted they are, the easier it will be for a PMO team to do a good job.  There were some other points identified that help to make an effective PMO.  In summary, an effective PMO has:

  • Four or more staff: the team requires a “critical mass of skills and staff effort” to be able to operate well.
  • A scope that extends beyond project, programme and portfolio management: rolling other functions under the PMO banner provides the opportunity for integration and breaking down those inter-departmental silos.
  • Responsibility for more than just routine administrative tasks, including service management and change management.
  • Executive level sponsorship.
  • Operated for three or more years: the more mature the PMO, the better it performs.
  • Responsibility for owning and measuring departmental processes including data collection, analysis and reporting.

Does your PMO fulfil all these criteria?  If not, you might consider taking on board some of the recommendations from the study’s author, Terry Doerscher, Chief Process Architect at Planview.  He recommends benchmarking your company’s PMO.  Once that is done you can establish any processes that are not currently in place.  This will mean it’s easier to control the work across the organisation and see the big picture, which means you can better react to the impact of work across the company on the operational challenges facing the business.

He also suggests putting in place a system of continuous process improvement, which is easier said than done. Finally, Doerscher recommends that everyone is clear on the objectives for the PMO and understands its role and the value it can bring to the organisation as a whole. Part of this needs to be making sure that the PMO team is not spending their entire time on admin: they need time to work on things that really do add value, such as aligning work to the business management objectives.