According to business experts and former PMO personnel, the ideal PMO director has a strong character and a wealth of soft skills such as flexibility, analytical ability, and emotional intelligence. This means a PMO director knows how to work well with employees and bosses and places great value on understanding and communication.
At the same time, a PMO director cannot be afraid to make key decisions or to have authority, because in conflict situations the success of the project portfolio and the decision for or against a project may depend on him or her alone. Whoever heads up the PMO at a company must, of course, also have experience in team and project management and understand the company’s business strategy as well as the customers’ needs (source: Kurzlechner).
This article focuses on the five keys to success for a PMO director.
What is a PMO?
A project management office (PMO) is a company’s command center for projects. However, despite what the name might seem to imply, the PMO does not manage projects on an operational level. The focus of a PMO is project portfolio management on a strategic level.
PMO tasks include cross-project resource planning, project portfolio planning – which projects should be implemented when and by whom – and the introduction of methods, tools, and technologies in a multi-project management context.
A PMO is, therefore, the backbone of the project landscape in a company and the interface between strategy and project work. As such, it makes a substantial contribution to value creation in a company.
Key #1: Focus on feasibility and resources
When setting up the project portfolio, PMO directors should not only keep an eye on the budget and the degree of alignment with strategic objectives, but also take account of possible resource capacities and constraints. Multi-project resource planning is still a key component of PPM. Contrary to popular opinion, the most common truly limiting factor is usually personnel, not money – in other words, the available time, skills, and workload capacity of the employees. Instead of processing and approving projects strictly according to the priority list until the budget is used up, PMO directors should include a consideration of the feasibility of the respective projects when making their decisions.
Key #2: Use Lean PPM
Lean PPM refers to the process of exposing unnecessary disruptive factors in the PPM process and then reducing or eliminating them. This increases the added value. The necessary steps include:
Permanent strategy development
Continuous gathering of project proposals and ideas
Evaluation and prioritization of the proposals in the planning phase
Analysis of the project progress and, if applicable, resolution of conflicts in the implementation phase
Lean PPM solutions are characterized as slim planning software applications, which – while having all the key functions for resource planning and project portfolio management – do away specifically with maintenance – and labor-intensive features. The reduced complexity saves time and nerves, while the PMO director can combine project planning with resource planning at the portfolio level in real time.
Key #3: Preserve transparency and increase visibility
Transparency is important for the company as a whole and also for the PMO. PMO directors should always gain an overview of all existing portfolios and all company-internal processes in order to make optimized decisions, particularly in regard to an existing business transformation. It is also beneficial if all PMO-involved groups recognize and understand how their actions directly influence the projects.
At the same time, it is absolutely essential to set up the PMO clearly and visibly within the corporate structure. Only when all employers and employees are aware of the existence, scope, professional operating procedure, and company-internal significance of the PMO will the PMO win recognition and confidence from all sides. This will ensure the longevity of newly introduced PMOs in particular and protect them from elimination in the next round of internal cost-saving measures.
In reality, however, PMO employees are often left fighting for nearly lost positions. Frequently, they do not make decisions themselves, and each additional project in the portfolio substantially increases the complexity of coordination: more stakeholders, more requirements, more internal interests. And even today, there are still executives that play the “boss card” and wave through less useful projects based on personal preference. All the more reason for the PMO to have a visible and transparent position in the company, in order to make its influence effective.
Key #4: Evaluate
Continuous and ex-post evaluations are as important a work component for PMO directors as they are for other divisional directors and decision makers. A successful PMO director continually examines whether the established project portfolio is in alignment with the strategic objectives of the company, the stakeholder objectives, and the customers’ needs; of course, the variables can also change over time. Instead of taking guidance from traditional metrics such as efficiency and adherence to the schedule, PMO directors should measure the results – the success of the established project portfolio, the added value for the company, and the ROI. It is also worthwhile to use the risk level for project failures as a measurement variable (source: Collins).
The “lessons learned” method is recommendable for the ex-post evaluation; PMO directors should carry this out in the PMO itself but also promote it at the project level. At the start of the work phase, around ten active participants are specified who will maintain a log book, entering in it any problems that occur as well as key situations. These are then discussed and processed in a workshop at the end of the project (source: TPG Blog).
Key #5: Place value on communication and understanding
As important as it is to make the PMO “visible” at the company level, it is equally important to preserve good relationships with decision makers in order to be assigned high-profile tasks and to obtain financial means for the PPM. The use of mobile technology has proven to be beneficial for the immediate exchange of information and efficient collaboration between different levels and groups of the PMO. Fast communication across organizational boundary lines is essential to the promotion of performance, transparency, and continuous evaluation within the PMO.
The PMO should also have all employees go through extensive comprehension training at the outset, so that they can learn about and internalize the other teams’ scopes of duties and areas of responsibility. Only when the entire PMO knows what is happening and how the individual aspects of the PPM function can everything work together successfully to the benefit of the company (source: Collins).