Do I Really Need a Program Management Office (PMO)?

Part 1 of “Improving Project Outcomes through the use of Project or Program Management Office implementation”

At any one moment in time, across organizations of all sizes, there are multiple projects underway, each having one of the following goals:

  • Improve a process;
  • Launch a product;
  • Deliver critical, time-sensitive results; or
  • Implement a new technology.

These types of initiatives are symbiotic with Organizational Strategy and goals. As such, there should be an expectation of doing these things “well”. The truth is, organizations achieve various rates of success across these projects (See Figure 1 – it’s not just here for filler.) The “aha moment” you should be having right now is, “Improving project delivery is the most obvious and potentially beneficial “project” an organization can take on.”

PMO_Image 1-278197-edited.png

Figure 1 – Survey PMI – Why Projects Fail

Where do I start with improving my organization’s project performance?

A great place to start is the Program Management Office.

Before you roll your eyes, I’m not going to simply list the benefits of a PMO, etc. Instead, I want to show you by example, an approach that will make this manageable, with short-term wins. I firmly believe in the saying, “The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”

Putting it in context

Let’s put this scenario in context by looking at some of the different types of PMOs:

  • PMO as a project office related to one of the above-mentioned types of projects, which seeks to consolidate information to report on progress toward the overall goal vs. the individual project;
  • PMO as guiding body of standards for execution, expertise and project services;
  • PMO as a portfolio and planning organization to manage the strategy and portfolio of ongoing projects and the planning of future projects.

Let’s call these Levels 1-2-3.

Over this three-part series of posts, we’ll go through the example of one organization’s gradual, organic implementation of a PMO – beginning with the immediate, quick-wins gained from a Level 1-type PMO, then moving through development into a higher-functioning, Level 2 then Level 3 PMO.

We’ll start with a typical scenario, which every company finds itself in at some point:

There are multiple, concurrent projects in motion. Internal resources are managing the projects and reporting to stakeholders. These same resources are also conducting their normal work roles / operational tasks. There are limited standards and consistency and a lot of duplicative effort.

(If I had a dime for everyone reading this that is in this scenario…)

PMO_Image 2-581055-edited.png

Figure 2 Before PMO Consolidation

Our example company, A+ Emerging, Inc., is conducting an effort to roll out new technology that will incorporate market data and feed internal resources providing analytics, reporting and performance metrics. There are multiple Project Managers and additional business team members involved, working on the different components and reporting back to the IT leadership and business stakeholders (Figure 2).


  1. Each PM is using a different template to report status, leading to inconsistent communication and unclear comparisons goals;
  2. Only two of the workstreams report dependencies to each other, which indicates possible unrealized requirements, deadlines and end-state goals;
  3. Each project has its own project plan, missing opportunities to create one, big-picture view;
  4. Multiple, unaligned meetings are creating many follow-up action items, as each PM needs to follow up with others for stakeholder information;
  5. Stakeholders are creating their own summaries of progress based on their own notes from meetings, since they are not getting a collective, consolidated picture;

Organically, everyone realizes the need to streamline this process. (This is where I could go on about the benefits and need to create the PMO, but I won’t.)

Real-world, this is what happens – A+ Emerging, Inc. stakeholders and IT leadership take the following PMO-related steps:

  • Establish a Program Manager – responsible for consolidating each workstream into a program view;
  • Create a Program-level project plan with linked dependencies;
  • Create a standard project status template, with consistent, reportable progress, issues and actionable items;
  • Create a Program-level meeting between workstreams;
  • Coordinate communication between workstreams and stakeholders.

The resulting wins and impacts are immediate:

PMO_Image 3-674567-edited.pngFigure 3 After PMO Consolidation

  • Reduction in duplication of meetings;
  • Improved communication through consolidation;
  • Improved overall picture of project (program!) progress and health;
  • Greater cross-workstream cooperation due to transparent dependencies.

The results look something like Figure 3.

Let’s review, shall we?

A+ Emerging, Inc. recognized their project inefficiencies and the impacts to their success. They implemented on a small scale (Pilot, anyone?) some typical PMO capabilities. These capabilities gave them greater visibility to their project and improved their chances of success.

What I’ve shown you is somewhat simplified. There can be a time, resource and budget impact to do this mid-project. But the message is clear – this is a natural outcome of your company’s growth.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll explore the next organic steps and some of the goals, outcomes and needs of a successful PMO implementation, as we follow our hero company into further PMO realization.