Project Management Offices exist at all kinds of levels in an organization. You may have one set up to support a particular large project, or a specific team. The PMO may be attached to a corporate division, or support the work of one country in a multi-national business. Or you may have an enterprise PMO, created to underpin the project and change work that is happening everywhere in your organization.
PMOs, and the people in them, morph to support the unique needs of the enterprise at any given time. They carry out a range of tasks from governance to training, communication to strategic consultancy.
What they rarely do, though, is exist solely to provide secretarial and administrative support to project managers. In fact, we’ve never seen this. That kind of admin support is helpful for project managers, but can be provided through a project coordinator role, or the departmental assistant. PMO managers aren’t there to take minutes or type up reports.
However, there are plenty of project managers and executives out there who may feel that the PMO team are a bunch of glorified secretaries.
So how do you deal with that issue?
If you haven’t been asked to turn some scribbles into a beautiful slide deck on a non-PMO topic yet, it’s best to think about how you will respond to being asked to do administration tasks.
Of course that work needs to be done. And of course the work of the PMO generates quite a lot of admin of its own: there are meetings that need minutes and reports to produce. But these support the work of the PMO and are crucial to the successful functioning of the team. They aren’t secretarial support to a project manager who would prefer not to book their own meeting rooms.
Here are some ways to ensure that your PMO team stays focused on what they should be doing, and don’t get distracted with someone else’s admin tasks.
Set Expectations for the PMO
Talk to the project managers who you work with. Talk to the executives you support. Keep underlining the types of work that you do as a PMO team. That includes a huge range of value-added activities… but not admin jobs for other people.
The message here is to set expectations for what you do. Oftentimes, people ask for admin support because they perceive the PMO to be a support function, and admin is what they need support with.
Define what project support looks like for you, and give people examples of what tasks you undertake. For example, you might actively facilitate a workshop for a project manager and write up the minutes of that, but you wouldn’t sit in a project steering group meeting simply to take notes. You might agree that booking rooms for an internal project management training course you are running is part of your responsibilities, but booking rooms for someone else’s project meetings is not.
Be very clear about what you are prepared to take on because it’s relevant for your PMO responsibilities, and what falls outside your remit. Once you have this clear in your own mind, it’s easier to talk to others about the boundaries, and set realistic expectations.
Call Out People Who Are Trying Their Luck
It’s OK to tell people directly that it isn’t your job to do their admin. Your team doesn’t exist to serve as a PA function for busy project managers.
You can do this politely. The admin work that goes into a project is highly important. It’s essential to document decisions and keep accurate records, so the work is not without value. It’s just that you have your own valued work to do and are not the best people to do project admin.
You can judge the relationships you have with these people, but if you can let them know with humour that they are taking liberties, then that’s a good approach. Remember that these individuals may not know what the official role of the PMO is. If they haven’t been involved in the expectation-setting conversations, they may be under the misapprehension that your team can do those tasks for them. Set them straight, and try to do so in a way that avoids conflict.
Empower the Team to Say No
It’s hard to say no, especially if you see that the project is under pressure and that the project manager has a lot on. However, everyone is busy. If you aren’t busy enough in your PMO role, you should be looking at what tasks you could take on to support the business. Schedule a health check, for example.
Tell your team that it is OK to say no to admin requests. If possible, tell them where they should be directing people instead – the executive PA team, an admin resource or somewhere else. Or you could tell them that they are responsible for their own admin!
Support your team in this decision. If someone comes to you, as the PMO leader, and asks you to force your team to take on admin work, you should back the team’s choices. It doesn’t make sense to empower your team to say no and then undermine that if a manager asks for your support. Make the call, and stick with it.
Get Admin Support
There’s nothing to stop you recruiting someone specifically to provide admin support to project teams, if that is what is required. Project and program managers can be highly paid professionals. Is their time really best spent reformatting monthly reports into the new template style? Perhaps there is an argument for your team to get someone onboard who can take some of the admin away from the project managers – as long as this will enable them to spend more time on value-added work like risk management or stakeholder engagement.
Weigh up the arguments in your own team and see if you can justify admin support for the department. It could be a very popular move for the project managers and the PMO team alike!
All areas of business involve an element of admin work, and the purpose of this article isn’t to stop or devalue those tasks. You simply need to be aware of your priorities, and the purpose of your team. You exist to provide PMO support to the enterprise. If you take up all your time on project support admin tasks, you can’t deliver on your PMO responsibilities, and that can have a disastrous effect on the business. Managers won’t get the information they need to make the best decisions, and the strategic alignment of projects will suffer.
Many PMOs face the, “How much admin support do we offer?” question at some point, so it’s worth spending some time now thinking about how you will deal with these issues when they arise for you.