7 different ways to run a PMO, even if you didn’t plan to

I’v found myself putting together a PMO of sorts in all my last few engagements, even though none of them really called for it.  Ironically, as you will recall from my book, Let It Simmer [see below], in some of the case in my career where I was asked to run a PMO it turned out that the organization didn’t really want one.

Ch04-pasta-bowlAs I’ve expressed with the Pasta Principle, all this management stuff is connected together. You start working on one thing and the next thing you know the rest of the PMBoK is coming along for the ride.  If you’ve been asked to look at just a narrow topic, say Risk Management, you can’t really do that without asking about what the activities are all about, what the deadlines (baselines) are, where the resources are coming from, how stable the funding and contracts are, and so on.

This happens just as often in situations that supposedly have nothing to do with a PMO. The reality is that there isn’t too much rocket science, high technology or magic involved in project, portfolio or program management. For the most part those disciplines are just codifications of common management practices. For that reason, when an organization starts up a PMO it’s a difficult process because it really means that it’s also going to be lacking in many of its other management concepts. And, for the same reasons, when you start trying to fix any management issue, you quickly end up seeing aspects of the “PMO” solution coming into play.

Examples of engagements that called on PMO capabilities have included:

  1. Getting control of an operational office whose performance was slipping fast. Although it was in the operations and support phase (and had been there for years), we had to walk through the full range of PMBoK skills and functions to identify and find solutions for the challenges.
  2. Making sense out of an office that was responsible for executing financial transactions. We had to set up a program management structure to get the line managers to take ownership for the funding that drove their activities.
  3. Building an enterprise-wide support facility: well, yes, that was a project, but it soon evolved into setting up program management activities to deal with cross-system dependencies.
  4. Setting up a process management capability.  Just as with any other work, basic project management techniques have to kick in (schedules, issues, and so on) no matter whether you call them project management or not. In this case, we had to call heavily on governance skills.
  5. Refining the processes for scheduling the use of an enterprise resource.  It turned out that the driving factor was the availability of certain skilled resources to serve certain key clients’ needs, so before long we had shifted from activity-based batches of work to resource-driven planning and coordination.
  6. Setting up an enterprise architecture. Again, the scope of the effort required project management in its own right, but an EA program is also inherently part of the enterprise investment management process.
  7. Setting up a catalog of online services.  Even though these were existing services, we ended up looking into the requirements, costing and quality of service, as well as stakeholder communications.
  8. Getting contracts under control (I know, I said 7. Consider this one a bonus). Vendor management is one of the basic PMBoK skills. But when it fails, you end up walking the vendor through the PMBoK: What are you working on  (scope)? Who gets to change it? Who are all these resources billing my work? And so on.

This seems like a pretty diverse list.   But they all had similar themes, because at root these organizations simply weren’t all that … organized. To move forward, you need a bit of strategy, a bit of  program structure, a bit of communications, a bit of project management. And, of course, a whole lot of leadership.

Got any other examples of “not PMO” initiatives that ended up calling on PM techniques to deliver the solution?  Please feel free to share your experiences!

PS: this blog post is part of a Festival of the PMO (#PMOFestival) run by Laura Bernard (http://pmostrategies.com/) and Elise Stevens (http://fixmyprojectchaos.com/). Check out their sites.


If you’re interested in what the Pasta Principle is all about, take a look at my book [link below].

If you want help deciding how to deal with some of these situations, or holding a workshop to get them kicked off, apply for a complimentary consultation to see if we can work together.


Douglas Brown, PgMP, PhD

Author, “Let It Simmer: Making Project, Portfolio and Program Management Practices Stick in a Skeptical Organization


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