Side Notes: Project Management Office – PMO

Bringing the future to the present is the science of planning! It is also the black art part of project management. This is not something you will be taught in any project management institute of today. It is something you acquire through experience, guided by those who have made the impossible possible. At the nexus of a good Project Management Office (PMO) is the science of planning (the title of my recent presentation to students at the London School of Economics – more about this later). It is the project engine, fuelled by all project stakeholders, coordinated by the Project Manager. It is the source that determines the success or failure of a project.

Obviously, planning cannot exist without intelligence. So many PMOs lack the fundamental moving parts needed to give it the formidability it correctly deserves. The business intelligence unit inside our PMO had to gather data from everywhere because that was where it was, everywhere. The next thing was to categorise, discover the purpose for that data, so it all had to be analysed. At all times, our findings had to be visible to all project stakeholders. The business intelligence on this project, for example, forecasted actual client changes before they happened based on; history, client generated content, forum (i.e. technical complexities discussed), and even human resource information (i.e. absenteeism allowing for backup of key resources). We used this information to prepare ourselves to make clear timely project decisions.

The myth that banded itself around, that PMOs did not offer much value to a project, especially in terms of return on investment (ROI), is completely untrue. Large organisations such as Siemens and IBM (on this project, at least) discovered a very real lesson by not deploying a PMO. The lesson they learnt was that the PMO I built outsmarted both giant corporations to win control of the project and the bid to build the client’s content management system (worth over 100, 000euros).

From the post implementation review workshops conducted with both IBM and Siemens, they explained that their biggest issue – and the reason why they did not set up a PMO – was that it would add additional layers of bureaucracy to the project. This in turn, they said, would create more expenses which they felt the project could not afford it.

Through the actions of my team, the following point was made: It took 45 days to deliver Eastern Europe’s largest  GSM Telecommunication portal project. This was the very same project which IBM and Siemens had been trying to deliver for over a year. It certainly showed them the power and value of a PMO.


Several years before the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), I was part of an innovative project management team inside of the corporate head office for retail super giant, Sainsburys. One of our main goals was the reduction of failed projects within the organisation. We built robust PMOs as a solution. Each PMO built learnt from the others, until we had unknowingly acquired and surpassed SOX governance. The only sad point to this; the PMOs ran into trouble because of changes in senior management, culminating in the commission of Accenture to deliver an IT transformational programme. The side effect of this was that the PMOs were scrapped. Without the PMOs (missing from the Accenture supposedly thorough audit) the IT transformational programme took some serious battering. Sainsburys ran up losses from 2000 – 2007, losing over 260million GBP. Today, the PMOs are back in service.

Rarely mentioned, but important to add here, beware power hungry project managers. Some PMOs can unwittingly become a powerbase. There will always be the more power opportunists in organisations. Robustly built and highly efficient PMOs attract the power hungry. From there, they can control the fates of the stakeholders, the project and overtime the organisation. It has happened in parts of Sainsburys pre-2000 and other large organisations. Often these power mongers are only named project managers by CEO appointment. Their real title maybe that of Divisional/Departmental Director or other senior management title. Real project managers hunger to support, strive to develop their teams, take responsibilities seriously, and have no desire to power up for self-gain.

Sub notes – Facts:

–          PMO architecture is different; one size does not fit all.

–          PMOs must be open and transparent to work well (people knowledge, huge asset to PMOs).

–          Senior management must be involved early on in the PMO setup (strategy, budget).

–          Everything is stored here; risks, issues, receipts, service level agreements. It fuels the strategic bunker.

–          Strategic bunkers are one of the many moving parts within the engine of a PMO.

–          PMO is strongly inclusive (considered to be the earliest adopter of social media before it was coined as such).


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