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What Does PMO Really Stand For?

By Milvio DiBartolomeo 19 Jan 2024
What Does PMO Really Stand For?

When asked, most people would answer that the term PMO refers to a Portfolio, Programme or Project Management Office, and technically, they would be correct. But what is sometimes forgotten or ignored is that the letter “P” also refers to the practices, processes and, most importantly, the people who deliver the PMO functions and services. Furthermore, the letter ‘P’ also extends to include passion, performance and (stakeholder) perspective that supports the value proposition of the PMO service to the commissioning organisation. 

PMO illustration

Whatever an organisation calls a PMO or the type of PMO model adopted, the emphasis should always be on the people, practices and processes to ensure that the integral link between strategy and benefits realisation is both maintained and optimised. That is the delivery of new strategic objectives through the realisation of outputs, capabilities, outcomes and benefits that collectively provide continuous value to the customer.

The meaning of a PMO is naturally evolving, particularly in an uncertain, complex and volatile environment. PMOs hold an important role within any organisation. They are accountable for running and changing the business by ensuring consistency of informed decision-making across the portfolio of programmes, projects and other work. They do this by promoting contextualised best practices and effectively managing organisational risks and financial position.

Focus On People

Having the right people, with the right mindset, capabilities, and skills, at the right time is as important in programs and projects as it is in a PMO. Focusing on people is about understanding their skills, capabilities, and aspirations aligned with the current and future functions and services offered by the PMO. This thinking aligns with the Modern Agile principle of Making People Awesome and Richard Branson’s thoughts about “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”. 

So, PMOs need to continually ask themselves how they can make people in their ecosystem awesome through capability-building opportunities. This includes learning about what holds them back, what they aspire to achieve, context and pain points.

No doubt, hiring people to fill capability gaps is a proven method to bolster human capital, but the process needs to be effectively managed to build employee engagement. It’s imperative, then, that PMO leaders make time to listen to people. Aligning people’s thoughts with actionable suggestions for improvement to implement throughout the PMO and organisation is a tangible way to prove the PMO values its people. As such, a people-first culture is never set. It is dynamic, representing the constant improvement in ourselves, the nature of work and the broader organisational environment. 

Practice Makes Perfect  

There is no denying that proven portfolio, programme and project management methodologies or practices enable organisations to do the right things and to do them in the right way, but they also identify potential improvement pathways. These opportunities should be seen as a long-term strategic commitment rather than a quick fix for immediate tactical problems. Although rapid, short-term improvements can be targeted to achieve specific goals, tangible benefits are only achieved through continual process improvement to practices.  

If organisations are to succeed, then an integrated and continual portfolio, programme and project direction, management and delivery improvement approach must be at the forefront of everyone’s thinking. A key aspect is everyone agreeing to follow the portfolio, programme and project management practices until people can better understand how they can be improved and thereby eliminate possible weaknesses. 

For Process Sake

While industry best practice portfolio, programme and project management methodologies describe the minimum lifecycle processes, organisations more often than not apply additional governance processes with the premise of enabling organisational consistency. But taking into consideration the herding cats idiom, if a process is overly bureaucratic, then people will naturally game the system. There is no escaping the fact that sometimes it’s easier for people to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.  

As such, the processes for effective portfolio, programme and project management, including any governance arrangements, need to be appropriate for the situation and maturity. Rather than being overzealous with organisational governance processes, PMOs should advocate for the main investment board and programme and project owners to delegate authority to the lowest hierarchical level, with a light touch on management control. The P3 processes, therefore, exist to enable efficacious decision investment-making by the accountable role. They should not be used to prolong decision-making processes, particularly where they add no value to the desired result. 

In summation, effective PMOs are much more than simply a functional support office within an organisation. They play an integral role in continually aligning strategy direction with running the organisation and changing the organisation, while most organisations focus on the PMO design to best provide its functions and services. PMOs would be better valued if the focus were on the most important aspects of people, practices, and processes used to deliver the required functions and services to the broader organisation. Successful PMOs will, therefore, be judged on how well they can provide a function or service to best suit the organisational business need rather than what functions and services should be provided.