The One Thing You Need for PMO Success

Project Management Organizations, or PMOs, provide an interesting opportunity for PMs. Or do they? What is the critical element that must be present to ensure it is a “good” PMO?

PMOs are designed to sit at the center of the PM function within organizations. They provide a “home” for the PM skill set – with best practices, strong PM practitioners, PM services – that cut across the organization. They provide a potential strategic advantage to organizations – the ability to execute projects reliably – on budget, on time, and at the needed quality level of deliverable.

Indeed, because a PMO is at the epicenter of project management in the organization, it can be a great place to work for any practicing or aspiring project manager. It’s packed with the people, processes, and practices that any PM would want to become immersed in.

Beware, however, because not all PMOs are created equal! In fact, there is no guarantee that a group that calls itself a PMO really demonstrates those ideal things described above. Many PMOs could be described as “worthless”, or of “limited value”, or even of “negative value”!
So what is that one unique factor, that special driver, that distinguishes the successful PMOs from the unsuccessful ones?

The answer is, in part, in the charter of a PMO. But it's also in how that charter is used.
Let’s say that a PMO is initiated in an organization, and part of the purpose is to provide a means to trickle up information on project performance to upper management. OK, that’s not a bad thing, and certainly upper management must know what’s going on – and must in order to gain that strategic advantage from being a strong project execution organization.

Or perhaps part of the purpose is to allow departments and business units to run their operations – and allow the PMO to run the projects. That also is not a bad thing, since allowing experts to run projects make sense – assuming that the right expertise is brought to the table.

Perhaps the PMO is also initiated because there is a need to gain control of projects – in a number of ways. There is certainly a benefit to running projects consistently. There is an advantage to learning from one project, and applying lessons learned on new projects. And perhaps in order to do something on projects, the PMO needs to have a high degree of control on them.
This whole PMO business can be very challenging, very tricky. There are many pitfalls, as there are conflicts to manage between the PMO and the operating units…like who controls, who decides, who prioritizes….

So what is that one, immutable, critical factor that separates the successful PMOs from the unsuccessful ones? What is that factor that, if you were in charge, would need to be your exclusive focus? What driver would you need to ensure PMO success? What single thing would you want to see in a PMO before you commit to working there?

Here it is:

A PMO must constantly seek, offer, and provide ways to add value.

There is no way a PMO can succeed without that. And no way you, as a PM, can succeed within a PMO, if that is not the guiding mantra of the PMO.

I have found this as a continuing theme throughout the literature on PMOs. Add value, or perish. It makes sense. It’s the only thing the PMO really has to offer! After all, the PMO really does not produce anything. The only way it can be successful is to continually prove itself over and over again to the stakeholders.

A PMO will fail if it:

  1. is a burden to operating organizations
  2. focuses on processes and not performance
  3. is not driven by and exclusively service-oriented mentality
  4. is driven by special interests within the organization
  5. takes more than it gives

It’s really pretty simple, but often we miss the forest for the trees, and because PMOs are complex, especially given that they are typically matrix organizations, we can get stuck in the complexity of it all.

There are five great books on PMOs that can help. See:

  1. Hill, Gerald, “Complete Project Management Office Handbook”
  2. Crawford, J. Kent, and Cabanis-Brewin, “An Inside Look at High-Performing PMOs”
  3. Nir, Michael, “Best Business: The Agile PMO – Leading the Effective, Value Driven, Project Management Office”
  4. Englund, Randall J., Graham, Robert J., and Dinsmore, Paul C., “Creating the Project Office: A Manager’s Guide to Leading Organizational Change”
  5. Kerzner, Harold R., “Project Management Metrics, KPIs, and Dashboards: A Guide to Measuring and Monitoring Project Performance”

See related online training on PMOs for PDUs at

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