The project management office (PMO) should be at the forefront of any project-centric organization. No question. And having the right leadership in place to lead that unit is no small task. It’s not just a manager. Not just a resource manager or task manager. Not just a project manager though many organizations make that mistake time and time again. It’s about someone who knows the organization, knows the leaders in the organization, knows his people, understands their needs, and knows something about the type of projects being led and the technology being used. It’s a mix and it’s not easy finding just the right resource – it’s not a figurehead, that is certain.
Given all that, what does it take to be an impactful PMO leader in 2022? Let’s examine the following points…
Lead the PMO, not projects
One characteristic of a solid project management office is one led by an experienced manager and leader, but not one who is also doubling as a project manager. To truly develop the project leading resource excellence that is needed in this type of organization requires a true PMO leader who is dedicated with the tasks of overseeing PM career development, knocking down project roadblocks that arise, providing key input into project portfolio management (PPM) and even selection of the right enterprise PPM tool that will fit the organization for the long term. A project leader who is also tasked with leading projects is stretched too thin in most organizations and won’t be 100% successful in either role. Focus on PMO leadership.
Map out your Project Managers’ paths to success
As mentioned above, one key responsibility for the PMO leader is to oversee the training and career development of the project managers that make up the PMO infrastructure. Is it all about project management professional (PMP) certification? No, not necessarily. While that may be important depending on the industry and whether the projects you seek are in the public or private sector, in general, you will do well to focus on acquiring experience over certification and then helping them on their career roadmap and training needs. A good mix of both is likely the best scenario.
Be well connected in the organization
In order to get the right focus on the PMO, the PMO leader needs to be well-connected within the organization. What does that really mean? It means you are connected with accounting to get project actuals for the projects in your PPM pipeline on a weekly basis. It means your PMO leader is well connected with the senior management in the organization to get quick access to funding, resources, technology – whatever is needed to keep the project and project managers moving forward toward successful delivery for each and every project customer. A PMO leader without the right visibility in the company will struggle.
Gain senior management buy-in
The project management office that does not have the support and buy-in of the executive leadership for the company is often not going to last very long. Why? Because the most important projects – the ones that this leadership cares the most about – will go to some “favorite” somewhere else and not to the PMO. When your leadership doesn’t trust the PMO’s ability to deliver on the important projects, the rest of the company will eventually follow suit – at least to a degree that will spell doom for the PMO. Trust me, I’ve witnessed it first hand. The senior leadership must buy-in…that is critical for funding, staffing, and for ongoing visibility and company-wide usage of the project management office.
Make sure you have the right tools
Don’t make project success come from luck. Collaborate, share knowledge and information, and most of all…use templates, processes, and a methodology that everyone can share and understand and that help rather than hinder a project manager in doing their job. Don’t force PMs to use difficult tools with big learning curves – their jobs are hard enough as it is. Use what works and keep using it. And tweak what doesn’t. The use and reuse of templates and tools that worked in the past are the best way to kick off the next successful project. The next consideration – do you have the right enterprise project portfolio management tool?
Report up the chain in the organization
One key responsibility of a great PMO leader is making sure that the project management office is visible to the enterprise. The last thing you want is for someone to be surprised it exists. Hold events. Report company-wide on every single project success. Treat it like it is its own business unit. Champion it within the organization to gain awareness, ensure it’s usage as the one and only funnel for projects and make sure you have a great tool for reporting well across projects and up the organization to senior management. The more visibility, the better.
Choose the right methodology
It would be nice to say that you don’t need any methodology. You do. But be careful and consider the right methodology or a hybrid of methodologies. There are many choices… with two being traditional waterfall and agile? If agile, will it be Kanban or scrum? Agile is an umbrella term used to describe a project management and software development methodology which breaks down large complex projects into smaller manageable chunks. Scrum and Kanban are two agile project management methodologies with “subtle” differences. Will your PMO benefit from strict adherence to one methodology? Or, might you achieve more success by establishing your PMO and resourcing teams to be flexible enough to consider both traditional waterfall and agile, and then using whatever is appropriate for any given project or customer preference? Building to be flexible and choosing to deploy tools that offer customization and adaptation may be the best choice. Your project teams will benefit and the results they deliver will be better.
Leadership of the project management office in any project-centric delivery organization is a critical position within the organization. Not for the faint of heart. But it is not about leading projects. It’s about someone who knows how to lead projects from experience but is focused on the overall project success picture and the success of every project manager in the organization.
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