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Independence in a Project Management Office
By Derry Simmel, PMP, MBA, FLMI

Within almost all companies, individual departments tend to be somewhat self-centered. This is not necessarily bad, since the department exists to perform some function and we want the people in that department to focus on that function. Unfortunately, this can often lead to a little tunnel vision on the part of the people in the department. They often see their projects as more important that some other areas. This is a natural behavior in the corporate world. This type of behavior can kill a PMO.

Since being a little self-centered is the norm, your peers will assume that you are operating in the same way. This is a hurdle that you will have to overcome as much as possible in order to effectively do your job. Your PMO will be reporting to someone in some department/division, therefore there will be a perception that the PMO represents that organization. There may also be a perception that the PMO is biased towards that organization. This will be a fact of life that you will either have to overcome or accept. If we use a risk model, this is a risk that you have to choose how to deal with. My proposal is that we deal with it through mitigation strategies.

Get a clear understanding with your manager. Your manager can torpedo any efforts you make towards independence, so it is vital that you have a complete meeting of the minds. If you and your manager agree that independence is important, then you can create a working relationship where it is OK to say no to your boss. A very tricky proposition, but if you have the right information, understanding and relationship, then this can be done to everyone’s benefit. With external decision criteria, and consistency on your part, this can be done.

Become totally transparent. I say totally, the only exceptions that I would make would be for something confidential or legal. In those cases, it is important that you make it clear that you are not sharing the information for those reasons. Most people can respect and understand that. By making all other information about what you do and how you do it available, you show that the Project Management Office has nothing to hide and that there are no secret negotiations going on. This strategy will also help immensely in building up trust. Believe me, people will know if you are hiding something, and if they find out, they will loose faith in you, and that can be the kiss of death.

Fight for those outside your organization. Now, this can’t be fake or contrived. Let’s say that your PMO is reporting to the COO and Marking has a big project that they are having trouble getting resource for. You will want to support Marketing, and actively push to find those people. If this means going to the COO and getting her to take people of her projects to work on the Marketing one, then so much the better. If you support only your own projects, you will not be seen as objective and independent.

Be consistent. In everything, people can not easily trust someone who they perceive as inconsistent. If you combine consistency with transparency, then people will be able to tell why you supported one project over another. They will also see that this applies no matter whose project it is. We all trust predictability. Consistency can also help eliminate conflict before it starts. If people know how you will react, and why, they will often alter their behavior. If someone is trying to get a project through that has a very low IRR1, and they know that IRR is one of the top project scoring criteria, then they are more likely to delay, defer or reject the project before it ever comes before a review board.

Stick to you values. I know this is obvious too, but has to be said. Your PMO will have a set of values and goals and behavior (if you don’t have these now, they I strongly suggest that you build them). If you unflinchingly stick to these then you will be seen as trustworthy and independent.

It would be great if you could do all this one time, but unfortunately you will have to constantly engage in these activities. It is like rowing upstream, the minute you stop rowing, you will start going backwards. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but it is inevitable. If you remain honest and true to your values, then you can make wonderful progress and may begin implementing some very large changes within your company.

1IRR: Internal Rate of Return

Mr. Derry Simmel, PMP, MBA, FLMI

Derry Simmel has been in IT and project management for over 15 years. He has started 3 PMOs in the last 6 years, the latest of which is with a large project for the State of South Carolina. Derry has an MBA from University of Phoenix and a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from the University of South Carolina. He currently serves as the Vice-Chairman of Membership for PMI’s Project Management Office Special Interest Group and as the VP of Programs for the PMI Midlands Chapter. Derry maintains All about Project Management Offices, a professional blog covering all aspects of PMO.

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