Critical Success Factors for a New PMO

In a previous post I discussed the need to “get back to basics” when it comes to Project Management, and one of those basics is having a Project Management Office (PMO). I’d like to discuss what I believe to be some of the critical success factors for a new PMO.

PMOs come is all shapes and sizes depending on their mission and the size and complexity of the organization they serve. However, there are some critical success factors they all share.

The mission of the PMO needs to be understood. Why does the PMO exist? What purpose does it serve? A PMO charter is a very useful tool to socialize and gain support for the PMO’s mission. A PMO without a clear mission will muddle its way through challenges, just like any other team without a clear mission. And obviously it can’t achieve a mission it doesn’t have. Don’t assume this is understood by everyone. Write it down, share it, and refer to it constantly.

The PMO needs tools to succeed. In this age of technology, there are many tools to communicate and to report. The PMO concept predates many of these tools, but they have become a critical success factor of modern PMOs. The PMO needs to communicate both project status and a methodology for all to follow. In the good old days, a binder would be the tool of choice, with paper templates, process flow diagrams, and sample deliverables. Technology allows us to digitize and share these much more effectively these days, but the concept of a “binder”, or of a “PMO library”, remains relevant today. Without it, the PMO cannot ensure consistency or onboard new Project Managers effectively. In addition to the PMO library, a “project record” is needed. Somewhere to keep track of project status and collect project artefacts.

The PMO needs staff. If all the PMO team members are managing projects 100% of the time, then the work of the PMO itself is undone. It can be part time of one person or it can be a staff of dozens. It depends on the size and complexity of the PMO, and it depends on its mission. But someone has to maintain the PMO library, someone has to define project record standards, and someone has to onboard new PMs. These are three of the most critical functions of a PMO. There are many others, but at its simplest, these alone could justify the investment.

So, in summary, the PMO needs a mission, a library, and staff. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. As the PMO adds value to the organization, additional needs will arise. But the value of a PMO cannot even begin to be realized without an initial investment, and these three things are as good a place to start as any. PMOs often grow with their organization and can become very complex and large. But they shouldn’t forget their beginnings and keep focus on these basics. A strong foundation will ensure the PMO can grow to serve its organization and provide value.

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