A surprising number of organisations are running a project or programme management office (PMO) without actually realising it. How does this come about and what are the signs that an organisation has a PMO operating under the radar?
First of all, consider what a formally recognised PMO consists of. The personnel can vary according to corporate requirements at any given time. But there will often be a PMO manager responsible for making sure that everybody pulls together and produces the outputs required by the organisation. They will also liaise with other senior managers in the organisation, to set priorities and resolve conflicting project dependencies.
In many cases, there is a business analyst or change manager because projects and programmes are usually attempting to deliver change in the organisation.
There's often a co-ordinator role too, responsible for standardising processes and procedures across all of the projects that are currently underway. And absolutely essential, a project administrator (at least one).
However, in the absence of a fully sanctioned “official” PMO, what tends to happen is that these roles are unofficially replicated across the organisation.
Each large project or programme has an administrator who, even if not dedicated to that project, is spending a significant proportion of their time dealing with its requirements. This may be in the absence of the specialist project admin skills that are needed. Business analyst and change managers are often in the organisation specifically to progress those transformation projects that will move the organisation to the place it needs to be, in order to perform effectively in the current and future business environment.
If this sounds familiar: SURPRISE! You may be running a PMO!
The problem is, that with this kind of distributed PMO that isn't recognised as a business function, the organisation can replicate functions, processes and tasks in the least efficient way and without recognising that there are skills that can make project management and its associated tasks more efficient.
It's also an ideal way for managers who have pet projects that have not actually received official approval via a business case (let alone been through a stage / gate authorisation process), to bring them in quietly under the radar. It's not unknown for managers with a high degree of autonomy, to have a business case rejected by senior corporate management and simply carry on. The section admin assistant becomes a de facto project administrator. Any output from a change manager is taken as a green light to proceed and the project goes merrily on its way.
This may seem unlikely but if the project is using internal resources, it's quite possible to run up hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of corporate time without acknowledging that a project is being run.
How does a PMO help to prevent this so that no more owls need be surprised?
If a PMO is properly established, then key resource holders such as the head of IT, know that they needn't allocate resources to any project unless it has come through the PMO with a business case and corporate approval. This removes the majority of unofficial activity - without IT resources, the majority of unofficial projects simply stall.
Similarly, a head of change or a change manager, will identify the PMO as a key resource in terms of providing information on which projects are delivering specified outputs. They need this information in order to map the path that is being taken. In fact, one of the key tasks for a change manager may be to look at projects and rationalise the corporate approach to them.
This will usually involve taking project activities away from the “unofficial PMOs” running all over the organisation and moving them to a central function that can use automation and highly skilled staff to manage projects and programmes more efficiently and economically. That leaves the “Business as Usual” functions to get on with what they are supposed to be delivering.