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Survey: PMOs Have Room for Improvement

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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.

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Written by Dian Schaffhauser

Dian Schaffhauser is MPUG’s editor. She’s been covering project management, business transformation and topics technical as a journalist and editor since IBM released its first PC. She invites you to send your best story ideas for MPUG to her at editor@mpug.com. She promises to let you know what she really thinks.

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1 Comment
  1. I’ve worked with a number of PMOs – some as a PM, but mostly as an EPM Consultant. They have been in the Health Care, IT Services, Defense, Banking, and Retail verticals. My impression echoes the survey results, with perhaps a little more pessimism.

    One PMO I worked with had bought, implemented and abandoned a number of Enterprise PM tools and contracted with me to help them implement another, after they had ‘completed an exhaustive requirements analysis’ or so they told me. In my generous downtime (since the PMO were not prepared for their own project) I discovered that their ‘exhaustive requirements analysis’ was just a copy of the vendors detailed features and function list that had a new logo and footer. After six weeks of the vendor making and failing to keep promises for actually delivering those features and functions, I wrote a seven page memo recommending that the project be cancelled and another tool (Project Server) be implemented. Two weeks later, after the PMO did the most work I ever saw them doing to make sure fingers could not be pointed at them, the project was cancelled. A few years later they called me to ask me to come back and implement Project Server for them. A week later, the entire PMO (all 16 people) was let go.

    That is an extreme example of a PMO that fails to understand the role and fails to help the organization execute projects successfully.

    That is the main role: Take the lead in successful execution of the projects (especially strategic projects) that the organization does. PMOs should not exist as the ‘Project Police’, although that is one of their functions. They should not be the PMBOK enforcer, applying multiple layers of process that results in the PMs spending 50% of their time making sure that the Risk Process slide deck was perfect. They should enable successful practice of the art and skill of being a PM and help the PMs align the work with PMO standards and process.

    I am currently working with a government client.. Their PMO process consumes 30% of teams’ effort. That’s before much project execution takes place. An implementation that takes about 6 weeks of real world effort takes 3 to 5 months. The overhead added by the PMO adds volumes of paper, but very little actual benefit. And the head of the PMO didn’t know that % Complete wasn’t a valid indicator of project progress.

    PMOs have to establish credibility to the CxOs and to the PMs and they need to demonstrate that their collective cost has a positive ROI.


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