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Project management offices are there to take on the big project work within an organization. For example, the most important job for the PMO is to oversee project reporting and communications. Job two is doing project portfolio management. And third is defining and maintaining project management best practices and standards for the organization.

Those results come from a recent online MPUG survey on project management offices, taken among project managers, almost all of whom (87 percent) work within a PMO.

When asked to choose the three most important duties from a set of seven, 90 percent chose overseeing project communications in one form or another; 80 percent selected project portfolio management; and 63 percent picked defining and maintaining PM standards.

Those dominated far and above other types of PMO responsibilities, including overseeing budgetary aspects of projects (37 percent), evaluating and adopting project management tools (23 percent), addressing specific project management problems (13 percent) or training and certifying project managers (7 percent).

Respondents also suggested additions to the list. Some recommended that the PMO should “lead by example,” and others said the PMO should administer project management tools.

Just one in 10 respondents believes that his or her PMO is “completely effective” in meeting its duties. Most survey participants stated that they considered their PMOs either “mostly effective” (39 percent) or “somewhat effective” (35 percent). The remainder consider their PMO “barely effective” or completely ineffective.

In an open-ended question, PMs were asked to list what area of professional development their PMO could best benefit from in helping them achieve goals. A solid third of respondents said their PMOs could do with some training in leadership skills. Half as many said communication was worth more attention. And a smaller number designated reporting. But the suggestions didn’t end there. Individual respondents recommended additional training in these areas:

  • Agile software project management;
  • Costing techniques;
  • Risk management;
  • Learning how to show the value-add of the PMO;
  • Developing standards;
  • Governance accountability;
  • People skills;
  • Career and training;
  • Helping people understand the differences between project and program management;
  • Scheduling techniques;
  • Standardization methodology; and
  • Strategic planning.

Then there was the respondent who (rather mysteriously) would like to see the PMO learn how to “cull the MBA community humanely.”

In a similar question, MPUG asked PMs for one improvement they’d make in or to their PMO if given the opportunity.

While several suggested getting better at communication or reporting — a continual theme among this crowd — others would like to see advancements in project intake, resource and schedule management, risk management and governance. And still others would like to improve certain activities, such as doing data visualization, reducing the number of policies, or getting better at metrics or project finances.

Another common theme was getting better corporate recognition, whether to better communicate standards outside of the PMO, enable senior management to recognize the need and value of the PMO, gain more “visible” responsibility, evolve into an enterprise PMO, or change whom the PMO reports to (preferably, the COO or CEO).

Some respondents focused on people: locating the team under one roof, populating the PMO with people “who have project management experience” or persuading staff to get certification in PMO operations akin to PMI’s PMP. (Such a formalized credential doesn’t really exist yet.)

And then there were those who were more ambitious in their suggestions, such as the individual who would like to see the PMO develop a “more client-focused service ethic” and the respondent who would like to see one “consistent methodology for business and IT.”

While PMO mileage obviously varies from one organization to the next, one conclusion that surfaces from this survey of those who work within PMO operations is that the traditional view of the PMO as a beacon for project management enterprise-wide is naïve. Just as the best project managers are continually on a journey to improve their skill sets, PMOs too need put effort into improvement to become the kind of center of excellence or guiding light their companies need.

What does your PMO need to do to meet your qualifications for “excellent”? Tell the MPUG community in the comments below.