What is a Project Management Office?

The company took off like a rocket! One of the founders had come up with an extraordinarily great idea and his natural selling ability allowed him to land a mammoth client. This huge account that was going to take advantage of his great idea needed this start-up company to come together from scratch in just a matter of months!

Funding was in place and the company started the hiring process. It was done in a sort of “ready, aim, fire” way but that was OK. Bodies just needed to be thrown at the projects that needed to be complete. The IT department began to form. The Engineering staff was brought on board. Client Services and Support was the next piece of the puzzle. An offshore quality assurance was assembled and trips were being made back and forth to ensure everyone was in sync. Each department was headed up by an ambitious executive ready to make their mark on corporate history.

What is a Project Management Office?

What is a Project Management Office?

The atmosphere was electric and the energy intoxicating. Each day there were requisitions for new people to come on board and HR couldn’t keep up with bringing on people fast enough.

And then it got complicated.

The company was growing so fast that it wasn’t being built on a solid foundation. There wasn’t a central project management office that was in place to steward and manage all of the activity that was underway in this environment. This resulted in a number of issues, including:

  • Shifting Priorities – Every day that passed seemed to introduce the next most important thing to work on. Whatever was being worked on the day before was old news.The client or management at the company now needs a new piece of functionality, new deliverable, or a new direction to be taken. Everyone would have to come to a grinding halt on what they were working on and start a brand new activity from scratch.

    Short-term this may be understood to happen from time to time, but this was becoming the rule and not the exception as to how business was conducted.

  • Resource Contention – As if the shifting priorities weren’t bad enough, resource contention now began to raise its ugly head. There was so much work to be done, but only so many people that were able to do the work.This meant there were heated exchanges about which project was more important or which initiatives needed to be pushed forward. Once those arguments were settled it became an issue of who was going to do the work. This many times resulted in less than desirable decisions being made as the most vociferous executive or the one with the most clout would always win the argument.
  • Lack of Understanding – As if shifting priorities and resource contention weren’t bad enough…lack of understanding began to creep into the equation as well. There were so many people being hired so quickly that there was barely enough time to bring anyone up to speed.Some of the new hires had never even heard of the client that was bringing in all of the work. Yet, these resources were working and testing software that was designed to make that particular client’s operation much smoother. This was resulting in a lot of time being spent up front making sure everyone understood what needed to happen, or worse yet, even more time on the backend explaining what went wrong and then redoing the work.

To make matters worse silos were beginning to form between engineering, client services, quality assurance, and IT and turf protection was becoming par for the course. There was no sharing and minimal assistance and communication occurring between departments.

The CEO of the company finally said “Enough!” His answer to getting everything back on track was a Project Management Office. Many people in the company never even heard of a Project Management Office and asked the question “what is a project management office?” In time they all begin to figure it out as the PMO started to come online and take charge of straightening out the chaos that had infiltrated the company.

What is a Project Management Office?

In answer to the question about what is a project management office, it is a central department or group of people that come together to manage not only the projects in the company but manage the process itself of bringing projects to completion.

The PMO in this particular company arose from combining the disparate project managers in each department into one department. One of the more experienced project managers was asked to head up the newly formed group of project managers.

It was determined that the PMO would not report to any particular department such as IT or Engineering, but rather report to the President of the company directly. This helped eliminate any conflicts of interest or politics that could have arisen if the PMO reported to one of the Type-A ambitious executives that were heading up each major group of the company.

So, what is a Project Management Office? In the context of this company, the project management office would:

  • Define and Document Processes – There were multiple ways of getting a project from Point A to Point B in this company. Some departments would spend an inordinate amount of time on the up front planning and then blow right past QA. Other departments would make up the requirements as they went along only to find that they never could seem to close out their projects.

The PMO took the best of the best processes that were in place, eliminated those that made no sense and came up with a solid and repeatable process that could be implemented across all departments.

  • Create and Use Templates – Another function of the newly formed project management office was to create and use project management templates for consistency across the company. These were not just templates for the sake of using templates, but rather the absolute minimum documentation that was necessary to give anyone working on the project enough information to keep them moving forward.A similar process was utilized in creating the templates as was for defining the processes above. All documentation was assembled from all departments and the best of the best templates is what was implemented across the company.
  • Repository of Project Status – This group became the objective, one-stop-shop for all information related to projects that were going on in the company. Anyone on this team could tell you where a particular project stood, what the next step was, what obstacles were in the way, and what needed to be done to finish up a particular project. They had such a reputation for being accurate and objective that the President of the company said that “if you guys feel good, I feel good. If you’re stressed, I feel stressed”. He had such faith and confidence in this group that they served as his barometer for how things were going on in the company.

Things began to settle out for this company over time. It was no longer the out of control rocket ride that was so much fun in the beginning. But, neither was it an unmanageable and unsustainable approach to project management.

The answer to “what is a project management office” lies somewhere between the meteoric rise of a brand new company with a great idea and one that crashes and burns.  A project management office will be just enough systems, processes, and procedures in place to steadily move things forward without serving as a hindrance to progress.

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