The Mission of a PMO

What can a PMO do to make sure it stays relevant within its organization?

I heard this question at an event recently. 

We can dither about the meaning or form of a PMO, or we can get down to business and define its mission, after which all will become clear.

Just like the purpose of project management itself, the mission of the Project Management Office is to help the organization get stuff done (accomplish projects effectively).  

The PMO will probably find it necessary to impose some amount of structure around project management practices within the organization.  However it should take care to go no further than necessary.  Suggestions and guidance are fine, but firm requirements should be imposed very selectively — almost reluctantly.  If a PMO sees its mission as imposing structure, it is eventually going to create a straight jacket that keeps project managers from doing their real work effectively.  This is undoubtedly a major contributor to the less than 2-year half-life of the average PMO.

More fundamentally, the PMO should be surveying its project managers on a regular basis to identify the specific things that project managers find impede their projects.  

The PMO should then find ways to alleviate those impediments.  It might be backing-off on some of the PMO-imposed structure that is cumbersome and dysfunctional.  It might be getting various silos to agree to all accept one standardized status report format.  It might be a need to stream-line spending authorizations or change request decisions.  It might be any number of other things, but whatever it is, the PMO should identify it and then work to remediate it.  

Through this clearly defined mission, the PMO can make itself extremely relevant to the organization by identifying process improvement initiatives that are designed to enable the organization to execute on projects more effectively in the future.

The PMO will also survey project sponsors and other stakeholders to get feedback on how their project managers are performing, and provide coaching where needed.

With a clear sense of purpose and wise judgement as to where to be a bit heavy-handed and where to use a light touch, PMO management should be able to keep the PMO very relevant and even near top of mind.  What could be more fundamental than continuous improvement in the organization’s ability to execute on its strategy?