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The Stellar Ascent of the Project Management Office

by Dan Matthews May 01, 2024
Project Management Office

Project Management Office (PMO): Role and Responsibilities

The Project Management Office has evolved in recent years, moving to the sharp end of global business. What does this mean for the future of the PMO and what skills must senior project managers learn if they are to meet the challenge?

In a few short years, the Project Management Office (PMO) has moved beyond the realm of ‘support function’ to that of a strategic power player, navigating businesses through challenging times, swerving pitfalls, and making the most of opportunities.

But that isn’t the only change. They are also no longer the preserve of multinational corporations but are now employed by growth businesses to help plot the best possible course to the future. In short, in a world where change is constant and success imperative, PMOs are more important than ever.

Project Management Offices (PMO)

Despite the vital importance of PMOs, they are hard to classify, mainly because each one is tailored to the needs of its parent organisation. According to Americo Pinto, PMO Global Alliance Managing Director at the Project Management Institute (PMI):

“PMOs are diverse and ought to be, given they function as internal service providers who must deeply understand their customers and identify their pains and needs.

“While PMOs may vary significantly in their mix of functions, they share a common goal”, continues Pinto. “to meet their customers’ and organisations' needs, maximizing project success and strategy delivery.”

A lot has been made about the PMO’s ‘new role’ in delivering value for businesses, but Pinto argues this has always been true. The difference is that ‘value’ is not a static goal, but rather a continuous transformation, where the PMO reshapes itself to meet evolving needs.

Responsibilities of a PMO

When a PMO is absent, organisations risk developing problems such as disjointed effort, inefficiencies, wasted resources, missed opportunities and projects that fail to align with strategic goals. This is because a well-oiled PMO takes care of countless business areas: 

1. Strategic alignment

A primary function of the PMO is to ensure alignment between project initiatives and the overarching business strategy. By defining clear objectives, prioritising work, and allocating resources judiciously, the PMO ensures that every project reaches its potential.

2. Portfolio management

Growth businesses often manage a diverse portfolio of projects, each with its unique set of objectives, risks, and constraints. The PMO plays a crucial role in optimising the project portfolio, balancing risk and reward, and maximising the return on investment.

3. Agile practices

PMOs often champion agile methodologies, fostering a culture of adaptability. By embracing agile principles like iterative development, customer feedback, and cross-functional teams, businesses can respond swiftly to evolving market dynamics.

4. Performance monitoring and governance

Good governance ensures that projects are executed in line with organisational priorities, but also with an eye on appropriate standards and regulations. PMOs establish governance frameworks, define key performance indicators, and monitor project progress and performance.

By providing stakeholders with real-time insights into project health and status, PMOs enable proactive decision-making and risk management, improving project outcomes and, by extension, business resilience.

5. Change management

Growth usually comes alongside organisational change. PMOs are change agents, smoothing the adoption of new practices, behaviours, and mindsets. With change management strategies, communication, and stakeholder engagement, PMOs help businesses navigate transitions smoothly to achieve growth objectives.

Project Management Office Consulting Services

Crucial skills and competencies for PMOs

Around three-quarters of mid-to-large scale companies have a PMO in place, according to recent data from PM Solutions, with half of these groups reporting directly to C-suite executives, indicating just how seriously they are being taken.

The growing emphasis on project management has brought into sharp focus the skills and attributes of Project Management Officers, and strategic leaders who help organisations find their North Star.

Such is their scope and influence, PMO leaders must have the comprehensive skill set to match everything from deep organisational prowess to the ability to pause, listen and interpret, implementing strategy and spotting friction.

Good communication skills go without saying, but PMO managers must also be skilled in analytics, finding logic in reams of unrelated data sets. They must have the presence to enforce governance and avoid a patchwork approach while maintaining high-level financial and operational acumen.

“Understanding the business environment is fundamental as a PMO leader with solid business acumen can adeptly align outcomes with the organisation's objectives while identifying new opportunities for value creation,” says Pinto.

“Equally important is maintaining a customer-focused approach, where prioritising the needs and expectations of customers ensures that the PMO delivers substantial value. 

“Innovation and adaptability are essential to managing an organisation’s dynamic nature and fostering an environment that is resilient to change. Leadership and communication skills are indispensable, as they empower the PMO manager and foster a culture of transparency and collaboration.

Risks without PMO services

With such an acute and sought-after skillset, top-notch PMO managers are hard to find, whether for a full-time position or contracted work on a specific set of projects. But it’s worth the effort.

Pinto points to an example of where it can go wrong if the PMO is lacking or absent. In a Latin American country, he says, a government organisation responsible for infrastructure development embarked on a significant initiative to improve the country's transportation network.

This ambitious project promised to boost economic growth and improve citizens' quality of life. However, the organisation lacked a centralised PMO to oversee many projects spread across the country.

As the projects commenced, this led to a series of challenges. There was no uniformity in project management methodologies across different regions, leading to inconsistent quality and work progress.

Projects in some areas lagged significantly due to local inefficiencies and a lack of accountability, while others suffered from overlapping efforts and resource duplication. Critical deadlines were missed, and budgets ballooned as projects went unchecked and uncoordinated.

This is a worst case scenario, but, where a lack of PMO leadership will drag an organisation down, the opposite is true of businesses with the right people and the best structures. 

“The Project Management Office has the ability to be the internal consulting function for the organisation. The place where strategy and execution intersect, providing the driving force behind meaningful transformation.”

Thom Cunningham-Burley, Director of Consulting, Freshminds 

Pinto points to one outstanding case in which a global retail giant faced challenges in synchronising its diverse project portfolio with its strategic initiatives, leading to inefficient use of resources and missed opportunities.

Its PMO established a process to align projects with the company's strategic goals and ensured each initiative contributed meaningfully towards the overarching vision. It introduced a prioritisation system, assessing projects' strategic value, impact, and return on investment.

The rigorous approach optimised resource distribution and fast-tracked critical strategic endeavours, such as geographic expansion and digital upgrades, bolstered the company's strategic achievements and market position.

As these examples illustrate, strong PMO leaders can make the difference between coordinated, prioritised programmes and fragmented piecemeal workloads that fail to deliver on expectations.

If you need PMO services or want to talk through the process of hiring one on a temporary or permanent basis, Freshminds’ Consultants on demand team can help. Enquire with ustoday or call 020 7692 4300

Dan Matthews is a freelance business writer, published in The Telegraph, The Guardian, Raconteur in The Times, Forbes and many other publications, as well as working directly for clients including Santander, Vodafone, Capgemini, Grant Thornton and QA.

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