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What is the Role of the Project Management Office (PMO)?

written by

Jun 18, 2014 1:04:00 PM

Running the PMO Can Feel Like Having the World on Your Shoulders

I have this debate with project management officers around the world, from time to time. Many PMOs feel like Atlas holding up the world - running a PMO is a thankless and never-ending task.

So what is the role? What should a PMO do?

I’m going to share my view, greatly simplify things. What I'm really interested in is your views, so please dive in and comment.

To me, there are three main aspects of a PMO.

1) Project prioritization and selection

2) Project governance / oversight

3) Promotion of best practice / skills development

For me, the most important of the three is the selection of projects. The reason for this, as regular readers will already know, is that perfect execution means nothing if you’re executing the wrong projects.

I sometimes see PMOs who focus exclusively on points 2 and 3. They imagine that the “executives” magically pick projects that are the right projects and that the PMOs responsibility is simply to make sure they are well executed. This often leads the PMO to rush out and implement project portfolio management (PPM) software to support project execution and governance.

I'm convinced that this is a mistake.

One of the most important aspects of a PMO is to help the organization select the right projects and this has to come before PPM. Now, some environments are more open to doing this well than others, but no matter what, a PMO who does not address prioritization is not really doing the job. 

Of course, I'm not suggesting that project governance and adopting best practice are not important. They are. I'm simply suggesting that there is a natural order to these thing: get good at prioritization first, then you can worry about executing the projects better.

I dare say many people out there will disagree with me. That is your right, but please, please, don't ignore the project prioritization process.