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5 Keys to Success for a PMO Director

Published by Karoline Holicky

September 7th, 2021

in Project Portfolio Management

A day in the life of a PMO director can be a hectic one. PMO directors play a crucial role in not only making company strategy a reality, but also work to solve complicated problems so things can run as smoothly as possible. If you asked PMO personnel and other experts, the ideal PMO director will have a strong character and several important soft skills like flexibility, analytical ability and emotional intelligence. This means a PMO director knows how to work well with employees and upper management and places great value on understanding and communication.

At the same time, a PMO director must balance this with the ability to make key decisions. There are times when the success of the project portfolio and the decision for or against a project may depend on him or her alone. If all of this sounds like a lot for one role, it’s because it is. Fulfilling the role of a successful PMO director is a tall order, but it’s not impossible. Here are 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 and is responsible for the centralization and coordination of all 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 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.

#1: Focus on Feasibility of Resources

When setting up the project portfolio, PMO directors keep an eye on the budget and ensure projects support corporate objectives. However, the success of your project portfolio will rise and fall with your available capacity. If you don’t have enough people to staff and complete projects, it doesn’t matter how well you planned the rest of your project portfolio. 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. Consider what specific skills a project might need or if subject matter experts will be required. You will need to accept that you have limited resources and that some key resources will be in higher demand than others. Most importantly, understand that overallocating employees for more work than they can deliver won’t yield positive results.

#2: Keep it Lean

Lean Project Portfolio Management™ is a framework for PPM that helps you answer important project questions without exhaustive and inefficient busy work. By using a lean framework, you can develop and prioritize initiatives, more easily spot conflicts early so you can take action and better manage project portfolios with transparency. Lean Project Portfolio Management™ uses four continuously running stages to keep PMOs running smoothly:

  • Strategize – Translate your corporate strategy into actionable criteria
  • Collect – Collect and develop new project initiatives
  • Decide – Make informed decisions on new project initiatives and project conflicts
  • Execute – Put decisions to work and manage projects to completion

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.

#3: Preserve Transparency and Increase Visibility

Transparency is important for both the PMO and companies at large. Transparency allows PMO directors to make informed decisions about the project portfolio and help them understand how certain actions will directly impact other projects, resources and budgets. For the rest of your organization, transparency into how the PMO is structured and how it operates can help facilitate collaboration. When everyone in your organization understands why the PMO exists, the scope of the PMO’s work and the procedures the PMO sets, it boosts confidence in the PMO and helps ensure the department’s longevity.

#4: Regularly Evaluate Your Project Portfolio

Continuous evaluations and improvement to the project portfolio are extremely important for PMO directors. 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.

#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, project managers and other colleagues. Because of advances in technology, rapid communication across the organization is easier than ever. While things like emails and internal messaging can help spread information, you will need to understand when rapid communication is best and when it’s not. Some things need to be shared in person in a company-wide or department-wide meeting where people can ask questions. Other things might be a one-on-one conversation with a project manager. Finally, don’t forget that communication is a two-way street. Make yourself available to project managers, colleagues and other stakeholders in your organization. When they communicate with you (whether it’s by email or in person) really listen to their concerns and understand their perspective.

Looking for More PMO Tips?

Join us at the upcoming PMO Impact Summit on September 20th – 24th and learn how you can unleash the power of the PMO.
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