December 18, 2023

Shaping an Effective PMO

by Tamara Pomerantz

In the world of Healthcare, projects sprout like mushrooms in a forest.  The Portfolio or Project Management Office (PMO) plays a pivotal role in unlocking and shaping the effectiveness of these organizational efforts. 

However, questions frequently arise concerning the PMO's purpose and effectiveness:  does it merely propel work forward, or does it actively contribute to steering value? Additionally, there is often uncertainty regarding the PMO's role and its responsibilities.

To shape a proficient Project Management Office (PMO), it's important to explore the impact of practice structure, the significance of aligning with organizational needs, and the progression towards maturity.

Frame the PMO

Just as form drives function, the structure of your PMO profoundly influences performance, understanding, and overall value achievement within your organization.  The practice and framework you choose significantly impact not only what your PMO achieves but also how it's perceived by those it serves.

PMO Practice and Framework

Determining PMO effectiveness starts with understanding the type of PMO in practice.  Then assessing if it is tailored to your organization's current and future needs.

Chart your course by first evaluating your PMO across three dimensions: Scope, Approach, and Maturity.  

Scope:  Consider the breadth of your PMO's influence - is it Enterprise-wide, Departmental, or Program/Project specific?  Each scope level brings its unique set of challenges and advantages.  An Enterprise PMO, for instance, can harmonize competing projects, ensuring alignment with strategic priorities.  Meanwhile, a Departmental PMO focuses on coordinating and integrating projects within a specific division.

Function:  How your PMO operates, delivers, and engages with stakeholders defines its functional approach.   What type of influence does it have strategically, tactically, and operationally?  When a PMO is functioning strategically it supports overarching organizational strategy through portfolio management and advisement.  The same PMO can offer tactical support through common tools, structure, and methodologies for project management.  Operationally, the PMO may provide resources for the direct management of projects.

The PMOs mission/vision and goals for effectiveness should define how strategic, tactical, and operational the PMO should be.

Maturity:  Assessing how well your PMO functions within its scope and approach measures its maturity.  It's not just about what the PMO does but how proficiently it does it.

Tailoring the PMO to Fit

Flexibility is key in tailoring the PMO to fit the unique needs of your organization.  Different benefits, barriers, and requirements emerge based on the PMO's scope and functional approach.  Blending models to match complexity with skill sets fosters alignment and enhances effectiveness.

Does the type of PMO at your organization align to what stakeholders are expecting and needing?

Call to Action:  Use the table below to better define the type of PMO scope being practiced, determine the right fit, and develop a plan for adjustment to overcome barriers and achieve sustained improvement.

Scope

Enterprise

Department

Project/ Program

Function

Establishes and maintains standards, processes, and delivery approaches to improve portfolio and project management practices and performance across the organization. Supports resource performance across the organization. Supports resource management and capacity across all projects.

Supports projects for an individual department or business unit with the primary objective of providing coordination and integration across different projects within the department.

Provides a framework for managing a single complex project or program.

Benefits

When competing projects and priorities are colliding an enterprise PMO can identify and adjust or rebalance as well as target synergies across projects.

Enterprise PMOs are positioned to ensure the organization’s portfolio components align with strategic and operational priorities, and each project follows organizational standards.

When there’s a need to rebalance resources, a department PMO may be better able to ensure all department projects stay within scope and on schedule, and confirm teams are equipped with the resources and support they need.

Effective when a particular effort requires a focused PMO or PM(s) to ensure delivery of the work.

Barriers

Project teams that need day-to-day support are often better served by PMO models with a more granular focus.  

Access to, and accuracy of, data is vital but can often be limited or restricted.

A high degree of organizational communication and acceptance is required.

Departmental PMOs may struggle when projects impact or involve other departments unless organizational structures are in place to help connect departments and initiatives. 


A clear understanding of authority, cross-department communication, and accountability is required.

PMOs focused just on Projects can create silos, expectations, and practices outside the organizational norms and standards as well as limit visibility of resources and activity.

Requirements for Sustainment

The success of an enterprise PMO is dependent upon how well it is accepted and supported by the organization’s leadership and how well it demonstrates ongoing value as the operational center of the organization’s portfolio and project management infrastructure.

The department PMO must simultaneously serve the targeted needs within any department while ensuring the organization-wide vision is achieved within the organization’s resource capacity.

Combining department and enterprise PMO models provides flexibility to match complexity with individual skill sets, amplifies knowledge-sharing, and increases alignment.

Designed to support specific initiatives, individual PMOs must be understood as temporary and intended to provide limited value.


May be warranted if a particular change initiative needs to dictate specific processes and oversight different from other projects and/or has significant complexity.

Establish a Yardstick for Success

Critical Success Factors

How well the PMO is recognized as supporting the organization’s needs influences whether the PMO is seen as an enabler for achieving goals or as just additional bureaucratic overhead.

Whether your PMO is Enterprise, Departmental, or focused on Projects/Programs, certain factors should remain constant for effectiveness.  Continuous improvement, alignment with organizational goals, traceability to strategy, and robust leadership are required elements for success.

The PMO's structure should be designed to support the organization, with ongoing evaluation ensuring alignment with organizational needs.

Call to Action:  Evaluate and ensure your PMO structure establishes:

  • Practices and frameworks designed to support the organization
  • Continual improvement processes “baked-in” to advance its maturity
  • Traceability to strategy and business operational goal achievements
  • Ongoing evaluation of alignment with the organization’s needs
  • Strong leadership, support, and communication – leads by example with voices of value

Effectiveness Increases with Maturity

Maturity is not just a measure; it's a catalyst for the PMO's effectiveness.  By providing governance decision-makers with essential information, proactively identifying conflicts, and fostering collaboration, a mature PMO emerges as an organizational asset.

Call to Action:  Rate your PMO’s maturity on some of these Key Responsibilities:

  • Providing essential information to improve the review and selection of initiatives and projects
  • Managing and publishing data and information for transparent and informed decision-making
  • Estimating resource requirements and work effort through resource capacity & capability monitoring and management (Predictive estimates for resource requirements and work effort)
  • Proactively identifying potential conflicts of design or intent, and evaluating opportunities for synergies across projects
  • Decreasing delays and wasted time and effort through improved project collaboration
  • Monitoring organizational Change fatigue to ensure the organization is able to absorb and adapt
  • Ensuring alignment to organizational strategy based on the selected projects and their achieved benefits
  • Knowing when and how to balance control of process with effective performance

Measuring the Maturity and Success of your PMO

Success is not an abstract concept; it's quantifiable.  The percentage of delivery with desired outcomes, accuracy in resource and schedule estimates, on-time reporting, and the ability to deliver pre-established benefits are all tangible metrics of the PMO’s maturity.  The PMO's influence on decision-making and adherence to processes, within its scope and approach becomes the yardstick for its success.

Shape the PMO for Effective Strategy Delivery

Structure for Strategy

Organizational Governance sets the strategic direction, while the PMO implements operational control and management from intake through delivery, and to outcomes.  Synchronizing the two ensures strategic goals seamlessly translate into operational realities.

What changes should your organization make to better align Governance and the PMO for more effective strategy delivery?

Navigating Disconnects and Challenges

Understanding the global organizational landscape while managing day-to-day operations is a delicate balance. Risks lurk in the form of "rogue" project managers, duplicated or conflicting PMO functions, seemingly bureaucratic process overhead, and projects initiating without formal approvals.  Stakeholder engagement and adherence to governance can become stumbling blocks.

Call to Action:  Look for these indicators of PMO Disconnects:

  • Lack of recognition, non-adherence, or non-compliance to structure, process, or mandates
  • Project management activities not aligned to PMO-required standards
  • Conflicting PM and PMO role and responsibility expectations by stakeholders
  • Projects initiating or proceeding without formal approvals or tollgate assessments
  • Stakeholders “opting out” of participating and sharing ownership and accountability

Overcome these challenges by understanding your organization globally and managing to the dynamic environment.  Create a balance between project management, business, and functional units.  Set goals for your PMO, establish metrics to measure effectiveness, and implement action plans to continuously improve (mature) based on the findings.

How MAKE Solutions can help

The journey to establishing an effective PMO is a dynamic endeavor.  It's not just steering the ship but understanding the currents, adjusting the sails, and ensuring that every move adds value to deliver organizational success.

Start your journey with MAKE’s PMO Maturity Discovery tool.  Identify the current state, then target and chart the course for your future.

For more information contact
Tamara Pomerantz, VP Client Operations, Tamara.Pomerantz@makesolutionsinc.com.


References and recommended reading
Pinto, A. (2012). How to assess the maturity of a PMO. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2012—North America, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

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Tamara Pomerantz

About the author

Tamara Pomerantz has spent her career as a trusted advisor to healthcare organizations across the country. Over her 25 years in the industry, Tamara has proven herself to be an experienced leader, mixing innovative solutions with industry best-practices to create change and deliver results. She specializes in Operational Excellence to develop strategic and operational goals, installing process and data-driven performance metrics, motivating operational change, and providing consulting services.

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