Organize to fit the work.
This seems like a simple concept, but whether you’re setting up a new PMO, or expanding/re-organizing an existing PMO, getting the right organization can be daunting. Not only do you need to define the right roles, you also need to think about getting the right people with the best knowledge, skills and abilities to fill those roles. Here are some thoughts about how you can go about building an optimal PMO organization.
While there seems to be general agreement that a PMO provides a focal point for projects and project-related processes, practices and tools, there is no cookie-cutter definition of what is PMO is, what it does or who is needed to run it. PMOs are by nature highly situational; they reflect the unique needs and challenges of their client or parent organization. Needless to say understanding and articulating your PMO’s value proposition and business objects are the critical starting point. A critical point to remember is that when you start the discussion about organizing, you really need to focus on what you do.
What your PMO does, or needs to do, to meet its objectives and provide value is the key step in translating those too often broad, lofty strategic statements into the tactical, assignable activities that real people need to execute. It’s very similar to the way we define projects – we start with strategies and business objectives and we end up with defined deliverables, tasks and assignments.
So assuming that you’ve been diligent about defining what you do, here are some thoughts about who you might need to do it.
PMO Administrators: Most PMOs are heavily tasked with collecting data, distributing information and coordinating review and governance activities. In a perfect world all of these things would be auto-magical but in the real world someone needs to make them happen. From sending ‘gentle reminders’ to managers that their reports are due to coordinating calendars and distributing meeting materials, the PMO administrator plays a key role in making sure that the internal processes run smoothly. The best administrators also play a role in creating and communicating those internal processes across the PMO stakeholder community. Superior organizational skills, patience, persistence and good people skills are all a must!
PMO Analysts: There are potentially several different analytical positions and job titles appropriate to a PMO; process analyst, information analyst, tools analyst, business analyst, etc.. So what does an analyst do? In the PMO context, the analysts are the people who dive into the details:
- A process analyst defines the individual elements that make a process – what needs to be done and how – and helps in communicating that across the organization. The process analyst is the person who works with subject matter experts to work through the details of how a process will work, create the process documentation, educate process users and stakeholders about using the processes, and continually improve, update and enhance the process as your organization matures.
- Information or reporting analysts determine what kind of data is needed to support decision-making, set up the mechanisms for collecting that data and critically examine the data, turning it into meaningful information can be used by decision makers. If you ask a really good information analyst a general question about how a particular category of project is performing, you will never get a response of ‘fine’ – you’re more likely to get a dashboard report showing consolidated information on key indicators for that project type.
- Tool analysts are the people in your organization who know more than anyone else about the capabilities of the tools you use to manage projects and portfolios. They can tell you what your tools can and can’t do but they can also get creative and help you use your toolset to craft solutions to your business problems.
- Business analysts liaise with your organizational stakeholder community to understand their needs and requirements and help translate these into systems, processes and tools that will meet those needs. Business analysts work with the stakeholder community continuously to ensure that what is delivered meets the needs and requirements; as such, they play a huge role in ensuring stakeholder satisfaction.
Great analysts – of any kind – are excellent at open listening and are exceptional critical-thinkers. They use details, but they don’t get bogged down in them and can explain their methods and thinking to others.
Project Managers: The great debate is not about what project managers do, but whether they should be centralized in the PMO. One side argues that because the PMO is responsible for the practice of project management, all project managers should report and/or be accountable to the PMO. The decentralization side argues that project managers should have a strong working knowledge of the business or technical aspects of projects and should thus report into the functional area executing or sponsoring the project. PMO’s are concerned about adherence to project management standards, and mitigate risk by having deploying professional project managers. Functional areas are concerned with the quality of the project deliverables and the need to understand the project’s business and technical issues.
The answer is that both sides are right and wrong. In practice, most successful organizations are those that recognize the need for a mixed model. Large, complex, cross-functional Programs and Projects require a dedicated manager who can effectively oversee the project across the enterprise. As a ‘center of practice’ the PMO is the appropriate ‘home’ for these project (or program) managers. Conversely, a smaller, intra-functional project may not require the same level of project management rigor and could be effectively managed by a functional resource – a ‘project leader’ as opposed to a ‘project manager’. Using a mixed approach is not without its challenges, but there are also some compensating benefits.
A key challenge is determining the criteria for which projects require ‘project managers’ vs. ‘project leaders’ , which then need to be applied to during the project intake process. Those criteria should be focused on risk mitigation, not availability of qualified project managers. Assigning a project leader to a mission-critical project because all the PMO’s project managers are busy invites disaster. There must also be clear expectations and accountability for things like status reporting – as information generated by project leader is needed by the PMO to provide enterprise-level visibility into projects and portfolios.
Key benefits of centralized project managers include ensuring an adequate level of management for large complex projects, and providing the enterprise as a whole with subject matter experts in project management. These expert PMs can assist in establishing project management processes, educating or assisting others in their use, and increasing the overall project management maturity of the organization.
The PMO Manager/Leader: Last, but not least, we come to the head of the PMO. In his 1990 Harvard Business Review article, ‘What Leaders Really Do,’ John Kotter asserts that management is fundamentally different from leadership. According to Kotter good managers deal with complexity by planning and budgeting, organizing and staffing, and controlling and problem solving. By contrast, leaders cope with change; setting direction, aligning people to that direction, and motivating and inspiring people to keep in the right direction.
The effective PMO manager is both manager and leader. This individual establishes the plan for what the PMO will do, manages the work and the staff and ensures tactical objectives are met. At the same time the head of the PMO fills the pivotal leadership role for the PMO team and for the practice of project and portfolio management across the organization. While the PMO manager spearheads efforts for creating and maintaining processes to ensure consistent predictable project performance, the PMO leader is continually working across the enterprise to encourage the adoption of those processes and the use of the information they provide. The effective PMO leader is continuously adapting themselves and the PMO to support the needs of the organization.
In conclusion, setting up and organizing a PMO requires forethought and preparation. Some things to keep in mind:
- Understand what your PMO does (and what it doesn’t do)
- The optimal PMO organization is situational to its environment; no two will be the same.
- Get the right kind of people to do the right work in support of the PMO mission.
- Always remember your roles as manager and leader
And, of course, organize to fit the work.