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Even Small Organizations Need a PMO

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

Small Organization, Big Need

I retired as CIO from what I’d call a mid-size organization. The information technology group had 33 full-time employees, a handful of part-time employees, and served about 2500 customers. When I assumed the role, we were grossly behind on projects. In fact, we counted 85 projects waiting to be started, ranging from multi-year, multi-million-dollar projects to short, one-or-two-month projects. We were so overwhelmed by daily operations that we didn’t have time to address them.

I saw this as an opportunity to methodically divide and conquer, sent some of the staff to project management training, and created a small Project Management Office (PMO). Fast forward three years, and we had everything under control, averaging 15 projects underway and 5 waiting in the queue at any given time. Of course, we had growing pains and learned many lessons along the way, but this steady state became the new normal.

When we think of a PMO, we tend to think of big corporate enterprises with large budgets, head counts, and customer bases. But what this exercise proved to me was that even smaller organizations can benefit from having a PMO structure and solid project management capabilities. It’s not about the size of the organization, but the project load.

Projects are unique, temporary endeavors, and an organization’s size isn’t necessarily related to the number of projects that it must undertake. In fact, all organizations have common types of projects that they are often forced to execute, driven solely by environmental factors like regulation, policy, and fiscal changes, or the need to innovate. Projects related to new product or service design, structural reorganization, facility construction and renovations, and IT system changes are ubiquitous. So the need for project management is present, even in the smallest organizations.

The Benefits of a PMO

There are many benefits of a PMO, but I’d like to mention three that had the most impact. The first was a higher success rate of projects. And by “success,” I mean the usual goals of being on budget, on time, and within scope. That isn’t to say that these baselines weren’t adjusted along the way, but the stakeholders were involved, and the changes were well-communicated. On some projects, the PMO also conducted before-and-after satisfaction surveys that returned positive results.

The second benefit was a culture change. Over time, the entire enterprise learned that IT was approaching projects with a standard methodology and became accustomed to it. This had two important effects: When stakeholders were asked to be part of a project team, they understood the importance of the projects and the necessary time commitments. And it also raised the bar for anticipated project outcomes, but at the same time, put stakeholders at ease knowing that the projects were in good hands.

The last benefit was the standardization of status reports. We built a website that displayed the status of all projects in production, as well as those waiting in the queue. Each project was assigned a priority, so it was clear whose projects would emerge from the queue next. The website was updated weekly with sufficient detail to answer most stakeholder questions. In fact, stakeholders could subscribe to selected projects for pushed email updates. This provided convenient transparency into the entire project portfolio.

Building a PMO

Building a PMO is a topic that deserves its own article, and I’ll save that one for another day. But I will point out a few considerations now that are particularly relevant for smaller organizations.

Your PMO can be small. In fact, a well-seasoned project manager and a business analyst may be all that you need. Of course, realize that project schedules are vulnerable to absences under those circumstances, and redundancy is always a good thing. The PMO can be staffed by full or part-time members, depending on the willingness of the organization to make the trade-offs, and set proper expectations.

The Project Management Institute identifies three types of PMO: supportive, controlling and directive. Small PMOs may opt for the supportive or controlling roles, where they only provide project guidance, methodologies, tools, and templates (supportive), and may enforce their use (controlling). But the actual work is done by project managers and teams assembled from elsewhere in the organization, usually the departments or groups that are most affected by the project.

Directive PMOs take control and directly manage the projects. So you’re more likely to need at least a few, full-time PMO resources with this model, depending on the project load.

When you establish your PMO, take time to introduce it to the enterprise. Demonstrate the project management tools and methodologies that will be used, how the project portfolio will be managed, the expectations for stakeholders who are asked to join a project team, and how PMO communications will be handled.

The final important consideration is the PMO investment. It’s important that the PMO is successful and returns value to the organization. The best way to determine this is to establish some metrics for PMO performance. Of course, you can always analyze the performance of individual projects, and maybe even determine the PMO cost savings for the enterprise to calculate a return on investment. But also consider stakeholder satisfaction and include ways to measure it.

Project EMC2 Can Help

Project EMC2 easily handles the daily demand of managing multiple projects, bouncing from meeting to meeting, and the need to constantly adapt, make decisions, guide teams, and ensure the work gets done. The interface provides a view of your entire portfolio and archive, and switching between projects only takes a single click.

You’ll also find that sharing project files with PMO members and stakeholders is easy. Project EMC2 is designed to support network and synchronized cloud storage solutions, such as OneDrive, Google Drive, Box and DropBox. These services offer excellent access control, file protection, and backup. Some even offer version control.

Project EMC2 also assists with project planning. Stakeholders, Requirements and Activities are the first three elements in the application, and you can use them to help plan these parts of your project. In fact, setting your project scope and developing a project schedule is very straight forward in the application, and Project EMC2 turns these planning tasks into exciting and rewarding brainstorming exercises for the project team.

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