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Project Management Office (PMO) – The Basics
By CC Swift

A Project Management Office (PMO) is an office that provides services and organisational focus in project management. It is designed to centralise and co-ordinate and manage the projects under its portfolio. It is sometimes referred to as a programme management office, a project office or programme office. Each term may have a different mission depending on the organisation. A PMO may be created to support a specific business unit/department functional purpose or it may have a company-wide focus to manage the organisation’s projects and/or programmes. It may also support a combination of both.

Managers get carry out their tasks through their organisations whereas project managers carry out their tasks through their PMOs. The project managers and PMOs are a subset of the organisation. The exponential change in technology has been one of the reasons for the increased demand for PMOs. More and more organisations are utilising IT solutions in order to gain competitive advantage. Increasing complexities require a more thorough governance model. For some practitioners, a PMO is the only answer.

The responsibility of a PMO can range from providing project management support to directly managing a project. A primary function is to ensure that the project management methodology is followed. This ensures consistency and continuity of project documentation. Project management support functions include providing software, standardising policies and procedures, and providing templates for project reports. PMOs can also provide control functions such as project audits. Some organisations may have more that one PMO providing different functions and services. For example, it is not uncommon for an organisation to have a company-wide centralised PMO co-exist with a department PMO.

Even though they may pursue different objectives, PMOs are aligned with the strategic goals of the organisation. How the PMO is structured varies from one organisation to the next. Management literature describes different ways in which an organisation can be structured, ranging from the most basic functional type, to the matrix type, to the ideally optimised type. However, in real life, many organisations are a mix the identified structures. Despite the benefits of having a PMO, creating a successful PMO can be more challenging than originally expected. An unstructured organisational environment where the leadership is in a state of flux and the organisation itself is still maturing is not helpful. In fact there is a strong possibility that the PMO will either fail or not be as effective.

Trying to implement a PMO without the support of the executive is also not a good idea. Projects are the building blocks of organisational strategy. Proceeding with any strategic initiative needs the support of the organisation’s executive of leader. Because of the need to protect their self interest, department managers can be an obstacle to the generation of new ideas. These managers have direct access to the executive and they may continue to control the flow of information to maintain the status quo. Therefore, the executive may not be aware of any proposed changes. This is why the leader of the team implementing the PMO needs direct access to the executive and the executive’s support must be clearly visible. This way, the PMO will also have the full support of the whole organisation.

Those with the responsibility of implementing and growing the PMO must be fully aware of the organisational and management factors that may negatively impact its success. These factors influence the projects and the executive’s attitudes toward project management.

CC Swift holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) since 2004. She is currently pursuing her MBA in Strategic Planning. She has ten (10) years experience in the Project Management field. She lives and operates in Trinidad & Tobago and is currently employed as a Project Manager for the T&T government.

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