Growing a PMO from infancy to maturity

At VisibleThread, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to observe PMOs (Project Management Offices) at first hand, particularly so as we work with many of the leading players in the FS (Financial Services) sector.

I recently came across a nice analogy on the PMI site at: www.pmi.org/Pages/PMO-Growing-Pains.aspx comparing a PMO with the human lifecycle. The basic assertion is that PMOs are born, grow up and hopefully end up as mature, ‘adult’ PMOs.

Applying the analogy to the PMO highlights the importance of ‘good parenting’ in terms of how a PMO is set up (i.e. born) and how it is nurtured and evolves. In fact, many PMOs stay at infant stage, not progressing much beyond the basic idea of a group of project managers with no particular strategic imperative.

Effective PMOs serve to chaperone the program to success, avoiding the inevitable speed bumps along the way to program delivery.

Is this your PMO?

On the other hand, immature and ‘infantile’ PMOs are weak & the first likely to get pruned if not eliminated altogether when the organisation is looking to achieve better efficiency. In this context, they lack the maturity to make an effective business case to the wider family and so are extremely vulnerable.

So, if a PMO struggles to mature, can we blame the PMO itself or is it lack of supports in the broader family? In a sense, this is the ‘nature versus nurture’ argument. This is a bigger question that touches on the degree of executive level support for the PMO along with the PMO leadership itself. The better the support structures, the more likely you will have a mature PMO. Of course talented PMO leadership is the second clear contributory factor to PMO success.

So, what does a mature PMO look like and do you belong to one?

Well, in our experience, aside from operation aspects of vendor management etc. mature IT oriented PMOs fulfill three fundamental objectives:

A.) they contribute to successful project management in measurable ways

B.) they ensure projects align with strategic goals articulated at program level

C.) they set effective and appropriate standards for processes and methodologies within the program

To achieve these objectives arriving at the a good level of maturity requires quantifiable & systematic metrics. Here is the rub! PMOs can easily sink in deep documentation and unduly onerous processes attempting to achieve maturity.

Since projects and program goals are typically expressed in terms of vision docs and BRDs, there are pretty simple concrete steps that can tangibly help a PMO out of the infant stage to a more mature level avoiding the documentation overload problem. The answer: more consistent project documentation supported by automation using solutions like VisibleThread. Automated vetting of documents for poor quality is helping drive the PMO from ‘infant’ to ‘mature adult’ with a lightweight approach.

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