Who Needs a PMO?

Projects just happen.  Everywhere you look, projects are being initiated...even though not everyone will immediately recognize the effort as a “project.”

Projects happen no matter what your office infrastructure looks like.  Sometimes they're just called tasks, assignments, must-do’s, emergencies, new initiatives, and whatever that darn supervisor wants done this week.  But in reality, they’re all projects to some degree.  Big and small, long or short, cheap or expensive…they are all projects.

I understand that not every “project” needs a project manager.  At least not formal, trained project managers in the sense that we’re all thinking.  They need a task master or leader or go-to person.  They need a manager with some subordinates to get the delegated work done.  But they don’t need a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) or a project manager with a lot of experience.  They need someone to oversee it and make sure the work gets done.  Period.

Likewise, on the other side of the coin we have the detailed projects that are what we might think of as ‘official’ projects.  Well planned out, estimated, a gathered or planned team, a formal project manager in place and an executive or two in the company who seem very interested in what’s happening.  Oh yes, and a customer who actually needs the work done.  That maybe an internal customer like a director of a business unit or an external customer like the project sponsor at the organization who is purchasing the implementation of your customizable software solution.

Should you have a PMO?

So those are the projects you might see happening in your own organization.  The question is, do you need a Project Management Office (PMO) in place to be a central repository for the leadership of those projects?  Is that really necessary?  The answer is…sort of. 

I’ve worked in organizations that had PMOs and ones that did not.  Most places I’ve worked with or for since the 2000s have had a PMO in place or were building one.  Were they all successful?  Not even close.  But they were trying….and in the case of one organization they kept trying…and trying…and trying.  But there was a PMO.  What the PMO does allow for is this:  a central organization where projects can be sent to be prioritized, led, monitored, and reported on.  It becomes much harder to do those things if you’re projects are being led in units or departments all over the company.  That’s fine – usually – if it’s only the small stuff.  But the larger projects will almost always benefit from the more organized processes that even a structurally unsound PMO can provide.   What the PMO likely brings to the table that the adhoc leadership of projects throughout an organization will never be able to supply consistently are these:

  • High level oversight of all critical projects including prioritization
  • Trained project leadership available for all critical projects
  • A standardized process for leading projects
  • A standardized reporting mechanism to organizational leadership on each project and project portfolios or groups of projects
  • A repository of project knowledge (hopefully) from the good and the bad things learned on previous projects (aka, lessons learned)
  • Templates for use for leading projects and for the key deliverables that are required on most projects

Summary / call for input

After reading this...what are your thoughts?  Does your organization need a PMO?  My answer is – if you’re serious about your projects, if you frequently or even occasionally have large scale mission critical projects or at least high dollar projects, and if you are interested in project successes that can be built upon and repeated – then, yes.  It’s a good idea to construct a formal project management office, train your organization on how to initiate projects within the PMO and staff it with professionals who know what they are doing.  Your project success will pay for it tenfold in the long run.

What about our readers?  Do you agree with these boundaries and parameters?  How do they fit with your own views and what boundaries does your organization have?


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