The idea of having a PMO for an organization or business objective can have different meanings or perceptions, but the basic concept remains the same. Regardless of the industry, type of effort, size, budget or duration, the basic PMO concept is to have a disciplined approach to the life-cycle of a given effort. The PMO is really the guiding discipline or infrastructure and not necessarily a physical “office” at all. The Office is really the “Official” or “Officiating” entity responsible for the definition and enforcement of the management discipline.
Project Management Institute (PMI) Definition Project Management Office (PMO)
An organizational body or entity assigned various responsibilities related to the centralized and coordinated management of those projects under its domain. The responsibilities of a PMO can range from providing project management support functions to actually being responsible for the direct management of a project (PMBOK Guide).
Primary functions may include:
- Managing shared resources across all projects administered by the PMO. In this case, the PMO may be the staffing management that assigns PMs to individual Programs and Projects based on the requirements, skill level and workload balance of the PM workforce. If there is a larger Portfolio PMO, the Leaders or Leadership Team are typically a longer term or permanent part of the organization and are not “assigned” by the PMO itself.
- Identifying and developing project management methodology, best practices and standards. This may be the most critical function of the overall PMO. This is where the discipline and rigor are defined and enforced. The PMO will need to find the right level of tailoring based on the specifics of the effort. Too much oversight or rigor can constrain progress as well add non-value add time and overhead to the effort. Conversely, not enough discipline can cause a lack of control and may defeat the purpose of having the PMO.
- Coaching, mentoring, training and oversight. The PMO will typically be regarded as Subject Matter Experts (SME) in the field of P3 Management. This level of skill, background and expertise will need to be shared as the PMO leaders in an organization.
- Monitoring compliance with project management standards, policies, procedures and templates via project audits. The PMO defines the guidelines that will be followed and will be responsible for ensuring adherence to, or approved deviations from those guidelines.
- Developing and managing project policies, procedures, templates and other shared documentation (organizational process assets). The PMO will ensure consistency, order and organization by having common documentation between various efforts. This simplifies the process of understanding the project and is helpful when resources are working more than a single program or project and do not have to adapt to unique standards for each effort.
- Coordinating communication across projects. Communication is always key to the success or failure of any effort and the PMO plays a critical role in this communication. Many times, there are different groups working specific activities and the PMO will need to manage the cross-functional communication. The individual may not understand the big picture or impact to the overall objective by their specific effort. The PMO has the total overall responsibility of ensuring that the various “parts” are all working together in alignment and much of that can be accomplished by effective communication.
As mentioned, the PMO is effective regardless of the size of the effort. Additionally, the PMO may refer to different “levels” that need the management discipline. Although the PMO will refer to all levels if applicable to the effort, depending on the size of the organization, entity or project, not all levels need to be included.
The portfolio is the highest level in the P3 Hierarchy. The portfolio that is managed is usually part of the overall organizational structure or a major business strategy. The portfolio in this context refers to a group of programs (and projects) that meet a strategic business objective. The programs may or may not be interdependently related but fit in some sort of infrastructure or organization. A specific organization may have different types of products, enterprises, commodities, business units, etc. that have a common high-level business objective, but will be managed in separate programs. The responsibility of the Portfolio is typically a senior or executive leader in the organization such as Vice President, Sr. Director or Director.
The portfolio is the middle level in the P3 Hierarchy. Many business strategies or objectives will start at the Program level and will not roll up under a specific Portfolio. The program is defined as a group of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually (PMBOK). The program may have schedule milestones, resource requirements and budget that are rolled up from the lower level project plans. The responsibility of the Program is typically a leader in the organization such as Sr. Director, Director, Sr. Program Manager or Program Manager.
The individual projects are the lowest level in the P3 Hierarchy. Smaller efforts (limited scope, short duration, smaller budget or resources required) may only have a Project and will not roll up under a specific Portfolio or Program. The projects will have detailed plans that may include scheduled tasks and milestones, resources, budget and specific deliverables (scope). This is the plan that will typically be used to track the day-by-day performance of the execution team. The responsibility of the Project is typically an individual contributor in the organization such as Sr. Project Manager, Project Manager or Project Engineer.
Figure 1. Portfolio -Program-Project Hierarchy
The PMO is an entity that defines and ensures adherence to the common centralized and coordinated management of those projects under its domain. The PMO is the overall guiding infrastructure that will provide the discipline and rigor needed for successful execution to meet the organizational objectives.
There are (4) main aspects of the PMO’s purpose:
- Plan – Know where you are going
- Monitor – How are you performing compared to the Plan
- Control – Track and make corrections when there is a Plan vs. Actual variance
- Results – Deliver the goods to meet the objectives
Figure 2. Plan, Monitor, Control, Results
The overall purpose of the PMO is to ensure that the business objectives are met in the most effective and efficient manner possible. The PMO discipline provides a predictability and repeatable process to meet the critical needs, goals and objectives.
There will be a time-phased progression with any P3 effort and the PMO discipline typically provides some type of phase framework to ensure that necessary steps are completed in order. Many times, these phases will need to be reviewed, audited or approved before moving to the next phase. Although there will be many variations on the specific phases, typically the logical order will follow something similar to the following:
- Phase 1 Strategy
- Phase 2 Kickoff
- Phase 3 Pre-Work
- Phase 4 Execution
- Phase 5 Implementation
- Phase 6 Completion
Figure 3. PMO Phases
The PMBOK “textbook” model of this is Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring/Controlling and Closing. Large development programs following a “waterfall” development model will typically have phase reviews such a Requirements Review, Preliminary Design Review (PDR), Critical Design Review (CRD), Test Readiness Review (TRR) and Production Readiness Review (PRR). Most major large companies and corporations have their own “branded” version of this phased concept. These milestones or “phase gate reviews” will need to be part of the Project Plans as defined by the PMO. The PMO will also ensure that the proper stakeholder governance is defined and enforced as part of this process.
Throughout these phases, there will be defined process steps and/or artifacts that will be required. Some of the major items included that are part of a typical PMO discipline include:
- Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and WBS Dictionary
- Functional Organization Breakdown
- Performance Measurement Baseline
- Schedule Baseline
- Cost Baseline
- Change Management
- Risk and Opportunity Management
- Analysis and Reporting
The critical functions of the PMO are designed to ensure that there is a plan for success in meeting a strategic business need. There are several layers in the P3 model of Portfolio-Program-Project model with each having a specific purpose. The main purpose of the PMO is to have an End-To-End (E2E) structure to Plan, Monitor, Control and ultimately get Results. By following the appropriate order of phases and establishing clear entrance and exit criteria, efforts can move forward without re-work or the concern that something was missed in the process that will have significantly negative impact later on.
The discipline of the PMO reduces opportunities for failure and increases the chance of success. By having a clear, well-defined path to follow with the important processes and procedures, business leaders will have an accurate forecast and predictability with critical objectives, initiatives and efforts. Having leaders that specialize in PMO best practices has tremendous benefits and the time and effort put into establishing the PMO up front will provide unforeseen benefits that will make the investment worthwhile from a cost-benefit perspective.