Adding a PMO assignment to a project management career path can offer project managers experience in program-level risk and change management, expand their awareness of business issues and develop leadership skills. It can also offer the opportunity to become part of the solution to project management processes in need of fixing.
In a project manager’s career path, determining whether an assignment in a project management office is the right choice can be a difficult decision. Associate project managers often start in a PMO to gain exposure to project management. Seasoned project managers join a PMO to provide direction and help raise the level of project management maturity in the organization. Other project managers avoid PMO assignments entirely. The decision to join a PMO depends on a variety of pros and cons. Here are six good reasons to accept a PMO assignment or pursue an opportunity to join one.
1. Improve program management skills
A PMO assignment will provide a project manager with visibility to multiple projects that require program-level issue, risk, change and integration management. The challenges experienced at the PMO level are different than the challenges at the project management level. Joining a PMO will help the project manager become a better program manager through the experience. Ideally, aspiring program managers should join a program level PMO and apply the lessons learned and PMO processes to future programs. Assigning a program manager who has the relationship management experience and the core project management mechanics is a benefit to any program.
2. Increase visibility across the portfolio
Working in a PMO at any level of the organization will provide greater visibility to the projects in the program, portfolio and organization. Gaining insight into how multiple projects provide value to a corporate initiative expands the project manager’s business acumen. When managing a single project, the project manager’s opportunity to learn about a project’s business benefit is limited to the project. At the PMO level, the project manager will see multiple initiatives and understand how they all contribute to an organizational goal. Project managers will also gain the opportunity to develop portfolio management and governance skills as multiple projects are executed, monitor, and controlled across the portfolio.
3. Improve the process and methodology
Working in a PMO provides the opportunity to focus on project management process improvements and methodology adjustments. Project managers are often asked to follow a prescribed methodology that has inefficiencies and is ripe with process improvement opportunities. Since project managers are focused on project delivery, implementing process improvements for the greater project management community is not as feasible. When working in a PMO, the project manager has an excellent opportunity to provide feedback and apply past experience to improve the project management process.
4. Develop mentoring and coaching skills
A key function of an effective PMO is training and consulting other project managers on project and program management techniques. Working within a PMO can position the project manager as the expert in specific project management functions like schedule development or risk management. Other project managers can learn from the experience and leverage the PMO to improve novice project manager skill sets. Program managers can also benefit from PMO experts to help structure a program for success. If you are a skilled project manager, working in the PMO will demonstrate your ability to share your knowledge and help others develop. Coaching and counseling employees on skill development is a key management function.
5. Learn the organization’s staff and back-office functions
Every project manager should have exposure to the financial, portfolio, and resource management processes required to govern major programs and organizational PMOs. Initiating and executing a project provides a silo view of how work is conducted in the organization. Working in a PMO role provides exposure to all the back office functions that support the different projects in the portfolio.
Working in a PMO will also provide new opportunities to learn how a project portfolio is governed. PMO managers may gain exposure to portfolio management tools like Clarity, Microsoft Project Server, Pacific Edge, and other portfolio management tools. Typically, project managers may interact with these tools from a schedule management or cost management viewpoint. If the PMO is responsible for managing the portfolio, exposure to these tools will be valuable in future leadership positions. Executives need to know how their projects are performing to effectively manage the organization. Understanding how to leverage portfolio management tools and processes further develops these skill sets.
6. Develop peer influence techniques
As a project manager, your sphere of influence and authority is limited to a specific project. As a program manager, the authority is limited to the scope of the program, however, the need for peer influence increases. Working in a PMO will help the project manager develop peer influence and gain buy-in to help manage specific deliverables where other organizations have no incentive to assist the program.
Escalating to senior management is not always productive and the ability to negotiate and help others prioritize to meet program or organizational goals is a much-needed skill in both existing and aspiring program managers. As project managers rise along their career path, the need for peer influence becomes more important.
These are six good reasons why novice and experienced project managers alike should consider an assignment in a PMO. There are others. But it is important to realize that transitioning from a project delivery role to a PMO role requires a change in mindset — direct project management is not the core focus. That can make for a positive, exciting career move, but it doesn’t always.