The point of a PMO (Project Management Officer) is to have somebody responsible for all of the actions a company does in project management. The PMO makes sure Project Manager (PM) practices are consistent and there is the right balance of relationship management and technical management. Are we cutting to the chase at the right times, digging deeper at the right times and having a consistent approach to client focus while getting the product right throughout the organization?
We had a variety of different people doing project management and they had a variety of history and experience resulting in a lot of variability in their style. Part of adding a PMO function was just making sure we were consistent in how we tracked times and projected our projects to hit our deadlines. We focus on both timing and effort expended. A lot of our projects are on fixed price. It’s really, really hard in exploratory product development to be on time and on budget. We felt someone needed to be accountable and responsible for keeping the organization consistent– including how we approached running projects and predicting how each stage of work was going to complete.
The Project Management Officer title makes it more inviting for Project Managers to seek advice. They also allow the PM to bounce ideas and problems off them. PMOs may suggest a solution, suggest a change in strategy with the client, they may suggest “Hey, maybe it’s time you bubble this up to managers outside of the project.” Even if you’re not a PM, the PMO is a natural resource for employees to seek guidance on issues. You can ask someone the same types of questions without a PMO, but having a PMO makes the process a little more normal and more likely to happen comfortably.
There’s a lot to manage as a project manager. It’s easy to get your head buried down in the details of projects. It’s hard to keep your head up above the projects as well. Someone’s got to keep their eye on that. We do it using a check in meeting twice a month.
The PMO is a better way of disseminating best practices to all of the project managers. When we started having lots of simultaneous projects, we met every two weeks. StarFish founder, Scott Phillips, was originally the company’s PMO. “I’d meet with each PM every two weeks and make sure all of the number in our spreadsheets were right. We’d cover the amount of effort they’d been spending on each project and what they thought. It’s much stronger to have someone dedicated to that capacity rather than it running off a corner of my desk.”
Gain more scrutiny. It’s so hard when you’re in the midst of the challenges of a project to make sure that the numbers are together and it all makes sense. It’s easy to go double over your budget. The PMO doesn’t have the same drives and concerns as the PM. The PM is concerned about that particular project, that particular budget, and that particular task/client. And the PMO is unrelated to all of those things. The PMO cares about projects completing on time and on budget, but they don’t have all the baggage that goes along with actually managing it. They can be kind of impartial and say “Have you thought about doing this? And often the PM will respond “No, because I’ve been busy working on something else.” Or “That was two months ago and I haven’t thought about it since then.”
The twice a month check-in is really helpful. It forces PMs to pause and reflect to identify any challenges and risks early on so PMs prevent things from happening instead of reacting to them. It forces a snapshot of the project at regular intervals to help spot trends. It also forces action on thoughts. You might have ideas brewing in your head and think “At some point I might need to break off this chunk of work and scope it into a new project”. Because we meet every couple of weeks, the thought often gets voiced out loud and the PMO responds, “I think it’s about time you did something with that rather than put it off.” It helps bring PM thoughts out into the open and get acted upon.
The roots of going over budget are often set a tenth or a quarter of the way through a project. You’re on a trajectory, you just haven’t realized it yet. And someone who has been around the block a lot of times can look at the status reports and say “You need to start adjusting scope or expectations now so we can achieve the best possible outcome for the project.”
PMOs enforce PM best practices. It’s easy when you are in a pinch to cut corners here and there. Or to think “Oh, I’ll do that next week.” The PMO also influences and enforces our quality system for the same reasons. They spot trends. If a group of PMs are doing particularly well due to certain behaviours, let’s roll them out across the organization.
Sometimes a project meanders off of its project plan. We may accidently take on a larger scope that was never discussed and would make it impossible to hit the budget. The PM may not realize it is happening because the change is incremental. The PMO can see the bigger picture and help move the project back to the reality intended. The PMO can help set expectations when there are many directions a project can go. When a client is very strong minded, it’s a handful for a single PM.
There is the element of being another voice. There are always times in a project when it comes upon something that affects the strategy of the client company. The team needs to consider whether to change the design, add a new feature, or avoid a risk that just came up. There may be costs that may affect their launch plan or their partner—all sorts of things. Having another experienced voice in the room when those strategic discussions that are going to affect the scope or the price are happening with the client is usually valuable.
There is a lot of interaction with Business Development. Defining the project and project success is really important. The PMO, engineering and business development are key players in shaping what should be done in a project. “We should take on this element and do it this way.” They craft what will happen in a project and how to describe it in the proposal. These decisions include what we will propose for the first phase, how far we will go, and how much will be left to the client to work out if we believe the client is better suited for a specific task or portion of the work.
When clients are concerned about how things are being managed, a PMO can independently discuss the process and different methods the client can use to engage with resources and management beyond the core project team. Although the PM is the always the primary client contact, there are other avenues which can include the PMO or senior management. For large clients with multiple PMs, the PMO is often running herd on the whole initiative, working with the client to help them prioritize initiatives while helping PMs maintain consistency between projects.
For QA, the PMO is an experienced library resource. Because the PMO is indirectly involved in all of the projects, they are a valuable resource. “Hey, I’m having this specific issue right now, what are some tools I can use?” The PMO can help share what has been done in similar situations. For example, “A client was getting to the point where they were going to spend a whole bunch of money and hope it worked or spend more time in the sandbox kind of testing things. The PMO suggested that a team member consult with a colleague outside of the project who proposed another possible path forward. He suggested we should focus more on the problems instead of the solutions which was helpful.”
The PMO helps projects get properly wrapped up. They ensure all information is properly collated and stored so it can be drawn on for other work or picked up later for the same client. I.E. The historical data is recorded correctly, the post project review is done correctly, and the design reviews, etc., are stored properly.
Astero StarFish is the attributed author of StarFish Medical team blogs. We value teamwork and collaborate on all of our medical device development projects.