Although PMOs can get into many different activities and processes, the primary purpose is usually centered around projects and project management. This includes project management processes but much more. Many (but not all) PMOs get a negative perception. I think the reason for the negative perception of PMOs is twofold.
- First, in many cases the PMO is, in fact, not providing services that result in better project outcomes. They are seen as not providing value.
- The second problem is that many PMOs are doing great things, but they are not communicating the value that they provide very effectively.
In some organizations the PMO thinks its job is to write and implement as many standard project management processes, checkpoints and templates as possible. They lose sight of whether the processes are helping or hurting projects and the organization in general. If the processes provide value to managing projects better, that could be good. If the processes result in projects taking longer, that is bad.
We have two main areas of advice for PMOs. First, a PMO should never sit in isolation and ask “what should the PMO do?”. The PMO can do many things or nothing. The work and focus of the PMO can only be answered in context of the organization it is supporting. The PMO should always be evaluating the project environment and asking how it can best support the organization. If the PMO can maintain that alignment it should always be able to demonstrate the value it provides. We refer to this approach as the “Value-add” PMO since all of the work of the PMO is aligned to helping the organization reach its desired future state. The actual work for the PMO is work associated with closing gaps between the current state and the desired future state.
The second way to make sure that the PMO provides value is to adopt a philosophy of “simplicity”. In other words, if you have a choice between a simple and complex process, choose the simple process. In fact, it is harder to create a good simple process than it is to create a large bureaucratic one. That is why most PMOs end up making large processes. They are easier. The key for a PMO is to ensure project managers adopt best practices for rigor and structure, using as simple processes as possible.