Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Key Takeaways:

While process-oriented management is a pillar of the PMO’s DNA, many of today’s Project Management Offices have much more to bring to their organization: valuable insights to facilitate and accelerate strategic decisions, skill development, greater cohesion and alignment at the enterprise level, and more.


The Project Management Office: A Creature of Process?

If I say “Project Management Office”, words such as “process”, “method”, “enforcement” probably come to your mind. Implementing standard processes throughout the organization and monitoring compliance are key facets of a PMO’s role. But this is hardly all there is to it. A Project Management Office is a central entity that bridges the gaps between diverse teams and functions. Most of today’s Project Management Offices have learnt to leverage that privileged position to expand the scope of their responsibilities and move beyond process definition and enforcement.

PMOs establish frameworks for effective collaboration and communication, bring further intelligence to strategic thinking, drive improvements in the ways of working, help evolve the organization’s culture towards more agility and a digital mindset, enable institutional learning and skill development to support maturity growth

In fact, sound processes are merely the foundation upon which successful PMOs build organization-wide improvement strategies. Process management only takes up a small fraction of the day-to-day activities of a mature, highly efficient Project Management Office. At the end of the day, it is not the process that defines the value of a PMO, but rather everything that your Project Management Office will change, improve, and optimize based on that process.

Organizations usually set up a Project Management Office to address a need for greater standardization and consistency in project-related activities. There are countless ways to plan, track, and manage projects and portfolios. Different project managers will probably select different methods, use different labels and terminologies, as well as develop different sets of metrics or templates.

Now, there are many business areas and domains where diversity is a value driver that should be cultivated, but methodology is not one of them. Silos and gaps between management practices prevent comparability, impair communication and leadership, and may even give rise to conflicts and misunderstandings that will weigh on the overall performance of the business.

This is why any Project Management Office will seek to define standard processes to improve consistency across project teams. The PMO is tasked with making sure that the various business units, teams, and project managers follow similar processes and use the same baselines for managing all project-related tasks and activities, from the management of project ideas to executive reporting, from performance tracking to cross-team communications. This includes the choice of a project management methodology or a combination of methodologies, as more and more organizations embrace hybrid project management models mixing Agile, Waterfall, or CCPM practices.

In order to make the right calls and select the methods that suit the organization’s challenges and objectives best, PMOs typically audit the existing project delivery processes and ways of working. They analyze the outcomes of past projects to figure out what could be improved. This way, your Project Management Office can really help solve the targeted problems and pain points that may have diminished the performance of the business in the past.

In addition to defining standard processes and methodology, a Project Management Office will make sure that the best practices are actually adopted and implemented. Project Management Offices oversee project work to enforce the standards and control proper application of the policy. Monitoring the course of project execution and delivery enables the PMO to ensure that projects stay on track, that problems are properly anticipated and managed, and that project managers and team members work and collaborate efficiently, following the established standards. PMOs are also responsible for driving continuous improvement in the management process.

Long story short, a Project Management Office is a process-oriented function designed to bring structure to project and portfolio management activities.

Defining the PMO’s role based on process is right to some extent. To some extent only. While historical Project Management Offices were primarily concerned with process definition and enforcement, or with the management of operational delivery, the job description of today’s PMOs tends to encompass an increasingly wide range of extra responsibilities. Because the PMO is a cross-functional body, it sits at the crossroads of many different issues and business drivers. As a result, the Project Management Office is empowered to maximize value throughout the business.

The Project Management Office is the custodian of business practices and ways of working across units and departments. In this respect, PMOs act as connectors between various teams. They can facilitate communication and collaboration across teams, nurture the desired skills, evolve the organization’s culture, and help people embrace new mindsets and approaches.

Driving Alignment and Collaboration

Project Management Offices own the project management process and the supporting documentation, meaning that they are able to make sure that the various workers and teams across departments speak the same language and are on the same page. Through the creation of benchmarks, best practices, or shared knowledge bases, PMOs align all project team members around a common vision of project management. They may also be of invaluable help in socializing the strategic vision and directions of the enterprise, or in cascading executive decisions down to the operational levels.

Frictionless collaboration is increasingly important in the digital age. As business accelerates, market conditions grow more complex, and customer expectations are in a state of constant flux, organizations need to innovate and deliver faster. Accordingly the need for workflow flexibility, instant communication, and seamless collaboration between functions and teams increases.

As a central hub for PPM and a go-between, the Project Management Office is ideally positioned to boost collaboration. PMOs usually implement internal communication and collaboration tools as part of their PPM Information System in order to facilitate information sharing, instant updates, and collaborative ways of working.

Managing Talent

Together with the HR department, the Project Management Office is the gatekeeper of the information about human resources. In order to optimally assign resources to project work, PMOs need a database centralizing information about resource roles, skills, or even affinities and interests. That knowledge, combined with PMOs’ focus on cultivating best practices and improving overall work efficiency, enables them to optimize the organization’s talent management. Through training and coaching programs, or other skill development modules and initiatives, PMOs can nurture the desired skills and prepare the enterprise’s workforce to tackle tomorrow’s business challenges.

The coaching and mentoring effort is also an opportunity to instill a digital mindset and a culture of responsiveness in the organization. In addition to adequate technical background and guidelines on the proper use of the digital tools in place in the enterprise, workers need what we could call digital instincts: for example, an in-depth understanding of the dynamics of markets in the digital age, a habit of consistently basing action and decisions on data, and a positive attitude towards change.

Managing Change

Projects are the agents of change in an organization. Implementing a transformation initiative, delivering a new service to internal customers or bringing a new product to market all require projects and programs. With a complete view on the organization’s projects, programs, and portfolios, and with the ability to shape the practices, tools, and mindsets across the firm, the Project Management Officer is ideally positioned to act as a Chief Transformation Officer.

Successful organizational change requires influence rather than authority. People need to be explained how they must change their behaviors, but also why and what for. So, when it comes to change management, it is of key importance to communicate those reasons as clearly as possible in order to get people onboard. To truly convince people, the PMO staff needs soft skills and relational abilities. The PMO teams will be required to interact and collaborate with a wide range or various stakeholders: project and portfolio managers, project team members, resource managers, customers and project sponsors, executive leaders etc. In order for them to relate and appeal to these various roles, the Project Management Office people need excellent communication, persuasion, and conflict resolution skills.

Embracing this new role as a change enabler and facilitator is a fantastic opportunity for Project Management Offices to increase their influence in the business. But that may require veering away from the control mentality that used to define PMOs in the past, and embracing a more flexible and agile approach to process.

Quality Data yields Quality Decisions

Project Management Offices ensure that the enterprise has a comprehensive vision of all its projects, programs, and portfolios. How? By consolidating all the related information into a central database with automatic reconciliation features and real-time updates. Thanks to the support of professional tools, Project Management Offices can guarantee the accuracy, the freshness, and the quality of the data they produce, use, and report to their management. Armed with this superior visibility, PMOs can support executive decision-makers by providing them with clear and compelling information on all aspects of project activity.

Data processing and analysis capabilities provide useful insights, which can be automatically exported and consolidated in reports with engaging data visualizations, to facilitate the consumption of information and support faster, better decisions.

By harnessing the power of the data, PMOs can make themselves indispensable to C-level executives. It is the perfect opportunity for Project Management Offices to go beyond process definition and enforcement or compliance monitoring and move on to the next level.

Case in Point: Project Selection

Let’s illustrate the point made above with a focus on project selection. As today’s businesses are faced with the necessity to achieve more with fewer resources, they must pick and prioritize their projects with utmost care in order to ensure that scarce resources are used in the most profitable and strategic way. This is not just a matter of ROI: by “strategic projects”, we mean those projects that are best aligned with the strategic directions and objectives of the business. And, in order to identify those initiatives, you need clarity on the potential outcomes, value, and risks of the projects before they’re even launched.

That’s where the Project Management Office’s data and capabilities come into play. The ability to deliver extensive analysis of the potential return of candidate projects or business cases is of invaluable help to tackle that key challenge of project selection and prioritization. Improving the quality of project selection will have a huge impact on the performance of the business. It will optimize business alignment and increase the strategic value of project activity, improve business agility, and help the firm seize new opportunities.

Gartner predicts that by 2030, enterprises that commit dedicated organizational resources to ensure that strategy is successfully executed are 80% more likely to be industry leaders.

Meeting the Unexpected

The PMO’s quality data can also be used to simulate multiple what-if scenarios in order to visualize the potential impact of decisions on project budgets and schedules, on resource capacity, on portfolio balance and health, and so forth. In addition to increasing the predictability of operations and the accuracy of project planning, simulation capabilities drive greater agility in project and portfolio management. Whenever unexpected events come and derail the course of a project, the PMO can run scenarios to identify the best way to readjust, while taking the impact on the rest of the pipeline into account. The bottom line? Projects with higher chances of success, and far more likely to meet the expectations of all stakeholders.

Perhaps more importantly, the PMO’s ability to play with the data is invaluable when the business needs to pivot and adjust to respond to market or economic upheavals — such as the global crisis caused by the 2020 COVID outbreak. Because Project Management Offices provide a platform for fast and informed decision-making, they can help re-evaluate strategic directions, project organization, and PPM drivers in order to adjust the course of the business.

For example, a Project Management Office will help reassess the risk and opportunity landscape in the light of market changes in order to review the risk and value appraisal models used by the business.

Supporting Innovation

The Project Management Office’s coaching effort and the resulting cultural shifts go a long way towards enabling innovation and creativity across the organization. As it encourages new ideas and fosters diversity of thought, a more collaborative mindset can boost innovation. Change-enabling mentality and framework incentivize people to explore new paths, and many PMOs actively support trailblazers and fresh ideas.

Innovation may also stem from the Project Management Office itself, in the form of process innovation. For instance, mature PMOs are increasingly turning to Agile methodologies — which break down project lifecycles into smaller iterative sprints, managed by small teams, with limited control mechanisms. While the new Agile practices are often implemented as part of a bi-modal process mixing sprint-based work with more traditional, linear project management, this still requires the PMO to revise the established ways of managing projects, risks and resources, and to come up with new solutions.

The key is to understand that process is nothing in itself. It helps to view process as a tool: what creates value is what you do with it, what you use it for. In the case of the Project Management Office, the process is the foundation that supports and enables strategic thinking and change enablement.

Process is therefore not enough… but it is nevertheless necessary. In order to run the extra mile, you first need to complete the “regular” journey!

Finally, another caveat: in order for the PMO to veer from “just process” to “more than process”, the Office itself needs to embrace a new vision of its role and purpose and a new posture of enablement. Which may require to let go of many of the control mechanisms that PMOs have historically used as part of their process enforcement role.

Madness in method, that’s genius”. ― Frank Herbert.

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Benoît Boitard

Benoît has multiple professional experiences, working in particular as a digital strategy consultant, both in emerging start-ups and in large companies. These diverse experiences have imbued him with a global vision of project management in traditional and agile working environments.