Ask people what they think about the role of the Project Management Office and you’ll get lots of different responses. In some companies, the PMO function is purely administrative. In others, it’s the heart and soul of how projects are done and companies don’t know how they would function without it. For most, it’s somewhere in between but more and more businesses are moving towards the ‘heart and soul’ end of the range.
The fact is that the PMO has grown up. There’s a deeper understanding in business communities about the role a corporate level PMO can have in moving the firm towards its longer term objectives. The benefits of the function are better understood and executives want what PMOs can offer, including:
- Consistency in delivery and operation
- Believable metrics that provide solid data for informed decision making
- A strong link between projects on the ground and C-suite strategy.
PMO Management is Also Changing
Setting up your PMO has never really been as simple as promoting a project manager into a leadership role and asking them to run the function. But many businesses have taken this approach. It does get you up and running quickly but companies that we’ve seen do this struggle to get the full benefits of the PMO. That’s why we believe there’s a trend towards changing how PMOs are managed.
Leading a PMO is no longer simply about managing teams of project managers and sorting out the housekeeping on the portfolio. As the PMO function itself matures, so too do the requirements for a PMO manager.
There’s a shift towards leadership – and you may have seen this also happening in the project management world over the last two years. The PMO environment is no different, and as the PMO roles and responsibilities stretch out to include more strategic alignment alongside a focus on delivery, leaders in charge of their PMO also need to step up.
The Skills PMO Leaders Need
The best, most successful PMOs have strong leadership, often at board level or at least regularly advising board level. It’s a role that should advocate for strategic fit and keep a close eye on the overall performance of projects. It’s a broad remit: on the one hand the PMO needs an approach that is more detailed than most because the statistics produced are used to make decisions that could be worth many millions of dollars. On the other hand, it needs a wide, big picture view, looking forward over multiple years and assimilating the strategic direction into a consistent portfolio.
So what skills do PMO leaders need today?
Ability to Spot Value
PMO leaders need to be able to get to the crux of a project’s benefits. They should be able to help teams unpick what the real value of doing a project will be. And ask intelligent questions about how those benefits will be realized.
This lets the PMO management team understand how to prioritize work and sets a clear culture for delivering on projects that make a real difference to the company.
It’s been said before, but PMO leaders need a sense of strategic awareness. They’ll get this from being close to the company’s most senior executives, either through a seat on the board or by working in close proximity to the directors responsible for setting the strategic goals for the company.
It should actually go further than being told what the company’s strategy is. Companies with a mature approach to PMO management involve the PMO in the strategic decisions. After all, your PMO leader has the details about what works and what doesn’t, and what initiatives are really delivering the most value.
The PMO role can be a difficult one, especially when you are advising senior managers on the fact that their bright idea just won’t cut it and will not be going ahead. Then there are difficult conversations to have with managers who don’t want to give up their resources to work on strategically important projects. And tough conversations with project managers who are not performing in the organization. Possessing and developing high Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is critically important to have to navigate these conversations.
Overall, your PMO leader needs an assertive (and not aggressive) communication style so that he or she can tackle the tough parts of the job.
Finally, credibility is essential. Your PMO leader needs to have credibility in the organization, both in personal terms (demonstrated, for example, by being respected by their peers and colleagues) and also in terms of the division they represent. The PMO itself must show that it adds value and is a credible and worthwhile addition to the organization.
Without this credibility, the leader and the rest of the PMO function will struggle to make inroads with some of the major changes that come with implementing a PMO, such as breaking down the silos and stovepipes between teams and fostering data sharing.
Ability to Change
There’s one thing critical to the success of a PMO and that’s the ability to change to reflect the needs of the organization. As the organization grows and shifts, so too should the PMO. PMO management teams that are not prepared to flex and align with the business are going to find themselves out of work quite quickly.
Over the last five years we have seen many roles in organizations change for the better, evolving to fit the new ways of working and emerging business practices. The PMO leadership role has been particularly ‘flexible’ and that’s a good thing! Businesses around the world are seeing the benefits of strong PMO leadership, and you could see them too.