All project management offices are not created equal, and the perception of a PMO’s value within an organization will greatly influence a project manager’s decision to pursue a position in it. Here are five concerns that could discourage a project manager from seeking a PMO-related role, and why these unappealing factors still might provide opportunities to grow.
There are solid reasons to seek a position in a project management office. As the previous 6 Reasons to Join a PMO article indicated, an assignment in a PMO can offer project managers hands-on experience in enterprise-level risk, change and issues management; expand their awareness of business issues; and provide an environment to develop leadership skills. Perhaps most appealing, it can also offer the opportunity to become part of the solution to project management processes in need of fixing.
All PMOs are not created equal, however, and the perception of a PMO within an organization will greatly influence a project manager’s decision to take a PMO assignment. Here are five less-than-enticing perceptions that could, on the surface, persuade a project manager to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
1. The PMO is a staff function
Ineffective PMOs are perceived as providing low value at high administrative costs without actually improving the delivery of projects. Valid or not, a PMO assignment is typically a staff assignment that focuses on the management of a portfolio of projects rather than specific project delivery. A staff role does not carry the glamour or excitement that the project management role provides on a daily basis.
In project management roles, the project manager is the key integrator ensuring all work streams and activities complete on time. Senior managers and executives depend on you to deliver their project on time, with high quality, and of course under or on budget. Staff functions don’t necessarily provide the same reward and recognition, though they are critical to the portfolio’s operations. Depending on the company’s organizational culture, high performers are typically recognized in delivery roles rather than staff or maintenance roles. Employees often hear about the hero who rescued a troubled project but rarely about the PMO manager who streamlined the financial approval process.
2. The focus is on process and methodology
Working in a PMO shifts the focus from project delivery to process management. Instead of delivering a project, the process or methodology is the project. A PMO manager succeeds when projects are funded, prioritized and initiated correctly, and the in-flight projects are executing according to the project management process. This is a significant shift for project managers who are accustomed to taking business requirements and transforming them into solutions for their business partners.
Understandably, some project managers don’t want to become process professionals, in which the main responsibility is to ensure that others are following the prescribed process, auditing projects or developing organizational improvements. But depending on how the PMO is structured, the PMO manager can adopt project delivery responsibility.
I worked in one organizational PMO where all the project managers reported directly to the PMO manager. Each project manager and cross-functional team were responsible for delivery, but the PMO manager also had responsibility to ensure the projects were delivered, and high level risks and issues were communicated.
3. PMO = Administrative Work
PMOs have a tendency to be the target for administrative work. If clerical staff is unavailable, the PMO is often tasked with reassigning cubes, ordering supplies or managing facilities. The PMO becomes an easy target when there is a perception that it has excess capacity and is not delivering actual projects. PMOs are also often responsible for organizing portfolio management or senior management reviews. When PMO is an extension of the program manager or business unit head, administrative tasks are part of the job. Effective PMOs handle the administrative work efficiently.
4. Loss of PM delivery skill set
When a project manager is no longer directly managing projects, losing touch with day-to-day project management skills is a common concern. In reality, PMO roles can provide new opportunities to apply project management skills across a wide variety of projects. It may take some time to gain other project managers’ confidence that the PMO actually knows something about project delivery. Once the PMO is recognized as a contributor rather than an inhibitor, the opportunity to develop project management skills across a portfolio rather than one project becomes an attractive opportunity.
5. The PMO is part of a troubled program
If the PMO opportunity involves a poorly performing program or troubled organization, the PMO assignment may appear to be an unattractive assignment. In fact, joining a struggling situation can provide an excellent opportunity to demonstrate leadership opportunities. But beware. Experienced project managers know when to avoid failing project. It may seem noble to take on a troubled project and rescue it, but some project opportunities are to be avoided at all cost. Project managers should still listen to WII-FM (What’s In It For Me) before accepting a new assignment.
PMO Career Path Recommendation
A PMO role can be an important stepping-stone in a project manager’s career path. The experience provides more breadth across program and project management processes that support delivery solutions to meet organizational goals. As project managers review PMO opportunities, they also need to consider the type of PMO and its level in the organization. If it is a program-level PMO, the opportunity will develop program management skills. If it is an organizational PMO, the role will be heavily staff focused, but could also provide opportunities to influence an organization’s project management delivery and portfolio management capability. In an executive-level PMO, project managers will have visibility to top projects and programs in the company and be able to observe how management deals with strategic problems. In the right situations, all three types of PMOs can improve a project manager’s skill set and overall marketability.