Demonstrating the Value of Your PMO

A Project Management Article by Michelle LaBrosse, PMP®, CEO, Cheetah Learning LLC (PMI® REP)

Hundreds of articles have been written about establishing and improving the Project Management Office (PMO). So why is it that Gartner Research Group reports that PMOs frequently experience a 50 percent failure rate? The answer is not only in the setup of a PMO, but the constant maintenance and ceasing any carried work that is no longer valuable.

Cheetah Learning performed their due diligence to research how to maintain a successful PMO in the creation of the 60 PDU Cheetah PMO ( online course, and we’d like to share what we learned with you.

Jump to Article Sections:

  1. Match your PMO to Your Corporate Culture
  2. Use ALL Sources of Capital
  3. Become a Powerful PM Influencer
  4. Tailor Project Management Processes to Your Needs
  5. PMOs Succeed at the Speed of Trust
  6. PMO as the Maser Facilitator of Communication
  7. PMO Success!

Match your PMO to Your Corporate Culture.

Organizational cultures don’t change quickly. Therefore, it is best to integrate existing culture in creating and maintaining a PMO. Studies in organizational theory show that culture will overrule new strategies that conflict with culture.

What does your organization value? The answer to this question says a lot about your company’s corporate culture. Sometimes it can be hard to objectively view your company culture, because you live and breathe it ever day and may not have a recent point of reference in which to compare it to another organization’s culture.

In order to uncover the corporate culture, start with an interview to find out just “how we do business here.” You will find that deeply embedded beliefs and behaviors are self-reinforcing inside the corporate culture. Since workplace actions uphold corporate culture values, it improves the PMO’s survival to consistently align PMO value with business and culture values.

Use ALL Sources of Capital

When looking for proven approaches for operating a successful PMO, you only need to look as far as your own success as a PM. PM’s learn to leverage their personal sources of capital to accomplish work within their influence and control. 

Think about how you focus on your circle of influence and control to strategically get the job done, while avoiding known roadblocks, to arrive at project success. A cliché works well here: To effect change, “it is not so much what you know, but who you know.” Who is in that PMO influenced circle? What is the realm of control exerted by the PMO? 

The PMO is chartered by executive sponsors who grant the right for it to exist on their behalf.  The sponsors do so to control a series of projects that bring their business vision to life. These are visibly influential stakeholders who are rooting for the PMO because creating one was their decision. 

Secondly, the PMO influences smart PMs. Their scope of work is important but often hidden within the portfolio of projects that together manifest business vision. Once again, the PMO becomes a welcomed voice for the customer it serves. Determine what is most important to the influenced party and then take inventory of your strengths in these sources of capital: financial, social, infrastructure, brand, and knowledge. Each potentially generates force to make projects successful.

Become a Powerful PM Influencer

Every PMO will face constraints that might at times seem insurmountable. The power within the PM comes from turning focus away from those tasks that cannot be performed (right now), and performing only tasks within their circle of control and influence.

And the good news is - everyone can learn to influence! Learning to tell a compelling story that inspires action is essential to change anything worthwhile. The Project Management Institute publishes mounting journal research that PMO failure rates indicate lack of expertise in program and portfolio management. Influential PMs that support PMO’s are needed now more than ever.

Does your influence strategy generate champions for the PMO? Influence is more than just a persuasive story. It involves increasing individual capability, creating a social support network and driving an environment of accountability for project success throughout the organization. 

An effective PMO is measured on tangible business results that directly impact the bottom line – NOT simply on process and activity. Stories that show the measurable impact on the organization are critical for growing the perception of value of the PMO.

Tailor Project Management Processes to Your Needs

Integrating the PMO into the corporate culture and making it a vital resource helps the office to outlive Gartner’s 50 percent prediction of demise. The PMBOK is the standard body of knowledge, but can be tailored to the way your organization performs work. 

The PMI “Standard for Program Management” is also customizable for PMs managing multiple projects. Demonstrating compliance to both standards successfully brands your PMO.

Any organizational changes to standards can be justified and recognized by project teams. Without this demarcation, they endure an entire PM career believing “this is the way it is done” when, in reality, “this is the way it is done here.” Realizing this important distinction helps your PM pass the standardized test, the international PMP certification exam. 

After you’ve established benchmarks against which to measure PMO success, compare them with published reports of best-case PMO examples. Are PMOs that work closer to standard more or less successful? In essence, did you tailor too much in the effort to make PM practices valuable to your specific organization?

Another critical reason to standardize PM processes to the PMBoK is that it increases operational efficiencies with external suppliers. Supplier organizations that support your organization, as well as your supported customers, adopt the industry standard terminology, processes, tools and techniques as demonstrated by obtaining PMI’s PMP certification. Such integrated standardization significantly improves operational efficiencies in an increasingly interdependent global playing field.

Mentioning certifications is a reminder to help your team members retain value in the job market. Is this one of your top 20 aspirations? Examine your own personal brand and don’t squander this opportunity for your PMO to be considered a career resource for PMs, strengthening both your PMO brand and the profession.

PMOs Succeed at the Speed of Trust

Issues with trust have plagued businesses for years. Openly talking about trust in the workplace is innovative, liberating and is a key opportunity for a successful, long-lasting PMO. Some additional difficult-to-measure criteria: Do PMs know how to initiate and sustain productive conversations that build trust? Will everyone in the PMO model this behavior so that it is gradually accepted?  

This office is trusted with project data and is expected to represent PMs objectively. If information is delivered as promised, the project teams and sponsors will even champion the PMO. With all eyes on the PMO, ethical guidance must be infallible. 

Emphasis on the PMI Ethical Code of Conduct is part of the PM’s brand capital. Such “nuances” ethically guide behavior that correctly represents the PM profession. These lessons should be part of all continuous learning for the PM. 

Accelerated learning techniques that involve breathing, stretching, healthy eating and positive PM affirmations all encourage the desire to uphold ethical standards. As of September 2011, PMI is also improving the PM brand by elevating the role of the PM with respect to ethical conduct on projects.

The new emphasis on the code of conduct demonstrates sincerity and builds trust as it is integrated throughout PMI’s revised PMP certification exam. If the PMO is a coach for PMs and a visible example to all other stakeholders, then all of its members must lead with a high emotional intelligence quotient (EQ: self-awareness; self-management; social management). Ethical behavior is now testable with this new PMI exam.

PMO as the Maser Facilitator of Communication

The PMO communicates the vision until no PM is left behind in their understanding, buy-in, and dedication. Because of this clarity, PMO’s help build confidence amongst and within Project Teams. When the PMO demonstrates how to create an environment of trust and mutual respect, it is an investment in cultivating team culture. Everyone will come to expect, without fear of repercussion, courage to act when facing problems, admit mistakes and freely give credit where credit is due.

Performing and perfecting communications enlightens the PM community and can change the business outlook. Including everyone in knowledge-sharing and the importance of following work performance standards drive individual feelings of importance and value. Upholding these practices allow a well-run PMO to significantly increase the social return on investment of an organization.   

PMO Success!

PMOs differ from company to company. Yet all of them require substantial ROI for the organization, including human benefit. Doing this fast, while adhering to the corporate culture, applying standards, protecting your staff, and gaining successes within your influence and control is a lengthy formula. 

You can learn this path to sustaining your organization through one successful project, establishing your PMO. The Cheetah PMO online class is designed to guide you to either set up an effective PMO from the ground up or to enhance an existing PMO so it can achieve optimal performance within the constructs of your organization.

About the Author

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP®, CEO, Cheetah Learning LLC (PMI® REP)

CheetahLearningMichelle LaBrosse, PMP, is an entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy, fun and fast.  She is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the Cheetah Success Series, and a prolific blogger whose mission is to bring Project Management to the masses.

Cheetah Learning is a virtual company with 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide. To date, more than 30,000 people have become “Cheetahs” using Cheetah Learning’s innovative Project Management and accelerated learning techniques.  

Recently honored by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), Cheetah Learning was named Professional Development Provider of the Year at the 2008 PMI® Global Congress.  A dynamic keynote speaker and industry thought leader, Michelle was previously recognized by PMI as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the world.

Michelle’s articles have appeared in over 100 publications and web sites around the world. Her monthly column, the Know How Network is carried by over 400 publications, and her monthly newsletter goes out to more than 50,000 people.  

She is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner President Manager’s (OPM) program and also holds engineering degrees from Syracuse University   and the University of Dayton.  

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