Seven best practices for effective project management (PMO)

A project management office (PMO) is usually created with the aim of solving one problem: the IT organisation’s inability to deliver IT projects on time, on budget and in scope.

Almost all PMOs start at this initial project management, IT problem-solving stage before they can evolve to the program management or portfolio management stages and get involved in the tech projects that will drive business strategy. As the scope of the work broadens to become strategic to the wider business, project managers are continually challenged to prove the value they provide to the business as a whole.

As analyst firm Gartner points out, establishing this credibility can be a huge hurdle. According to Gartner’s research, a staggering 68% of stakeholders perceive their PMOs to be bureaucratic and only 40% of projects meet their goals when it comes to schedule, budget and quality.

With this aim in mind, Gartner has identified seven best practices that PMO leaders should employ to improve the effectiveness of project management and demonstrate they can support the wider organisation and its strategic goals. These seven tasks should help leaders more easily adapt to like bimodal IT and shake off the stereotype of being inflexible and bureaucratic.

1. Acquire the right people, knowledge, skills and collaborative behaviours

This is the cornerstone of a highly effective PMO, says Gartner. When project managers who are part of a PMO act like administrators, they erode the PMO’s credibility and make it appear to be focused only on everyday tasks and deliverables. This neglects a crucial part of effective IT project delivery – driving strategic change within an organisation.

‘People are generally averse to change, so it’s critical that the PMO hires staff who can drive change in the face of resistance,’ said Schoen. ‘Project managers within the PMO need a broad range of ‘soft’ skills in communication, conflict resolution, persuasion and facilitation.’

2. Identify and execute high-impact, high-visibility initiatives

It can take years to build a track record of improving PPM maturity and getting better IT investment results. It is, however, possible to quicken the process by identifying ‘easy wins’ and improving delivery for a few highly visible and important PMO projects. It’s critical to demonstrate the value of the PMO. This will ensure stakeholder commitment and support for future PMO-driven initiatives.

3. Report on what the business really cares about

The business’s view of the PMO is inconsistent. Business executives generally agree the PMO should report on the status of projects and programmes, but most don’t think it does this adequately.

‘The reality is that most PMOs are providing status reporting for projects and programmes, but the perception of many business executives suggests either that there’s a breakdown in communication or that the reporting isn’t fit for purpose,’ says Schoen. ‘It’s important to check that reporting provides organisational leadership with status information that supports effective decision-making.’

4. Build a framework that shows how the PMO aligns with strategic enterprise objectives

A clear framework is essential to articulate the PMO’s alignment with the continuously evolving organisational goals and direction. It also serves as an aid to identifying goals and milestones along the road to resolving obstacles and issues that block strategic success. In essence, it’s key to communicating the PMO’s value. What is often overlooked is the need for the PMO to define strategic goals with senior IT managers and business leaders. Unless this is done, the PMO’s work is rarely perceived as valuable, however, well it’s carried out.

5. Provide senior managers with simple, unambiguous information 

PMOs are routinely perceived as failing to provide the kind of data that senior managers want. This leads to a disconnection between expectations and perceived reality. PMOs need to shift from a belief that ‘the more detail we give, the better’ to an iterative evolution of reporting that provides leaders with the kind of information that supports them in their role. For time-starved senior managers, short, precise and informative reporting is most effective, says Gartner. These are busy people who want the ‘bottom line’ – they expect the PMO to work with them to identify and provide this information.

6. Highlight the PMO’s achievements

Agreed metrics are important, but they should be complemented by promoting the PMO’s success stories to the organisation. This is less about ‘hard’ numbers and more about the tangible benefits that are recognised by stakeholders, such as how shorter timescales for project completion have contributed to the solving of key business problems (overlong time-to-market for new products, for instance). In terms of benefits that are hard to measure, it may be appropriate to use surveys to measure the value the PMO provides.

7. Evolve the PMO to support bimodal IT and digital business

The PMO must adapt its service model to support the technological changes at the heart of every growth and innovation-led transformation project. For example, a PMO may have been formed several years ago, with the economic downturn being the primary driver. At that time, cost reduction and efficiency were the main desired outcomes, but the same business may now be far more concerned with flexibility and speed of delivery. Consequently, the PMO’s configuration and staffing may no longer be ideal and may need to change to reflect the new focus.

‘An effective PMO continuously re-examines its processes and capabilities to ensure they are in line with the current needs of the business,’ said Schoen.

Neil How
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Neil How

Neil ran his first SAP transformation programme in his early twenties. He spent the next 21 years working both client side and for various consultancies running numerous SAP programmes. After successfully completing over 15 full lifecycles he took a senior leadership/board position and his work moved onto creating the same success for others.

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